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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Do We Need to Reform Education? Why So Many Students Are Struggling With Executive Functioning.

As a learning specialist and educational therapist, I have been overwhelmed with calls from parents claiming that their children struggle with executive functioning.  These students are often described as lazy and unmotivated, and by the time that I meet many of these students they also have a case of learned helplessness.   Although executive functioning weaknesses can manifest in different ways, the majority of my students find it difficult to record assignments, organize their materials, turn in their homework, pull out the salient information, focus in class and employ meta-cognitive strategies.

Part of the problem is that we live in a society where we are continually multitasking.  It’s almost impossible to find a quiet, distraction free spot where one can direct ones full attention to an undertaking.  Instead our thoughts are continually diverted to the bleeps, jingles and bings of text messages, phone calls, emails and so forth.  Distractions that often make a 15 minute task become an hour long chore.  What’s worse is that because attention is so sporadic, little is learned from completing the process. 

The other part of the problem is that education reform just can’t keep up with the rapid changes. Schools are continually accommodating new technology without the needed research and structured plan.  As a result, executive functioning difficulties have become so prevalent in schools because teachers now expect their students to be “executives,” yet many schools do not allow them to use the personal technology that would help them to succeed.  Can you imagine how a teacher would feel if you told them that they could not use their personal smart phone or computer while at school?  I do believe that this will change in the future, but at present, many kids in this generation are suffering.  The other problem is that teachers each have their own unique plan and expectations.  Therefore, there is little structure across subjects.  When I was in school, all teachers communicated homework by writing it on the black board at the beginning of class and they all prompted and collected our homework.  Now, because teachers lie anywhere on the continuum of technophobes to techno-geeks, they each have their own, often contrasting, methods. 

So what can we do?  I believe that schools must:   
    1)   Embrace technology, do the research, train the staff, and define structured guidelines that can help to assure the proper use technology.
    2)   Enforce a consistent plan for communicating and collecting assignments for all teachers. 
    3)   Hold teachers accountable to "practice what they preach."  They need to be organized, plan projects, and return assignments in a reasonable amount of time.
    4)   Offer students a syllabus at the beginning of each term.  If high school, for example, is trying to prep kids for college, why don't they give the students a syllabus at the beginning of each term with all assignments and expectations clearly documented.  This would also assure that teachers would get through the course content.

I would love to hear some of your ideas too.  Change only comes from awareness and communication.

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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