• Understanding the components of executive functioning and recognizing signs of executive functioning issues is essential for effective teaching.
  • Executive functioning skills are crucial for success in school and life.
  • Explicit instruction, practice, and a supportive learning environment can help children develop executive functioning skills.

As a special education advocate, I see a lot of executive functioning deficits. And I have now read hundreds of IEPs and 504 plans. I see many accommodations for executive functioning, but not a lot of teaching.

I’m a firm believer that we have to teach and accommodate. Yes, many kids will need accommodations their entire lives. But we still have an obligation to teach skills when we can.

Two men working on a laptop in front of a blackboard, exploring how to teach executive functioning skills.

Teaching Executive Functioning Skills in the Classroom

Executive functioning skills are essential for success in school and in life. These skills include attention, organization, planning, time management, self-control, and flexibility. This video is an executive function coach giving some tips on what she does to teach executive functioning skills to high school students.

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Children with weak executive functioning skills may struggle with completing tasks, following directions, and regulating their emotions. However, these skills can be taught and developed through explicit instruction and practice.

Understanding executive functioning is the first step in teaching these skills. Educators and parents should be familiar with the different components of executive functioning, such as working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility.

They should also be able to recognize signs of executive functioning issues, such as forgetfulness, distractibility, and impulsivity. By identifying these issues early on, teachers and parents can provide targeted support and interventions.

Two men sitting at a table, discussing how to teach executive functioning skills while looking at a laptop.

Understanding Executive Functioning

Executive functioning refers to a set of cognitive processes that are responsible for self-regulation, problem-solving, planning, organizing, and decision-making. These processes are crucial for students to succeed academically and socially.

Thinking, teaching, and strategies surrounding executive functioning are changing. I recently interviewed an expert in this area. If you do not have time now, bookmark this article and come back and watch this video. It’s crucial that you do this to understand how to improve executive functioning skills in kids.

Students with strong executive functioning skills are more likely to be successful in school, have better relationships with peers and adults, and experience less stress and anxiety.

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Components of Executive Functioning

In another article, I have a list of examples of executive functioning skill examples.

There are several key components of executive functioning that teachers should be aware of:

  • Working Memory: the ability to hold information in mind and use it to complete a task.
  • Inhibition: the ability to control impulses and resist distractions.
  • Flexibility: the ability to shift between tasks or strategies as needed.
  • Planning and Organization: the ability to set goals, develop a plan, and carry it out.
  • Self-Monitoring: the ability to reflect on one’s own actions and adjust behavior accordingly.

For example, students who struggle with working memory may benefit from strategies such as chunking information or using mnemonic devices.

Students who struggle with inhibition may benefit from mindfulness exercises or other techniques to help them stay focused and on task.

Teachers can play an important role in helping students develop and strengthen these skills by providing targeted instruction and support.

A woman is teaching a girl in a classroom how to teach executive functioning skills.

Identifying Executive Functioning Issues

Executive functioning issues can have a significant impact on a student’s academic success and overall well-being. Identifying these issues early on can help educators and parents provide the necessary support to help students develop these skills.

Signs and Symptoms

There are several signs and symptoms that may indicate a student is struggling with executive functioning skills. These may include:

  • Difficulty with organization and planning
  • Struggles with time management
  • Difficulty with self-regulation, such as controlling emotions and impulses
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty remembering instructions or information
  • Difficulty initiating tasks and following through on them
  • Struggles with problem-solving and decision-making

It is important to note that not all students will exhibit all of these symptoms, and some students may exhibit symptoms not listed here. However, if a student is consistently struggling with one or more of these areas, it may be an indication of an executive functioning issue.

Assessment Strategies

There are several assessment strategies that educators and parents can use to identify executive functioning issues. These may include:

  • Observation: Observing a student’s behavior and interactions can provide valuable insight into their executive functioning skills. Educators and parents can observe the student’s ability to plan and organize tasks, manage time, and regulate their emotions.
  • Checklists and questionnaires: There are several checklists and questionnaires available that can help identify executive functioning issues. These may include the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) and the Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scales (CBRS). But again, watch the video above to get the most common thinking on these assessments.
  • Cognitive assessments: Cognitive assessments, such as IQ tests and neuropsychological evaluations, can also provide insight into a student’s executive functioning skills. These assessments can help identify specific areas of strength and weakness, which can be used to develop targeted interventions.

It is important to note that assessment strategies should be used in conjunction with observations and conversations with the student to gain a comprehensive understanding of their executive functioning skills.

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Teaching Executive Functioning Skills to High School Students

The executive functioning disorder teaching strategies listed below might seem high level. But, if you’re looking for a specific curriculum or something like that to teach executive functioning, none really exist.

What the students need is explicit, real time, instruction. I get it. Teachers are busy, schools are stretched. Many teachers already have a lot going on during the day. So to hear, “just do real time, in the moment feedback and instruction” sounds like one more thing that you just cannot fit in.

But, that’s what works. No sense spinning your wheels doing a ton of stuff that doesn’t work. I understand when teachers say (I was a teacher!), “I don’t have time to do that.”

That doesn’t mean that there is a special secret answer somewhere else. There isn’t. In my perfect world, we train aides and paras in this stuff and they can do it in the classroom.

  1. Explicit Instruction: Provide clear and direct instruction on executive functioning skills such as organization, time management, task initiation, and planning. Break down these skills into manageable steps, and model how to apply them in various situations.
  2. Visual Supports: Use visual aids such as charts, diagrams, and checklists to help students understand and remember the steps involved in executive functioning tasks. Visual supports can make abstract concepts more concrete and provide a reference point for students to follow.
  3. Practice and Repetition: Offer opportunities for students to practice executive functioning skills regularly. This could include structured activities, simulations, and real-life scenarios where students can apply these skills in context. Encourage repetition to reinforce learning and improve proficiency.
  4. Scaffolding: Provide scaffolding by gradually reducing support as students become more proficient in executive functioning skills. Start with guided practice and gradually transition to independent application. Offer prompts, cues, and reminders as needed, but gradually fade them over time to promote self-reliance.
  5. Feedback and Reflection: Offer constructive feedback on students’ efforts to develop executive functioning skills. Encourage reflection by asking questions such as “What strategies did you use to complete this task?” or “How could you improve your time management for future projects?” Reflection helps students become more aware of their strengths and areas for growth.
  6. Integration into Curriculum: Integrate executive functioning skill development into the regular curriculum. Incorporate strategies for organization, time management, and problem-solving into various subjects and assignments. This approach reinforces the importance of these skills across different contexts and helps students see their relevance in academic success.
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Strategies for Teaching Executive Functioning Skills

Teaching executive functioning skills can be challenging, but it is essential for students to succeed in school and beyond. Here are some effective strategies for teaching executive functioning skills:

Planning and Prioritization

To help students with planning and prioritization, teachers can encourage them to create to-do lists for tasks and assignments. This can be done using a planner, a whiteboard, or a digital tool.

Teachers can also model how to break down larger projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. This can help students develop a sense of accomplishment and reduce stress.

Organization Techniques

Organization is key to developing executive functioning skills. Teachers can help students by modeling how to organize their materials, such as notebooks, folders, and binders.

Teachers can also encourage students to use color-coding, labels, and dividers to help them keep track of their assignments and notes. Additionally, teachers can provide students with checklists to help them stay organized and on track.

Time Management

Time management is a critical executive functioning skill that can help students succeed in school and in life. Teachers can help students by modeling how to estimate the amount of time needed for tasks and assignments. They can also encourage students to use timers or alarms to help them stay on task and avoid distractions.

Additionally, teachers can help students prioritize their tasks and assignments based on their due dates and importance.

Task Initiation and Work Completion

Task initiation and follow-through are essential executive functioning skills that can help students start and complete tasks. Teachers can help students by modeling how to break down tasks into smaller steps and providing them with feedback and support.

Teachers can also encourage students to use self-talk and positive affirmations to help them stay motivated and focused. Additionally, teachers can help students develop strategies for overcoming procrastination and avoiding distractions.

By using these strategies, teachers can help students develop the executive functioning skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Creating a Supportive Learning Environment

Creating a supportive learning environment is crucial when teaching executive functioning skills. The environment should be conducive to learning and provide opportunities for students to develop their skills.

Here are some ways to create a supportive learning environment.

Adapting Teaching Methods

Teachers can adapt their teaching methods to help students with executive functioning difficulties. One way to do this is by breaking down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This can be done by creating checklists or using visual aids to help students understand the steps involved in a task.

Teachers can also provide students with extra time to complete tasks or allow them to work in a quiet, distraction-free environment.

Incorporating Technology

Technology can be a helpful tool when teaching executive functioning skills. Teachers can use apps and software to help students with organization, time management, and task completion. There are many apps for executive functioning that help fill in the gaps in skills.

For example, students can use a calendar app to keep track of assignments and deadlines, or a to-do list app to manage their tasks. Teachers can also use interactive whiteboards or tablets to engage students and provide visual aids during lessons.

By creating a supportive learning environment, teachers can help students with executive functioning difficulties develop their skills and reach their full potential.

How to Teach Executive Functioning at Home

Teaching executive functioning skills is not limited to school or therapy sessions. Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in supporting and reinforcing these skills at home.

As stated above, it takes live, in the moment, real time feedback and explicit instruction. There is no magic pill or secret sauce to make this happen. It just has to be taught and repeated.

I’m a busy working mom too, I get it. I don’t always enjoy narrating my entire day as I go along. But, in order for my child to develop language skills, I have to do this. And slowly but surely, you’ll see progress.

Here are some ways parents and caregivers can get involved. And, as I often do, I will take a moment to remind all the adults around the child to think about “can’t vs. won’t.” We often assume that a child “won’t” do something as directed, but the reality is that they “can’t” do the task.

  1. Establish Routines: Create consistent daily routines at home that include designated times for homework, chores, and leisure activities. Routines provide structure and help students develop time management and organization skills.
  2. Set Clear Expectations: Clearly communicate expectations regarding responsibilities and tasks at home. Encourage your child to take ownership of their responsibilities, such as keeping their room organized or completing household chores, which fosters independence and accountability.
  3. Create a Dedicated Study Space: Designate a quiet, well-lit area at home specifically for studying and completing homework. Ensure this space is free from distractions and stocked with necessary supplies. Having a designated study space helps students focus and improves productivity.
  4. Teach Planning and Prioritization: Help your child learn how to prioritize tasks and manage their time effectively. Encourage them to use tools like planners or digital calendars to organize assignments, deadlines, and extracurricular activities. Practice breaking larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
  5. Encourage Self-Advocacy: Teach your child to advocate for themselves by expressing their needs and seeking help when necessary. Encourage them to communicate with teachers about assignments, deadlines, and any challenges they may be facing. Building self-advocacy skills fosters independence and confidence.
  6. Model Executive Functioning Skills: Be a positive role model by demonstrating effective executive functioning skills in your own daily life. Narrate your thought process as you plan, organize, and prioritize tasks. Involve your child in family planning and decision-making processes to demonstrate these skills in action.

Communication and Collaboration

Effective communication and collaboration between parents, caregivers, and educators can lead to better outcomes for children. Parents and caregivers can work with educators to identify specific areas of executive functioning that need improvement and develop strategies to address them.

They can also share information about what works at home and what challenges their child may be facing.

At-Home Strategies for Executive Functioning

There are many strategies that parents and caregivers can use at home to help their child develop executive functioning skills. Here are a few examples:

  • Establish routines: Routines can help children develop a sense of structure and predictability, which can improve their ability to plan and organize.
  • Encourage self-monitoring: Encourage children to reflect on their own behavior and progress towards goals. This can help them develop self-awareness and self-regulation skills.
  • Use visual aids: Visual aids such as calendars, checklists, and timers can help children stay organized and on track.
  • Practice problem-solving: Encourage children to identify problems and brainstorm solutions. This can help them develop critical thinking and decision-making skills.

By involving parents and caregivers in the process of teaching executive functioning skills, educators can create a more comprehensive and effective approach to supporting children’s development.

Teaching Executive Functioning

Teaching executive functioning skills can be challenging, but with the right approach, it can be a rewarding experience for both the teacher and the student. One effective way to teach executive functioning skills is through case studies and practical examples.

Incorporating real-life scenarios and problems into lessons can help students understand how to apply executive functioning skills in their daily lives. For example, a teacher can present a hypothetical situation where a student needs to plan and organize a group project.

The teacher can then guide the student through the process of breaking down the project into smaller tasks, prioritizing those tasks, and creating a timeline for completion.

In addition to case studies and practical examples, teachers can also use role-playing exercises to help students develop their executive functioning skills. For example, a teacher can assign a student to act as a leader in a group project and guide the other students through the process of planning and organizing the project.

This exercise can help the student develop their leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.

By providing students with real-world scenarios and problems, teachers can help students develop their critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Executive Functioning Skills in the Classroom

What strategies can teachers employ to enhance executive functioning skills in the classroom?

Teachers can employ several strategies to enhance executive functioning skills in the classroom. One strategy is to teach students how to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. This not only helps students with planning and organization but also helps them develop time management skills.

Teachers can also help students develop metacognitive skills by encouraging them to reflect on their learning and identify areas for improvement. Additionally, teachers can use visual aids such as graphic organizers and checklists to help students stay organized and focused.

Which activities can parents do at home to support the development of executive functioning in children?

Parents can support the development of executive functioning in children by engaging in activities that promote self-regulation and planning. Activities such as playing board games, cooking together, and engaging in physical activities can help children develop these skills.

Parents can also encourage children to set goals and track their progress towards achieving those goals. Additionally, parents can help children develop self-awareness by encouraging them to reflect on their emotions and behaviors.

How can high school educators integrate executive functioning training into their curriculum?

High school educators can integrate executive functioning training into their curriculum by incorporating activities that promote metacognition and self-regulation. For example, teachers can have students reflect on their learning and identify strategies that helped them succeed.

Teachers can also incorporate activities that require students to plan and organize their work, such as research projects and presentations. Additionally, teachers can use technology to help students stay organized and focused.

What are the best games to improve executive functioning in 7- to 12-year-olds?

There are several games that can help improve executive functioning in 7- to 12-year-olds. Games such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and Freeze Tag can help children develop self-regulation skills.

Board games such as Chess, Checkers, and Connect Four can help children develop planning and problem-solving skills. Additionally, video games such as Minecraft, Portal, and Tetris can help children develop spatial reasoning and working memory skills.

How can executive functioning be strengthened through targeted exercises?

Executive functioning can be strengthened through targeted exercises such as practicing mindfulness, engaging in physical activity, and playing brain-training games. Mindfulness exercises such as deep breathing and meditation can help improve attention and self-regulation.

Physical activity such as yoga and aerobic exercise can help improve working memory and cognitive flexibility. Brain-training games such as Lumosity and CogniFit can help improve cognitive skills such as attention, working memory, and problem-solving.

What are the key components of executive functioning and how can they be taught at the elementary level?

The key components of executive functioning include working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Working memory refers to the ability to hold and manipulate information in the mind. Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to switch between tasks and adjust to changing demands. Inhibitory control refers to the ability to resist impulses and delay gratification.

These skills can be taught at the elementary level through activities such as memory games, role-playing, and mindfulness exercises. Teachers can also help students develop these skills by providing opportunities for practice and feedback.

How to Improve Executive Function Skills

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