The Importance of Executive Functions in the Classroom

There are many strategies that can be used to improve executive functions in the classroom. While our focus at LearningWorks for Kids is primarily around using digital technologies, many other approaches are useful, particularly for kids with special needs. There are also many of the children, who are not described as having special needs, who may struggle with a specific executive functioning skills. For example, it is quite common to find kids who have difficulties with organizational or time management skills who did not display any other signs of special needs or learning concerns. Educators are encouraged to recognize these executive function deficits and in the students and to provide them with a set of traditional as well as nontraditional strategies to improve the skills.

Here are a set of traditional strategies for supporting executive functions in the classroom.

Provide a specific time in class to allow students to organize materials and to write down homework – This helps kids with organizational, working memory, and time management difficulties

Provide structural movement breaks –  This helps kids with sustained attention, working memory,  task initiation

Provide extra time for written assignments – This helps kids with time management and task initiation

Provide notes, PowerPoint presentation, and outlines – This helps kids with working memory and task persistence

Specific strategies for revision and rechecking of assignments – This helps with metacognition and flexibility skills.

Nontraditional strategies that involve the use of technology can serve to both practice and support children with weak executive functioning skills. For example learning how to master an electronic calendar or an apps such as Evernote can be incredibly powerful for improving organization and planning skills.

One of the main reasons to use games and technology to improve executive function skills and students is children’s attention and engagement to these technologies. At the most basic level play equals learning and when kids are using technologies they often feel as if they are simply playing with these tools. As a result, they are more likely to practice using these technologies, be more focused while using them, and more engaged with the teacher who’s using them to improve the skills.

In order for teachers to use these technologies to help children improve executive functioning skills, they do not need to be an expert in each and every technology, but should have some general knowledge of which technologies can help kids. Teachers will want to be able to find resources in school such technology experts or resource teachers who know some of these tools. Websites such as LearningWorks for Kids can also help teachers learn how to choose and use these technologies to improve students executive functioning skills. Here are a few apps that can be very powerful in improving and supporting children’s executive functioning skills in the classroom.

Forgetful – an iOS app that creates simple to do list with reminders. This app provides both video and audio reminders as well as text and can help with organization.

Hay Day – a simulation game that illustrates the concept of time management. Overseeing one’s own farm requires an understanding of time and also uses planning

myHomework – an app that helps with planning and scheduling. Students can input dates due dates for assignments, relevant details, and information that moves into an interactive calendar.

Evernote – a multifaceted and incredibly useful app that helps with note taking, archiving, organizing,and metacognitive skills. Evernote can be used on a very simple level for keeping track of notes but also used on a  more complex level that is useful to high school, college, high school, and college students.


Featured image: Flickr user Ms. Crowley

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