Getting Through the School Day – The Impact & Importance of Executive Function
The other day I had a meeting with a mum and dad to address the fact that their child struggles in the area of executive function. I wanted to explain the concept and how it translates into the classroom. I also wanted to discuss what I was doing to address the issue.
Now, I have to admit that the concept of executive function has always seemed surprisingly illusive to me, and therefore difficult to grasp. Here is my understanding of what executive function is …
As best I can make out: Executive function is that “thing” within each of us that regulates other behaviours and abilities. (Now you can’t get much more general than that!)
At a much more concrete level, executive function affects/influences the following (and more!):
- the ability to process information
- the ability to ask for help when necessary
- planning and problem solving skills
- the ability to anticipate outcomes
- impulse control/self-regulation
- ability to stay on task
- time management skills
- memory and study skills
- homework organizational skills & completion
Not surprisingly therefore, a student’s ability to function in the classroom is significantly impacted by an impairment in this area.
The question then becomes, what to do … How do I as the teacher best address the student’s needs? How do I increase his/her level of confidence, independence and sense of accomplishment?
I have worked hard to meet the needs of this child. Not surprisingly, any changes that were made to my classroom routine benefited everyone! Now that was an added bonus!!!
I have outlined my approach below. You will see that I have divided my approach into three categories:
(A) Before school
(B) During the school day
(C) At the end of the day.
I hope that this article (the definition & suggestions) proves helpful … and I would certainly welcome (now that’s an understatement!) any advice and support in this area.
Strategies to To Increase Independence / Executive Function:
(A) Before the day begins:
– Take some time every day to prepare for the day ahead. Let the student know what’s ahead. Surprisingly this only takes a few minutes, and saves everyone time and stress as the day progresses.
– create a checklist for the day
– organize materials (e.g. desks, pencils, rulers, erasers, highlighters, books, etc.)
– Approach the day thinking: “Structure & Love” (that’s my mantra!)
(B) During the school day:
– Post the class time table in a highly visible area of the room. Refer to it often.
– Stick to a predicable routine (well, as much as is possible). If something “changes” try to let the student know ahead of time.
– Minimize clutter
– Introduce each lesson clearly. Use visual aids.
– Teach readiness for, and notebook page set up for all classes – keep it the same!
– Break down tasks into manageable units; Check in with the student at various stages to ensure for understanding.
– Instructions and commands should be clear and very specific. Reference every step. Stop, look and listen.
– Allow for “processing” time. Allow time for instructions to sink in. Encourage subvocalization when appropriate.
– Incorporate a lot of review & repetition
– Try strategies in the classroom such as colour coding (or highlighting) information/assignments.
– Try colour coding “Hilroy” notebooks (e.g. Math notebooks are green, Spelling notebooks are yellow, reading comprehension notebooks are blue, etc.)
– Check in with the student on a regular basis.
– Help the student to maintain organized notebooks and binders.
(C) At the end of the day:
– Organize & review homework expectations
– Use an agenda/daily calendar
– Make prioritized lists
– Conduct desk check/clean-up
– Conduct notebook/binder checks to keep materials organized
– Organize backpack & locker
– Clean classroom/work space
– Partner with parents. Share successes as well as areas of need. Bring as many classroom routines/suggestions as possible into the household. Encourage feedback. Together is better!