Today is part two of a fantastic set of posts from Anne-Marie Morey of the Bay Tree Blog. I absolutely love the monkey thought idea from part one, I've immediately put that one to use! If you missed part one, you can read it here. If you enjoy this content in any shape or form, please consider sharing it! The message Anne-Marie shares is invaluable and could help numerous people. Enjoy! – Adrianne
3 More Ways to Strengthen Executive Function
In part one, I covered how important it is to provide an environment that promotes attention, teaching children to self-monitor, and helping students manage their time. The next three items in our list are equally as important. All of the ideas I've shared work well together and are effective in strengthening executive function.
4. Work in short bursts
The skills required for strong executive functioning are like a battery — they run out! Some kids have larger batteries than others.
If your students start off strong, but their attention wanes, try to:
- Reduce the amount of work required for a given task (e.g. five math problems instead of ten).
- Break larger projects into smaller pieces.
- Build in frequent breaks. Adrianne shares some great break activities here and here.
- Provide small rewards, especially for non-preferred activities.
On my podcast for educators, Pamm Scribner, executive function specialist, reveals how she uses brain breaks. She shares how to adapt these strategies for teens.
5. Build rapport
Boy, kids with executive function weaknesses get blamed a lot.
We've all heard it: “They're lazy! They're slackers! They're not living up to their potential!”
When students feel safe and respected, they participate. They “buy” in. Creating a sense of security can be challenging. Here are my go-to strategies:
- Play to their strengths and affinities. Does your student love cats? Call your local animal shelter to collect facts for math word problems.
- Incorporate humor. Try teaching reading fluency with joke books.
- Plan for ups and downs. Executive skills develop inconsistently. Just because you've seen a student master a skill at one time, doesn't mean that he's able use the skill all the time under any circumstance.
6. Teach explicitly
Kids with executive function deficits need additional structure and guidance:
- Make your rules and instructions clear and brief.
- Spell out the steps. For example, write down the steps for solving a word problem.
- Provide rubrics. Show the student how to use rubrics. Students are delighted to learn that teachers reveal exactly what they're looking for!
- If the teacher doesn't provide a rubric, find an example online or create a rubric with the student.
- Share samples of quality finished products, so students can picture success.
- Provide a visual guide. Many students can organize paragraphs more easily when they plan with a graphic organizer.
Let's help these kids succeed!
Kids who struggle with executive function weakness can be challenging. They require more energy, more planning, and more specialized instruction.
But there's a silver lining here. Energy, planning, and explicit instruction make for good teaching. Period.
My students make me a better teacher. And I love them for that. And I love them for being the creative, sweet, spunky people they are.
These kids are bright and talented, and they need our help to find success.
P.S. – Have you had those days where you just don't feel like you have the patience to reach your students with executive function challenges? Where you want to pull your hair out? So have I. That's why I've created and shared a free workbook of tools to help other educators support students with executive function weaknesses. The program includes tools to help children:
- Plan ahead for upcoming tests and quizzes
- Organize time to complete assignments
- Find emotional control when challenging situations arise
- Self-monitor performance
You'll find this free, field-tested executive function workbook at my website.
Anne-Marie Morey is a Board Certified Educational Therapist who provides tools and strategies for educators who teach kids with learning differences at BayTreeBlog.com. She has a private practice in San Mateo, CA where she helps students with learning disabilities find success in school and life.
*image source: flickr user Fod Tzellos. Added text to image.