Have you ever thought about why students don’t complete their work?  Have you ever wondered why after you teach a lesson it is as if some students have ear plugs in and haven’t heard anything you have said?  Have you ever told your students, “Make sure you study tonight”?

Now ask yourself:  

  • Have you ever taught them HOW to do these things?
    • How to pay attention
    • How to prioritize and plan their work
    • How to study

Executive functioning skills are a necessity for students to thrive in the classroom and beyond.  If a school system invests in developing these skills early on, student success will soar.

In an article written by Beckett Haight, featured by The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, you can see the importance of school wide methodology for teaching executive functioning skills.  I have included what I believe to be the core of his article in the paragraphs below.

I would be willing to contend that every teacher has had that moment when for some reason they were next to a student who opened their backpack and it was filled with handfuls of loose papers, maybe one notebook for all subjects, and sometimes an old snack at the bottom.

Or you may be able to easily think of those students in your class this year who don’t know when things are due, struggle to hit deadlines, spend half the independent work time in class doing other things, or generally wait until the last minute to get work done. These are some of the areas of Executive Functioning (EF) that children are developing at each stage of their lives. At every age we expect to see different levels of EF development and it’s the job of educators and schools to consider how we can help all children we work with to have the age-appropriate EF skills.

What Exactly are Executive Functions?  

Common areas of Executive Functioning relate to the following:

  • Flexibility
  • Working memory
  • Task initiation
  • Time management
  • Goal setting
  • Organization

Stemming from these EFs, the academic areas that I have often seen students struggle with if they have underdeveloped EF skills are things like: planning long-term assignments, making to-do lists (i.e. prioritizing), having an organizer, organizing their notebooks, goal setting and completing, and procrastination or unrealistic expectations relating to time needed to complete a task.

Many of these skills often relate directly to a student’s academic life, yet teachers don’t often directly teach these skills.  Many teachers feel that students should already have these skills, or maybe that their parents could help in this area.  There are also times teachers want to work with these EF skills, but find it hard to make time while working with other academic needs, English Language Learners, keeping up the pace with their partner teacher, etc. At the end of the day, students are in a position to do so much better when part of the school ethos leads to helping them with these skills in general, or when there is time in the day to work on these skills with students who are having specific difficulties.

How can this be done? 

This support begins with schools and classroom teachers; that is, what is the schoolwide expectation for what level of EF proficiency we expect students to have at a given grade level.  Grade teams and divisions should determine articulate what they want their students to be able to do, what they will do to help them learn and manage these skills, and what steps they will take if some students still are struggling.

Call to Action  

Helping students develop these executive functions during a school year takes time – not just out of each day, but over weeks and months.  Through common classroom best practices to support these executive functions, and through looking at bringing our school schedules into the 21st Century with changes such as flex schedules, we will be laying the foundation for students to perform at the heights of their potential.

We are leaving the time where we casually lamented that our students were so disorganized, but we didn’t have systematic ways to combat it. We are slowly getting to a point where we no longer realize a student doesn’t understand the content once they fail the summative…or a grading period.

There are lots of reasons why students struggle and lots of ways that educators can support them, but working on developing every student’s executive functioning skills will get us to a point where we can more accurately see where they are and take them to the next level. 

In my Executive Functioning Skills That Every Child Needs workshop we will organize a plan to be implemented into  your everyday classroom routine.  This will teach students how to learn.


Click here to read the full article referenced in this post.

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