Friday, July 15, 2016

Your Chief Executive Officer Resides in the Brain’s Frontal Lobes

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

In the corporate world, the chief executive officer of a company is responsible for making the highest-level decisions to ensure a strategic, well-coordinated, and coherent course of action. Without such a leader, the employees in the organization might scatter in a variety of different directions and find themselves at cross-purposes instead of working productively together toward the same goals.

In our new book, Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains: Metacognition Strategies, Activities, and Lesson Ideas, we talk about the importance of executive function, which describes the brain processes and mental faculties involved in goal setting, planning and execution, reasoning, problem solving, working memory, and organization.

We cite the work of Elkhonon Goldberg, who applies the metaphor of a chief executive offer to the brain’s frontal lobes and describes specifically how the prefrontal cortex plays a central role in forming goals and objectives and devising plans of action to obtain these goals.

By understanding the way our brains work, teachers can assist students in becoming more effective learners and thinkers. They can help their students set learning goals, develop systematic plans, put those plans into action, and, finally, evaluate how well they have accomplished their goals. The aim should be to help students take charge of their learning by harnessing the power of their brains’ executive functions.

This is the power of metacognition, or thinking about one’s thinking, with the aim of improving learning outcomes. Goldberg suggests that these brain functions are the essence of our humanness: the ability to think and, beyond that, to observe and monitor our thinking.

By guiding students in developing these connections as they mature and become increasingly more independent, teachers can help children and teenagers become self-regulated learners across academic, social, and life contexts.



Goldberg, E. (2009). The new executive brain: Frontal lobes in a complex world. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, D.L., & Conyers, M.A. (2016). Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains: Metacognition Strategies, Activities, and Lesson Ideas. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

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