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How to Strengthen Executive Function for Students

Most teachers have excellent executive functioning skills, so when they come across students that struggle in this arena, they may have little compassion or patience. For many students, executive functioning is relatively easy. However, for some, tasks that require self-initiation, planning, time management, and organization to name a few, can be an immense struggle.
distracted and disorganized students appear frustrated

What is Executive Functioning and Does it Impact Learning?

Executive functioning is much like the conductor of one's brain.  It is a mental process that gathers and creates meaning from sensory information. Allowing us to makes sense of what we experience, executive functioning also enables focused attention, metacognitive skills, and helps us to relate new content to prior knowledge.  Executive functioning affects learning because it is the lens through which we perceive the world around us.  Good executive functioning skills enable students to quickly and effectively absorb and assimilate new lessons.  In contrast, executive functioning problems, can make it very challenging to process sensory inputs, make sense of information, and respond to any learning content. 

What is Executive Functioning Disorder?

Although executive functioning disorder is not a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), executive function issues are often a symptom of other mental health problems, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders.  To get a more specific review of this disorder, CLICK HERE.

What Are Some Symptoms of Executive Functioning Problems?

  • Trouble maintaining a planner.
  • Difficulty planning projects and leaving them to the last minute.
  • Misplacing handouts, notebooks, and other school supplies.
  • Problems getting assignments done in a reasonable amount of time. 
  • Trouble self-initiating homework.
  • Problems maintaining attention.
  • Difficulty keeping track of possessions.
  • Trouble following a sequence of directives.
  • Difficulty transitioning from class to class or task to task.
  • Trouble remembering appointments.
  • Difficulty keeping bookbags, lockers, and desks organized.
  • Problems managing emotions.

How Can I Be Tested for Executive Functioning Problems?

The first thing you can do is take our FREE Executive Functioning Screener.  This will help uncover the likelihood that a student exhibits significant signs that warrant attention. 

How Can We Accommodate and Teach Executive Functioning Skills?

  1. Be supportive and patient.
  2. Support a structured, daily routine.
  3. Teach students how to set priorities.
  4. Maintain a consistent homework system.
  5. Break large responsibilities into manageable chunks.
  6. Create task lists.
  7. Generate deadlines to illustrate time management skills.
  8. Teach effective study skills.
  9. Review test-taking tactics.
  10. Provide positive reinforcement.
  11. Utilize organizers to plan ideas before writing.
  12. Demonstrate metacognitive skills and think aloud.
collage of products that strengthen executive functioning skills

Where Can I Find Ready Made Exercises that Develop Executive Functioning?

Good Sensory Learning offers tools such as cognitive remedial games that exercise these skills as well as handouts and resources that can teach and guide students through the process.  The Executive Functioning Cognitive Remedial Bundle offers a discounted suite of products to help students build planning, time management, and organization abilities. 

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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