Today’s teachers are expected to prepare students for a fast-changing world where competencies such as creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking are proving more useful than basic academics. But teachers already have too much to do just to keep up with Common Core standards and expectations of their own school districts. In addition, they have not been instructed on how to teach executive-functioning skills in the classroom.
Executive functions are defined by psychologists as a set of processes that have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal. It is an umbrella term for the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation, which play an important role in twenty-first century classrooms.
Focus and organization are two of the most important executive-functioning skills for the classroom. Kids who struggle with these skills cannot follow directions, often do not complete their homework, and tend to fall behind their peers. The following strategies can be helpful in teaching skills in focus and organization for teachers who have the opportunity to use video games and other technologies in the classroom:
Using Games and Technology to Teach Focus and Organization
Ask students to instruct a teacher or fellow student in starting a new game. The process of knowing where to start and how to get going efficiently requires strategy. Helping children to articulate the strategy may be useful in getting them to apply similar strategic thinking to classroom activities.
Sustaining attention and persistence to tasks requires returning to an activity after an interruption. Allow students to play a lengthy video game for a short period of time, with the understanding that they will be interrupted and need to return to the play later. Help the students to think about how they can reengage in the game play.
Use other digital technologies to work on focus. A great deal of focus is required when viewing a complicated movie or television show in which there are multiple plots, details, and characters. Discussing the need to sustain attention but also having to switch focus from one character or plot to another is important in understanding the complexity of the situation.
Ask students to organize or characterize the types of video games they play. They might want to organize them into groups such as role playing, adventure, puzzle and problem solving, or other types of games.
Ask your students to help you with an organizational strategy involving your use of digital technologies in the classroom. Having them organize a contact list on your cell phone or a play list on an iPod could get them to start thinking about organization.
Organize a playlist for music. Have students bring in appropriate music CD’s and put the music onto iTunes or another music organizer/manager. Then have the class make decisions about creating playlists, organizing music by genre, and making their own lists of favorites.
Video Games for Focus and Organization
Nancy Drew Codes and Clues modernizes super detective Nancy Drew as a computer-coding middle-school student with a cute robot puppy. Nancy receives an invitation to a science fair, but when she and her friends arrive at the host school they discover a mystery: other students’ science fair projects are missing, tampered with, and covered in a sticky substance. The player assists Nancy in searching for clues using different mini-games, practicing focus and organization along the way.
Tiny Death Star is a strategy sim based in the Star Wars universe where focus and organization are the keys to success. There is an intergalactic war that needs funding, and a lively, successful Death Star is the answer to all financial needs. By building floor after floor of residential, business, and (hidden) imperial levels, you can earn the money that will ultimately help you conquer the galaxy. It’s also your duty to assign jobs to all residents, according to their skill level. The higher the skill, the greater the rewards, so pay attention! Be sure to also keep a lookout for rebel spies – they will try to infiltrate the death star and steal valuable secrets!
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s newest entry in a franchise that started in 1986. In this chapter, Link wakes to find himself in a high-tech sleep chamber with no memories of his past. The player learns that Link was asleep for 100 years after a failed battle with Calamity Ganon. As a result, Link must now complete this fight in order to save Hyrule. The player gets to explore a massive open-world video game full of adventure, monsters, and puzzles. Because the game encourages experimentation and exploration, each player can shape the story according to their own pace, gaining focus, organization, and other thinking skills as they play.
There are lots more video games and apps that can help build organization and focus skills. Visit our searchable library to read reviews.
Featured image: Flickr user John Morgan