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How to Teach Executive Functions in any Classroom

“ ...improving executive function seems like a potentially promising vehicle for narrowing the achievement gap between poor kids and middle-class kids...if we can improve a child's environment in the specific ways that lead to better executive functioning, we can increase his prospects for success in a particularly efficient way.”

Paul Tough  How Children Succeed

Welcome! We are excited you are investing in yourself and your students to learn about how to teach Executive Functions.

What are Executive Functioning Skills and Why They are Important Now

Executive Functioning Skills (EFs) are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. EFs are the bedrock for academic success. If we revisit the compass analogy, EFs are the skills needed to use a compass to identify, navigate, and safely arrive at a destination. When students gain proficiency with particular EFs they are more likely to experience success and engage in their learning with both agency and dexterity.

As students progress through their K-12 experience schoolwork gets harder and more complex while students are asked to be more independent learners. Young people with weak or lacking EFs, or executive dysfunction, tend to fall further and further behind.

Additionally, recent studies analyzing the impact of the pandemic on young people suggest that executive functioning plays a key role in protecting against risk factors of depression and anxiety. There is no better time to model and teach EFs for the sake of your students' academic success and personal wellbeing.

Thank you for the training, I will definitely be passing it on. The more I work, read, and explore, the more I am convinced that executive functioning and social skills are the two most important things we can teach our students.

Zachary Walker - University of Central Florida

Teaching EFs

We have identified three guiding principles for teaching Executive Functioning Skills : Being explicit, creating a routine, and modeling their use for students.

Being Explicit

Students expend less cognitive energy in learning environments with clear routines, expectations, and agreements. The opposite is also true. When expectations are in consistent and/or ambiguous we increase the cognitive load on students which ultimately interferes with they learning. For students struggling with executive disfunction this problem is amplified. Lisa Delpit, in Other Peoples Children, suggests that effective teachers should work to make that which is implicit in classroom, explicit. Routine and modeling help teachers be more explicit.

Creating Routine

For the sake of your students, create a daily learning routine and stick to it, each and every day, the entire school year! You will find the same in this course. Each lesson consists of the same parts, in the same sequence, to create a consistent flow and routine.

That is not to suggest that teachers should not be creative. We recommend being as creative as possible with lessons to employ multiple learning modalities and engaging students in fun and collaborative activities. However, when it comes to the learning routine, consistency is king! Predictable learning spaces are safer. When students feel safe they are more likely to take the risks inherent to learning. Here is the key: If simultaneously students are developing EFs by virtue of engaging in the predictable routine - WIN WIN!

In this course we will teach you a routine that gives students daily practice with EFs. Therefore, you do not have to worry about "teaching" EFs, students learn them by engaging in your routine. Doug Lemov, in Teach Like A Champion, says it best, "Consider one unmistakable driver of students’ achievement: Carefully built and practiced routines…”

In most lessons you will see the following graphic to remind you of our suggested learning routine:

Modeling. - The Binder!

Over the years we have found that a binder is the tactile tool that will help students learn EFs most effectively. Here is what each student will need:

  • 1-inch binder
  • Set of 6+ tabs
  • Packet of binder paper

Throughout this course we will reference student binders as well as your Class Sample Binder. We believe that a binder is the tactile tool that will help students learn EFs most effectively. Because EFs are best learned through modeling, we encourage you to maintain a Class Sample Binder. To do so simply update your sample binder each day before class or school, just as your students will do with their binders in class when engaged in your learning routine.

We recommend that binders have the following tabs:

  • Tab 1: Goals
  • Tab 2: Daily Reflections
  • Tab 3: Calendar
  • Tab 4: Table of Contents
  • Tab 5: Appendix
  • Tab 6: Completed Unit Packets
  • Spare paper (no tab needed)

A few other things that are helpful to know before you begin

This course consists of 8 Lessons and a conclusion. Each Lesson focuses on a different EF. It should take approximately 60 minutes to complete the course. As you progress through each lesson, please enter "Focus Mode" by clicking the arrow in the upper left corner of the page next to the How to Teach Executive Functions in any Classroom header.

Once you have successfully completed the course you can download your certificate of completion.

You are all set, here's to your success!


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