Tag Archives: national center for learning disabilities

Executive Functioning: How is it affecting your students?


When we talk about students who struggle academically we typically talk about the academic area of need, reading, math, oral expression.  As they continue to struggle we may start looking at cognitive areas such as short-term and long-term memory.  But as a teacher I was not aware of Executive Functioning and how it affected my students.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities defines Executive Functioning as “ a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action.” We use Executive Functioning to perform tasks such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

These types of activities are needed for everyday life!  This is a cognitive process that affects all areas of life from academics to social development.

Executive function allows us to:

  • Make plans
  • Keep track of time and finish work on time
  • Keep track of more than one thing at once
  • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
  • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
  • Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
  • Engage in group dynamics
  • Wait to speak until we’re called on

If you have students struggling with these areas you should consider some simple accommodations.  A student does not have to be Special Ed, 504 or have any other label to receive these accommodations in the classroom and they may make a difference in their ability to learn.  Through time some students can improve their Executive Functioning skills or learn to manage them through organizational strategies.

Strategies found at the National Center for Learning Disabilities

General Strategies

  • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
  • Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms.
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.

Managing Time

  • Create checklists and “to do” lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  • Use visual calendars at to keep track of long-term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
  • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
  • Be sure to write the due date on top of each assignment.

Managing Space and Materials

  • Organize work space.
  • Minimize clutter.
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space.

Managing Work

  • Make a checklist for getting through assignments. For example, a student’s checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.

For more information check out these websites:





Accommodations vs. Modifications What’s the difference?


I found a podcast that discusses the differences between an accommodation and a modification and why it’s important for not only teachers, but also parents and students to know the difference.   For the purpose of this post I’m focusing on only the difference between the two.  Click the link below to visit the podcast.


**I tried to make that a one word hyperlink but it wouldn’t work, remember this is my first blog 🙂 **

To sum it up Dr. Lindy Crawford of the Professional Advisory Board at the National Center for Learning Disabilities stated that,

“Accommodations are instructional or test adaptations. They allow the student to demonstrate what he or she knows without fundamentally changing the target skill that’s being taught in the classroom or measured in testing situations. Accommodations do not reduce learning or performance expectations that we might hold for students. More specifically, they change the manner or setting in which information is presented or the manner in which students respond. But they do not change the target skill or the testing construct.”

When she says, “target skill” she is referring to the TEKS. Which is the standard that guides the curriculum in Texas.    She went on to discuss five basic types of accommodations.

Timing. For example, giving a student extended time to complete a task or a test item.

 Flexible scheduling. For example, giving a student two days instead of one day to complete a project.

  Accommodated presentation of the material, meaning material is presented to the student in a fashion that’s different from a more traditional fashion.

 Setting, which includes things like completing the task or test in a quiet room or in a small group with other students.

Response accommodation, which means having the student respond perhaps orally or through a scribe.

Dr. Crawford gave this definition for modification,

“Modifications actually do change that target skill or the construct of interest. They often reduce learning expectations or affect the content in such a way that what is being taught or tested is fundamentally changed.”

Now if you teach in the state of Texas you know that even if a child receives a modified state assessment (STAAR-M) the content of the test is not “fundamentally” changed.  But the content might be “fundamentally” changed in the classroom to meet the need of the individual student.

We know that every child must be exposed to the TEKS, but if you have a student working under a modified curriculum (which they must to take a STAAR-M) then what they are responsible for mastering should (at least in theory) change.

So in short, and without starting an angry debate over our wonderful state assessment, I just wanted to remind everyone before school begins that an accommodation helps a child meet the same expectations as the rest of the class and a modification changes those expectations to meet the child’s needs.

NOTE: The podcast goes into more detail and list three problems (in the opinion of Dr. Crawford) with confusing modifications and accommodations.  For more on this topic look for future post on STAAR accommodations.