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5 Easy Steps for Teaching Executive Functioning in the Classroom

By Rachael Barron

As teachers, we are charged with the day-to-day responsibility of helping our students learn, making topics they might find uninteresting – interesting. Over the past year, we’ve experienced how challenging it can be to keep our students engaged and ourselves motivated. So, how in the world could we possibly add one more thing to teach – is it possible or even important?

The lack of strong executive function skills can interfere with the delivery of our content, making it difficult for students to receive what we’re teaching. Have you ever felt like you were swimming upstream with some students? Is there a better way to reach them? Yes!

Why teach executive functioning in the classroom?

Barriers to receiving instruction make it difficult for students to hear our message. If we identify the barriers and teach students how to overcome them, they build competencies to take with them throughout their educational careers. When students are young, they’re still learning how to learn. Around 2nd – 4th grade, students move from learning to read to reading to learn. It’s not any different for executive functioning skills – ‘learning to plan and then planning to learn’ follows a similar pattern.

How is this accomplished in the classroom setting? 

Teaching executive functioning skills in the classroom can be simplified into a few:

• Set aside time to practice. Frequency is more important than duration. With a good curriculum, an average of 15 minutes each week is a good place to start. 

• Build value and consistently maintain those expectations. Students can learn to do it but since they learn by doing we must build opportunities to practice. Some may just need a little more practice than others which makes the exercises that much more important.

• Grading academic management skills standardize the expectations and identify the skills students need to be available for learning. Just as students need to read, do math, be well fed, have access to sleep, they need skills to organize and manage their time, tasks and plan ahead.

• Help students self-evaluate. Are they aware of their struggles? Learning progression? Feelings about these skills? By engaging the student in his/her own learning process, you’ve engaged a partner in solving the problem.

• Communicate and connect. A common vocabulary describing and defining executive functioning skills helps to clarify expectations and accelerate learning. Enlist parents in the process building value in what you’re teaching and gaining the support the students need at home to continue to practice what you’re teaching.

Executive Functioning Workshops

Interested in getting support for you and your students next year? Click here to learn about Effective Students summer certification series. To register for the instructor workshop  and access to the full curriculum for next year, click here – Effective Students Educator Workshop

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