How to Teach Executive Functioning to Struggling Students

Posted by Erica Warren on

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 imposed if an assignment is even a minute late.

Executive functioning resources

Don't Punish - Instruct

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 can simply place these frustrated learners in a state of learned helplessness.  Instead, these students need structured routines, comprehensive instruction, and a scaffolding approach to planning, managing time, and organizing.

Executive Functioning Competency Screener Logo EFCS

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.  In fact, it is the last part of the brain to fully develop, and full maturation is not reached until students reach their early 20's.Executive Functioning Coaching

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

  1. First, you need to recognize the sign and symptoms and provide an executive functioning screener. 
  2. Second, you need to learn more about executive functioning and how to teach this skill. 
  3. Third you need a online resources and handouts that help students plan their time and materials.
  4. Fourth, you need to monitor and help that your students record assignments, create deadlines, and turning in homework.
  5. Fifth, you need to 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?

To learn all about these strategies and more, here are some great resources:
  1. Executive Functioning and Study Skills Course: This course provides the training and tools so teachers, practitioners, and parents can offer step-by-step, executive functioning coaching and study skills training. 
  2. Executive Functioning Screener: This is a quick and affordable screener that offers a wealth of information
  3. Executive Functioning Resource Library: offers a wide selection of activities (over 650) that can exercise executive functioning and literacy skills.
  4. 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). 

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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