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Executive Function Skills in the Classroom

Executive function skills are not gifted upon birth. They are developed over time. Our previous blog discussed the executive functions for teachers to recognize in the students they work with. This selection will discuss the ways teachers can prompt executive functions to bloom within their students.
It is the responsibility of teachers to consider executive function skills in almost every aspect of their classroom preparation. Of all the subjects teachers present to students, the ability to use their minds to understand those subjects is a paramount lesson to offer.

Direct messaging
Many difficulties exist in the world simply because people do not speak in a direct fashion. When it comes to developing executive function skills, it is important for students to know what you are trying to accomplish.
Tailoring the messaging to the age of the student, let them know the process by which you are going to engage their executive functioning. Organization and prioritising are easy enough to explain, even to young students. As students get older, you can advise them how your class will expand their abilities to multitask.

Time management
Time is a constant. As a tool to expand executive function, use the constancy of time to teach students how to develop their executive functions. There are multiple ways to teach students about the value in time management. Having a set daily class schedule is a start, but explaining how the schedule functions within the structure of the class is a benefit. Explain the time needed in between subjects. Show them the value of flexibility in timing, when one subject takes too long to cover or one does not take all the time allotted. Finally, put a time element in quiz or test taking, but let students know the purpose is to understand the value of time and not to punish those who need more time than others.

Organization among students is a tricky subject. There are some people who claim a messy desk is a sign of a brilliant mind. But organization is not about cleanliness as much as it is about knowing where your materials are when you need them. Teaching children how to organize their school materials within notebooks, or how to organize materials on a laptop, will make them feel self-sufficient. For little ones, being able to find a glue stick when they need it matters. For older students, explain to them how proper organization prevents wasted time.
Eventually, your goal is to have students monitor their own executive function development. Metacognitive skills, or self-monitoring, will make your job as a teacher easier, and will let the student have some skin in the game. They will be able to identify their own weaknesses, perhaps quicker than you can. Encourage students to let you know that they have trouble with time management or multitasking. The benefits to self-involvement are many, and allow students to carry executive function skills from one class to another.

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Dealing with deficits
Thankfully, researchers and educators have identified ADHD among students. Prior to understanding those traits, teachers had a more difficult time working with students who were struggling with executive functions. Today, the struggle still exists, but teachers have much more information to work with in those situations.

ADHD prevents students from being able to concentrate, organize and plan their daily functions. Once students are identified as dealing with ADHD, teachers can explain to those students how they can work together to absorb the lessons surrounding EF. ADHD students may realize that they are undergoing slightly different lesson plans in order to battle their difficulties. Explain that to them as well. Allowing ADHD students to have a role in their own EF development will make any successes more powerful.
It is possible for students who are not diagnosed with ADHD to struggle with particular executive functions. Teachers need to have a laser focus on how students handle transitions from one level of EF to another so that any deficiency is recognized.

EF is difficult for both teacher and student
Executive function is a learned behaviour. It is a key element of elementary education, and a necessary component of secondary education.
Some executive function comes as a part of growing up. But teachers play a significant role in how a student’s brain “grows up”, and it is in the development of executive function that teachers can contribute most.
This contribution is not easy to provide. But it is one of the most rewarding contributions teachers can make. Executive function is about helping students think for themselves. Seeing a student learn an EF lesson you taught them allows a teacher to know that student will have the tools he or she needs to be successful as they move on.


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