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How to Teach Executive Functioning to Struggling Students

Many teachers are miffed when apparently simple tasks such as using an agenda or turning in an assignment is difficult for their students. Many of my own students have shared that some teachers impose very strict rules and regulations about both recording assignments and due dates. In fact, I have witnessed policies that are so rigid, a zero is divvied out if an assignment is even a minute late. Unfortunately, harsh punishments do not provide the attention and instruction that these students need to develop this skill. Instead, penalties and labels such as careless, lazy and unmotivated simply place these frustrated learners in a state of learned helplessness.  In contrast, these students need structured routines, comprehensive instruction, and a scaffolding approach to planning, managing time, and organizing.
executive functioning strategies
How Hard Can it Really Be to Plan, Manage Time and Organize?
I have to admit, when I first started working with students that struggled with executive functioning, I was perplexed about how challenging planning, time management, and organization could be. What seemed to be clear and obvious to me, seemed obscure, taxing and problematic for them.  However, research now suggests that executive functioning, which encompasses these skills, can be a cognitive-based weakness and that even for the average learner, it is the last part of the brain to fully develop. Full maturation is not reached until students reach their early 20's.

So, How Can You Teach Executive Functioning to Struggling Students?

     Executive Functioning and Attention Products
  1. Learn to recognize the sign and symptoms. 
  2. Provide a clear structure and handouts that help students plan their time and materials.
  3. Monitor that your students are recording assignments and creating deadlines on long-term projects.
  4. Create a safe learning environment where students feel comfortable asking for help.
So What are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Executive Functioning Problems?
There are a number of common signs and symptoms associated with students that struggle with executive functioning weaknesses. They often:
  1. misplace or lose materials.
  2. fail to turn in assignments.
  3. leave things to the last minute.
  4. underestimate the amount of time it will take to complete a task.
  5. fail to record homework in an agenda or planner.
  6. forget the needed materials.
  7. forgo test preparation
  8. resist planning and breaking down long-term assignments into manageable tasks or goals.
  9. neglect to prepare for midterms or finals.
  10. forget important details.
  11. lose focus and miss important notes or directions.
  12. lose mental stamina and fail to complete a task.
  13. rush through work.
So What are Some Specific Strategies?
  1. Generate a structured daily routine.
  2. Set priorities and make to-do checklists.
  3. Create a homework plan. 
  4. Teach study skills and test-taking strategies.
  5. Illustrate note-taking skills.
  6. Demonstrate time management skills by breaking large assignments into manageable chunks with numerous deadlines.
  7. Teach memory strategies.
  8. Help student motivation by offering incentives and positive reinforcement. 
  9. Create and use graphic organizers for writing.
  10. Teach metacognitive skills by thinking through processes aloud. 
Where Can I Get Ready Made Materials?
 Planning, Time Management and Organization for Success
To learn all about these strategies and more, Planning, Time Management and Organization for Success offers a 116 page publication on CD or digital download that offers methods and materials that help to structure, guide, and support students in the areas of time management, planning, and organization (executive functioning skills). This comprehensive document includes
  • agendas
  • questionnaires
  • checklists
  • advice
  • assessments
  • graphic organizers for writing and test preparation. 
You will also find advice and materials in the areas of
  • reading
  • math
  • memory
  • motivation
  • setting priorities
  • creating incentives programs. 
These materials were all created over a twenty year period in my private practice as an educational therapist. What’s more, the materials are varied and accommodate learners of all ages from elementary to college. Finally, get a free sample assessment from the publication, as well as view a free video on executive functioning. Click Here

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

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 Learning Specialist Courses.
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