Executive function, learning-related behaviors, and science growth from kindergarten to fourth grade.

Author ORCID Identifier

Julia Ogg:https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7187-1178

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Journal of Educational Psychology





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Recent research has indicated that science-based achievement gaps open early in children's educational careers and are explained largely by malleable factors. Two potentially important variables to consider include children's executive function (EF) and learning-related behaviors exhibited in the classroom. These variables have been identified as key factors promoting reading and mathematics achievement, but have not been extensively examined for science outcomes. In addition to exerting individual effects on science achievement, these factors may work in tandem such that the effects of EF on science achievement are partially mediated by learning-related behaviors. To explore the effects of these variables on science achievement, the current study used a large, nationally representative sample from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Cohort of 2010–2011. Conditional longitudinal growth curve modeling and mediation models indicated that 2 components of EF, cognitive flexibility and working memory, along with learning-related behaviors both had substantial effects on science achievement growth across children's elementary school years. The magnitude of these effects, however, was notably different for science achievement when compared with reading and mathematics achievement. Furthermore, some of the effect of cognitive flexibility and working memory on science achievement were mediated through learning-related behaviors. Results provided detailed information about the relationship between EF, learning-related behaviors, and children's growth in science achievement. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved) Educational Impact and Implications Statement—To better understand how to support students’ science achievement, the authors’ examined how two components of executive function, cognitive flexibility, and working memory, along with learning-related behaviors relate to science achievement growth across elementary school. The results of the study demonstrated that each of these variables has substantial effects on growth in science achievement, but effects differed for science compared with other academic areas (reading and mathematics). Specifically, cognitive flexibility was more important for academic growth in science compared with reading or mathematics, while working memory and learning-related behaviors were more important for growth in reading and mathematics compared with science. In addition, the study demonstrated that learning-related behavior partially explained the effects of cognitive flexibility and working memory on academic achievement. Overall, these findings shed light on the mechanisms by which these variables promote science growth and highlight the importance of early intervention to promote positive science outcomes. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved)

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cognitive flexibility, executive function, learning-related behaviors, science achievement, working memory


Department of Psychology