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

Posted by Erica Warren on

As a learning specialist and educational therapist, I have been overwhelmed with calls from parents claiming that their children struggle with executive functioning.  
Why So Many Students Are Struggling With Executive Functioning.

Students with Weak Executive Functioning are Often Mislabeled

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. 

What are the Common Symptoms?

Although executive functioning weaknesses can manifest in different ways, the majority of these students find it difficult to
  • record assignments
  • organize their materials
  • turn in their homework
  • pull out the salient information
  • focus in class
  • employ meta-cognitive strategies

How Does the Environment Impact Executive Functions?

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 one's 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 can 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. 
Executive Functioning Coaching

Education Struggles to Keep Up

Another piece 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 smartphone 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. 

School Don't Always Require Teachers to Use the Same Technology Methods

Another final concern is that teachers often have their own unique plan and expectations.  Therefore, there is little structure across subjects.  When I was schooled decades ago, 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.
memory resources

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

Cheers, Dr. Erica Warren

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator, and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning. She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Learning Specialist Courses.

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