Harvard University Center on the Developing Child identify “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.
More and more parents are telling me their child struggles with executive functioning skills. Teachers are expected to help students with these skills and provide scaffolds and supports for students to develop these skills and habits.
Here are some places to start
- Creating a Clean and Organized Workspace is central for homework and remote learning. This space needs to be organized which can be a challenge with executive functioning. This requires getting rid of distractions and having materials accessible when needed. If the phone is a distraction using Do Not Disturb or similar apps are helpful. Stay Focused App or SelfControl App increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.
- Focus, Sustaining and Shifting Attention to Tasks requires a student to ask themselves What is important now? What should I put away and what do I need to complete this task? An organized space can help with focus. Have the students complete one task at a time and then take a break. Using a timer can be helpful or rewarding oneself when the task is completed provides some motivation. I am a huge fan of checklists to make sure I am on track and getting things done. This action of self monitoring and self regulating is key.
- Break Down Larger Assignments and taking one task at a time helps with focus. What is the process to get this done and what steps do I need to complete this? Breaking down assignments or create a task list/to do list for the project helps to scaffold the assignments. It is easy then to tell oneself to work on Step 1 first then Step 2 next. I am also a fan of false deadlines and getting things done before I have to so I can give myself more time for revision or just get it done and move forward.
- Managing Frustration and Modulating Emotions is important because if we are angry or sad, it gets in the way of us doing our personal best. I keep focus music on while doing work and know when I cannot focus I might need to exercise, go for a walk or figure out what is getting in my way. My daughter has a box of fidgets she uses while she is doing remote learning and on the computer for a long time. Meditation and mindful exercises help regulate emotions and frustrations. Calm and Headspace are great apps for mindfulness and meditation. Breathing Zone provides family yoga classes online.
- Agendas are so helpful for students. I post a weekly agenda that shows all the work that is due for students that week and sometimes a space with upcoming dates if they want to get ahead. Even on a daily basis, providing a daily agenda or mindmap of the class procedures can clarify expectations and requirements. This visual support can help with routines and transition. I strongly recommend that my own students keep an agenda on paper or a digital agenda so they know everything they have to do for each of their subjects and studies.