Supporting Executive Function skills

Do you have students in your class who have poor executive functioning skills?

Executive Functioning (EF) skills are the essential self-regulating skills that we use every day and which help us with almost everything. EF skills are important for goal-directed behaviours, social behaviour and emotional wellbeing and they help us with planning, organising, making decisions, shifting between situations, controlling our emotions and also learning from our past experiences.

In the classroom setting, children with poor EF skills may appear disorganised, forgetful, become overwhelmed easily, react impulsively, have difficulty managing time and thinking ahead, lose materials, and take a long time with everyday activities and routines. Deficits in EF skills are often associated with conditions such as ADHD, learning disabilities, ASD, TBI or anxiety.

It is through supportive and responsive interactions with adults that children with poor EF skills can lay the foundation toward healthy EF skill development. To assist students to understand how their brain works and help them to overcome the constraints that poor EF skills can have, the various definitions have been adapted into positive, student-friendly language and graphics to enable teachers to implement them in the classroom.

Supportive strategies include:

  • Limit the length and complexity of instructions
  • Teach students to ask for help
  • Increase visuals
  • Allow for repetition of concepts
  • Limit the amount of materials on desk
  • Provide rewards for shifting within a given period of time
  • Have students use a learning journal, focusing on how they learned rather than what they learned
  • Encourage students to count to three before giving an answer
  • Provide a space with calming activities
  • Teach mindfulness techniques
  • Provide movement breaks and varying activities
  • Praise students who ask for help
  • Use a checklist
  • Teach the use of positive self-talk
  • Encourage risk-taking and celebrate mistakes.

For further information on supporting students executive function skills, teachers may find the following resources useful:

The ideas and definitions in this article come from Greenstone, H. (2011) journal ‘Executive function in the classroom: Neurological implications for classrooms’. Learning Landscapes, 5 (1), 101 – 113.

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