Executive Function Strategies Blog

Executive Function Skills Help Students Transition to High School

Did you know that nationwide, more students are held back in 9th grade than in any other grade in TransitiontoHighSchoolschool? (Source: betterhighschools.org)

Even when your child is not at risk of being held back, this statistic highlights the differences between middle school and high school expectations. Too often, we see students who are unprepared for the pace and rigor of high school. They may have developed bad study habits (Instagram/Twitter/Netflix while doing homework sound familiar?), or simply have no idea how to study effectively.

What are some warning signs parents should heed as their children make this exciting yet nerve-wracking transition to high school?

During the last school year...


Did your child's teachers email you about missing assignments?


With larger amounts of students to teach, high school instructors don’t typically have the time to closely monitor a student’s day-to-day homework completion. As a parent of a high school student, you may not find out there is a problem until halfway through the semester. That’s a pretty big hole to dig out of.


Did your child need your direct support to complete a project on time?


Unlike middle school, where big projects are typically spaced out and structured, high school teachers assign long term projects without regard to what may be happening in their students’ other classes. The need to effectively manage multiple projects and their timelines looms large in high school.


When your child had questions about assignments, did you email the teacher for clarification?


Your high school student will likely not be thrilled if you contact his or her teacher about assignments. And guess what the teacher is thinking: “Why didn’t Jason ask me himself?” Self advocacy skills are a critical piece of high school success and teachers really notice when a student shows investment in his or her education by initiating help independently.

If you answered yes to any of these, your child might be in for a rocky transition to high school.

What’s the best way to prepare your child for the demands of being a freshman? Building Executive Function skills such as time management, planning and prioritizing, organization and sustained attention. Combining these skills with self advocacy and problem solving will help your child make a smooth transition to high school.

If your child stuggled in middle school, sit down with your teen before school starts and identify the problem areas listed above (or any other areas of concern such as emotional regulation). Set some clear expectations moving forward. For example, if your child frequently missed assignments in 8th grade because he was convinced he could “keep it all straight in his head”, you may set an expectation that he consistently uses a planner as a freshman. Whether it’s an electronic or a paper agenda can be left to the student to decide, to offer some choice in the matter.

If your child routinely had last minute panic with projects or papers, keeping you both up until the wee hours to meet deadlines, set the expectation that she plan out each phase of a project in her planner, with your support as needed. Explain that your direct involvement in completing her work does not help her become an independent learner, and that while you are happy to serve as a resource (“Mom, can we go to Staples for some poster board and markers tomorrow?”), your days as her "co-worker" on school projects are over.

If you were the primary problem solver for your middle school child when it came to confusing assignments or content in a class, discuss your expectations for shifting this responsibility to your child. Help him prepare a list of questions for the teacher, or compose an email. Role play with your child to practice self advocacy skills. Above all, normalize the fact that we all get confused from time to time. Sometimes the smartest choice is to ask for help.

Whether your child is making the transition to high school this year or in a couple of years, it's never too early to start building Executive Function skills. We've compiled a free guide to help your child prepare for success in high school and beyond.

Download our free guide:

5 Essential Tips to the Transition from Middle School to High School

Download Transition to High School Tips 


Jackie Stachel is the Director of Communications for Beyond BookSmart. She joined the company in 2010 and is based in our Boston branch. Jackie leads Executive Function presentations for parent groups throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Additionally, Jackie manages our You Tube channel as well as our company blog content through editing submissions, writing articles, and collaborating with professionals from outside Beyond BookSmart to create useful, informative content. Finally, Jackie coaches students supporting them in learning and developing Executive Functioning strategies.

 photo credit: Jair Alcon via photopin (license)

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