Executive Function Strategies Blog

Executive Function Skills Support the Transition to High School

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

Even when your child is not at risk of being held back, this statistic serves to highlight the need to approach this transition mindfully. After all, your child’s performance “counts” in high school more than ever before. Competition to get into colleges doesn’t seem to be ebbing, so those missteps as a freshman could be more costly than ever.

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


As an 8th grader...

1) Did his/her 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.

2) Did he/she 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.

3) When he/she didn’t seem to have a clear understanding about assignments or projects, did you find yourself emailing the teacher for clarification?

Your high school student will likely not be thrilled if you contact his/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/her education by initiating help independently.

If you answered yes to any of these, your child could have a rocky transition to high school. What’s the course correction to avoid those dangerous waters? Building Executive Function skills such as Time Management, Planning and Prioritizing, and Sustained Attention in combination with self advocacy and problem solving are the keys to managing the transition from middle school to high school.

If these warning signs hit close to home, sit with your teen before school starts and identify the problem areas listed above. 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”, a parent may set an expectation that he consistently uses a planner as a freshman. Whether it’s electronic or a paper agenda can be left to the student to decide, to give him 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 transitioning to high school this year, next year, or the year after, we've got some great tips to help support them in developing their Executive Function skills to make the transition to High School much easier.

Download our free guide “5 Essential Tips to the Transition from Middle School to High School.”

Download Transition to High School Tips 

photo credit: College Degrees 360

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