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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: