Executive functioning in the classroom
What is executive functioning?
Types of executive functions
Development of executive functions
Impact in the classroom
What is executive functioning?
Executive function is a set of brain based skills required for us to effectively execute, or perform tasks and solve problems. They include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life.
Everyone has executive functions and they vary for every person. Everyone has strengths and challenges with their own executive functions.
Poor executive functions in a student impacts on their ability to engage with their work in the classroom. This student may also have a learning difference. Strategies that support children with learning differences will support children with weak EF’s.
- Using checklists
- Supporting memory with visual information
- Reducing distractions in the classroom
- Breaking down tasks into smaller steps
- Give the big picture of what is required.
- Explicit instruction for completing a task.
- Use growth mindset language and demonstrate it.
Some EF’s do not develop until a person is in their late 20’s.
Types of Executive Functions
The below information shows the executive skills, a defintion and a description.
- The capacity to think before you act – this ability to resist the urge to say or do something allows us the time to evaluate a situation and how our behaviour might impact it.
- In the young child, waiting for a short period without being disruptive is an example of response inhibition while in the adolescent it would be demonstrated by accepting a referee’s call without an argument.
- The ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience to apply to the situation at hand or to project into the future.
- A young child, for example can hold in mind and follow 1-2 step directions while the Year 7 -8 child can remember the expectations of multiple teachers.
- The ability to manage emotions in order to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behaviour
- A young child with this skill is able to recover from a disappointment in a short time. A teenager is able to manage the anxiety of a game or test and still perform.
- The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information or mistakes. It relates to an adaptability to changing conditions.
- A young child can adjust to a change in plans without major distress. A high school student can accept an alternative such as a different job when the first choice is not available.
- The capacity to maintain attention to a situation or task in spite of distractibility, fatigue, or boredom.
- Completing a 5-minute chore with occasional supervision is an example of sustained attention in the younger child. The teenager is able to attend to homework, with short breaks, for one to two hours.
- The ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient or timely fashion.
- A young child is able to start a chore or assignment right after instructions are given. A high school student does not wait until the last minute to begin a project.
- The ability to create a roadmap to reach a goal or to complete a task. It also involves being able to make decisions about what’s important to focus on and what’s not important.
- A young child, with coaching, can think of options to settle a peer conflict. A teenager can formulate a plan to get a job.
- The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information or materials.
- A young child can, with a reminder, put toys in a designated place. An adolescent can organize and locate sports equipment.
- The capacity to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines. It also involves a sense that time is important.
- A young child can complete a short job within a time limit set by an adult. A high school student can establish a schedule to meet task deadlines.
- The capacity to have a goal, follow through to the completion of the goal, and not be put off by or distracted by competing interests.
- A young primary student can complete a job in order to get to playtime. A teenager can earn and save money over time to buy something of importance.
- The ability to stand back and take a birds-eye view of oneself in a situation. It is an ability to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills (e.g., asking yourself, “How am I doing? or How did I do?”).
- A young child can change behaviour is response to feedback from an adult. A teenager can monitor and critique her performance and improve it by observing others who are more skilled
Development of Executive Functions
When do they develop?
Ages 6 -12 months
- Response inhibition
- Working Memory
- Emotional Control
- Sustained Attention
- Task Initiation
- Planning and Prioritization
In their 20’s
- Time Management
- Goal-Directed Persistence
Children with learning differences can develop their executive functions later.
How executive functions impact in the classroom
Both leanring and behaviour can be impacted by poor executive function skills.
- Jumps into work without reading directions
- Blurts out hurtful things to peers or classmates
- Forgets to put math book in backpack
- Forgets rules for games
- Gets frustrated and shuts down when doesn’t understand worksheet instructions
- Lashes out at peers when something at lunchtime is upsetting
- Significant problems with creative writing assignments or other open-ended tasks
- Gets upset when a fun planned event or activity gets cancelled
- Gets distracted before completing work at table.
- Doesn’t listen to instructions or gets distracted on the playing field and misses an important play
- Dawdles before starting work
- May frustrate peers during group activities because fails to follow through on promised actions
- Difficulty carrying out long-term projects
- Difficulty “thinking ahead” to pack what’s needed for a fieldtrip or activity with friends
- Loses papers; messy notebooks, backpacks
- Has trouble keeping track of play equipment; may leave things behind at school or on the playing field
- Fails to allot sufficient time to complete long-term projects
- Late for school; keeps friends or family waiting for organised activities
- Doesn’t set goals for the future or connect the present with those goals (may want to go to college but doesn’t invest the time to earn good grades)
- Lives “in the moment.” Makes choices about how to spend time based on immediate needs and interests only
- Struggles with tasks that require analysis or abstract thinking
- Can’t see the impact of behaviour on others, or can’t see understand why peers react the way they do