In an educational setting, executive functions are essential. Students rely on executive function skills everyday to complete their work, manage their workload, and take the next step in their academic and emotional journeys.
As educators, we acutely know the importance of strong executive function skills—yet teaching those skills to students and getting them to implement effective strategies can feel overwhelming. In order to support teachers tackling this challenge in the classroom, we’ve gathered key resources for teaching executive function in this article.
Understanding Executive Function Skills
Executive functions are the discrete skills that allow students to evaluate their resources, mentally organize, and complete tasks while remaining emotionally well-regulated and engaged. These functions begin when a student evaluates their resources, then estimates the time needed, and finally perseveres to completion, requiring them to also stay on task. Developing fully between the ages of 13 and 25, executive functioning skills include organization, time management, working memory, emotional control, flexible thinking, response inhibition, and stress tolerance.
Executive dysfunction, or the inability to effectively call upon these executive function skills, is a common but often unaddressed challenge for students of all backgrounds and abilities. Executive dysfunction often occurs alongside ADD/ADHD, compounding the challenges for the student and furthering the distance between student and instruction.
Today, nearly every class will have a student with ADD or ADHD. Strategies that are good for these students are also beneficial for all students. Multisensory learning, visual supports, written instructions, and project-based learning all will help all learners engage with core content.
The successful development of executive function skills is a key indicator for the long-term success of a student.
Why Teachers Should Care About the Development of Executive Functions
With everything else that’s expected of educators, why should they worry about executive function?
Put simply, executive function is a vital building block for a student’s successful future. Without basic executive functions skills, students are going to struggle not only in their academic role and eventual career, but also in their everyday lives. It’s also the lens through which students’ translate the instruction from the teacher, filtering the content he or she is supposed to learn.
Executive dysfunction can impede a student’s ability to learn and negatively impact their relationship with academics (and also with their instructors). Even bright students can find themselves struggling on tests and failing to complete assignments if they lack the right executive function skills.
The presence or absence of executive function skills can also become more prominent when monitoring a student’s emotional response to academic demands which can range from feigned disinterest to emotional outbursts or somewhere in between. If a student lacks the discrete skills to plan and complete their work, they can, in turn, develop anxiety and even bad habits when it comes to academic challenges, such as giving up quickly or lashing out when feeling overwhelmed.
Behavioral vs. Cognitive Executive Functions
We categorize executive function skills into two groups: academic management skills and social emotional skills. Academic management skills are those that relate to the organization and completion of tasks, like working memory and time management, while social emotional skills, or SEL, refer to skills like response inhibition and flexibility
If a student receives direct instruction on how to successfully build academic management skills, they may find that social emotional skills are much easier to address, and anxiety and stress is reduced. However, if a student only receives emotional management instruction, they may feel better, but they may not actually be able to show that in their academic performance.
Sometimes there is a difference between the lack of a skill and the presence of obstructive behavior, but both can interfere with learning. It’s important for teachers to distinguish between the two, as a skill deficit gets better with instruction and practice. If there is a particular behavior involved, it is usually because that behavior has a function. If a teacher can help the student find the function (i.e. escape, avoidance, attention, etc.), they can better identify the solution together and positively reward and encourage the student to follow through.
Executive Function Resources for Teachers
When it comes to teaching executive function skills, it can be hard to know where to start. Below, we’ve gathered helpful executive function resources for teachers to implement in their classrooms.
When it comes to executive function resources, teachers should start with the right vocabulary. We’ve gathered terms and phrases related to executive functioning in a single digital glossary, which can easily be shared with parents, other educators, and even students. By sharing this glossary, everyone can be on the same page about their goals and what their student is learning. Visit the glossary.
Teachers seeking an all-in-one solution will likely want to start with an executive function skills manual or guidebook. For this precise need, we created the Effective Student Method™ Instructor Manual, a comprehensive curriculum for teaching executive functioning specific to academic management skills. The Instructor Manual contains lesson plans, student handouts, guided notes, assessments, progress reports, quizzes tests, and printables as well as different pacing guides for various environments. Order the Instructor Manual today.
The Instructor Course for the Effective Student™ Curriculum includes every resource a teacher could need to understand and implement an executive function curriculum. The Instructor Course equips teachers with strategies to teach executive function skills and emphasize their importance. The executive function curriculum includes extensive materials for use in the classroom, including videos for students, videos for teachers, lesson plans, exercises, grading rubrics, and handouts. In this course, teachers will be able to take the time to really practice and work through how they can teach executive function skills. Explore the course.
When it comes to teaching executive function skills, time management is a great place to start. To help educators accomplish this, we created a time management worksheet—which is free to download! This resource features an example worksheet and a lesson plan that teachers can use with students. This simple worksheet can help teachers guide students to build a strong time management foundation. Download the worksheet.
Many students benefit from using a planner that is tailored to successful executive functioning, such as the Effective Students™ Planner. The planner contains instructions on how to plan ahead, areas to plan study activities, and a cheat sheet for study activities for different types of subjects. Shop the planner.
5 Tips for Supporting Executive Function Skills in Your Classroom
Leverage the right executive function resources with these tips to bring a successful program to your classroom.
- Dedicate time to teaching executive function skills. By setting aside time and being clear about the value of executive function skills, teachers can help students slowly but surely build foundational skills. This can be done in as little as 15 minutes per week.
- Use metacognitive language and exercises. Invite students to reflect on the process and what they are learning. If your student is also a partner in their learning, synergy results!
- Provide helpful tools. Different students will need different resources, so be sure to have self-monitoring tools, planning exercises, and more on hand.
- Be empathetic and flexible. Remember that different students have different needs and learning can be by its nature, difficult. Meet students where they are—they are more likely to follow.
- Practice planning ahead. Give students the opportunity to make an intentional choice when it comes to how they address their time and tasks.
Effective Students Resources and Solutions for Educators
At Effective Students, we know educators already bear a heavy burden. Lack of executive function skills can make teaching more difficult when trying to reach a student or entire groups of students. When students have executive function habits and skills, including basic academic management skills, our job of reaching them becomes easier.
All of our executive function resources, including the Instructor Course and Effective Student™ Curriculum, are designed with educators in mind, aiming to make their jobs as teachers easier and their students more competent and confident learners.