Thursday, June 14, 2012

executive function

i attended an excellent seminar about executive functions last week at springer school, a cincinnati education center for children with learning disabilities.

the list of executive functions we used:

remembering/juggling information mentally
shifting/being flexible
emotional regulation

as a teacher of combined 6, 7, 8, and 9-year-olds, i am interested in this topic not just for my students with adhd or other special needs, but for the whole class.  young children can benefit from direct instruction in these skills. 

a small taste of the seminar:

i learned most importantly to explicitly teach children executive function strategies to build their competence.   

writing and long math problems are particularly hard for children with executive function challenges because they involve using lots of working memory and organizational and planning skills, too.  externalize the steps for writing, starting with a graphic organizer.  use a checklist so steps are clear and the child feels a sense of accomplishment 

setting goals and successfully meeting them is important.  here is a way springer teaches goal setting, planning, and prioritizing to young children: 

hill, skill, will
the hill - what do i want to get done?  what's the goal?  what gets in my way?
skill - what do i do to complete my goal?  what tools do i need?  what do i need to know how to do?
will - what will motivate me to start a task?  what will help me stay with the task if or when it gets hard? 

i'll end with a list of memory strategies and a book recommendation.
1.  use routines, consistency, and predictability. 
2.  sort information - put information into categories
3.  do frequent review.  study a topic the same day it was learned.
4.  use humor and exaggeration.
5.  explore the senses.
6.  color code.
7.  use visual aids.
8.  rehearse aloud.
8.  make it physical - typing or rewriting notes is very effective for kinesthetic learners.

 smart but scattered by peg dawson and richard guare is a book for parents recommended at the seminar. 
see what you think!
beautiful learning. 


  1. My son has NLD which has pretty severe difficulties with executive functioning as its hallmark. I'm kind of an expert in this now ;-)

  2. I have that book! I'm going to share the link to this post, feed my family dinner and come back here for dessert! xoxo

  3. Oh gosh, Noreen. I don't think Cal can do any of those. ;)

  4. Thank you for the recommendation. I can definitely see this advice, the tips, and the book coming in handy in the very near future. I personally used #6 and #8 a lot in college. :)

  5. this is a great post! i'm going to email ithe link to my boy who is 12 and his dad. i know that he doesn't have these skills. i'll look for that book. this was so helpful xxx

  6. Very interesting post Noreen. I think these skills need to be taught to ALL kids. I have been saying for sometime that our school is very big on homework etc but they forgot to the teach the kids the how of doing homework. I found they get completely overwhelmed and the internet is a hindrance rather than a help - researching a topic and discovering millions of sites leaves them unable to process the info quickly, they struggle to refine their search in a way that will get them just the relevant the sections. They can't manage their time, or sort their info into chunks to just respond to the questions.

    I really believe the executive function strategies you mention here have to be taught to kids from a really young age. It would have made it so much easier for my daughter who I am now teaching these things to at 15.

  7. Hi Noreen. I'm Lauren's mom (still+life). I told her last week that this post was one of the best summaries of executive function issues I've seen. There is a lot of information coming out about this area of skills and I really like your summary. I was excited to see the book you pictured. I have it and have found it very helpful. As a teacher you probably know that a lot of the writing about executive function has come from the research on ADHD so there has been a focus on "deficits in executive functioning." I like that this book shifts to focusing on how these very teachable skills can be a boon to any child. Or adult! I have to say, as an adult with significant executive skill challenges it's been very helpful to me!

  8. heather - you could teach a class about this topic from your first-hand experience. it might help someone else!

    lauren - he will be able to if you teach him and scaffold on to what he already can do. kids with executive function challenges KNOW what to do, but the DOING piece is problematic.

    theresa and leah - glad to give you a glimpse on "possibly interesting in the future"..

    janine - i'm with you. the homework piece - got it. and the internet - agreed. as an adult, can't you log on for one thing and hours later look up..? encyclopedia britannica online is a good, safe kids' site. our school bought a membership so all parents and kids could use it at home. the different reading levels were helpful.

    lauren's mom - i'm glad you liked the summary. i left a lot out - the emotional piece and the flexibility piece. i'll post again about the book. i agree with you that it is very helpful. i'm reading closely and taking notes. next i'll think of ways to incorporate them into the classroom. lastly - yes! executive skills are so important to everyone! our teacher said that her working memory was a challenge. let's keep at it!


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