Many students are now being diagnosed with executive functioning problems, and schools are scrambling to meet the needs of this population of learners. Because many teachers and administrators don’t understand the difficulties associated with this problem, countless students with these difficulties are mislabeled as careless, lazy, or unmotivated. Unfortunately, these misunderstood learners often become discouraged, and many experience feelings of helplessness, depression and anxiety.
So What Can We Do to Help?
First, we need to understand the complex nature of executive functioning. Then, we need to educate teachers and administrators on what they can do to accommodate these capable learners.
What Is Executive Functioning?
Executive Functioning (EF) is the command and control center of the brain. Much like an air traffic controller, EF manages and manipulates information traveling in and out of our consciousness. It’s a place where learned experiences and present actions connect. Another appropriate metaphor is to think of EF as the conductor of cognitive skills. EF directs the cognitive performance played by our senses.
How Does EF Impact a Learner’s Cognitive Performance?
- Slows processing speed
- Impairs motivation
- Undermines stamina
- Sabotages goal-directed persistence
- Impedes one’s ability to hold and manipulate information
- Blocks one’s ability to retrieve information
- Triggers impulsive behaviors
- Minimizes one’s ability to sustain attention
How Does EF Impact a Learner’s Emotional Regulation?
- Minimizes one’s ability to manage frustrating situations
- Triggers an overall negative attitude
- Sparks feelings of anxiety
- Blocks one’s ability to prioritize
- Inhibits one’s ability to self-regulate
How Does EF Impact Schooling?
All of these internal difficulties can have a profound impact on a learner’s educational experience. Common manifestations include:
- Difficulties initiating schoolwork
- Problems recording assignments
- Issues locating and handing in assignments
- Problems maintaining an organized book bag, locker, and homework space
- Trouble arriving to class on time and keeping appointments
What Are Some General Strategies that Can Help Those Who Struggle with EF?
- Participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Embrace meditation and mindfulness training
- Pursue cognitive remedial therapy in areas such as working memory and emotional regulation
- Maintain a structured daily routine
- Use planners and PDA technology
What Are Some Academic Solutions?
- Create a structured routine for completing homework
- Make to-do checklists
- Help student motivation by offering incentives and positive reinforcement
- Create and use graphic organizers for writing
- Use technology, such as a smartphone, to create reminders
- Work with someone who can help:
- Set and monitor priorities
- Break large assignments into manageable chunks
- Demonstrate note-taking skills
- Teach study skills and test-taking strategies
- Generate memory strategies
- Teach metacognitive skills by thinking through the process aloud
Academic Tools for Success
There are a number of tools on the market that can help support the needs of students with executive functioning challenges. Here are some free sample pages from my publication, Planning Time Management and Organization for Success. If you want to strengthen executive functioning while having fun, try my Executive Functioning Card Games.