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Top 6 Expert Strategies To Develop Executive Function Skills 

executive function skills

Executive functions, in science, is a collective term given to certain neurological processes involving mental control and self-regulation. The skills that effectively make use of these functions are called executive function skills. These functions are known to control and regulate social and cognitive behavior viz;

  •  Paying attention
  •  Controlling impulses 
  • Becoming resilient
  • Organizing and planning
  • Reactions towards social situations. 

As per the experts, executive functions are controlled by the prefrontal cortex of our brain. The human brain is not naturally developed in terms of executive function, but it can be developed in the growing age. However, every student is different from others in many aspects and mental capacity being one of them. That’s why for those who are a deficit in this skill, there is a need to pay extra attention. The following strategies are found useful to help those deficit students:

Teaching Support can help develop executive functions skills:

When it comes to helping students who are a deficit in a particular skill, it is the school that can offer a lot of support. Students who think they are suffering from a mental disorder can seek help from their teachers. For instance, if a student is lacking in active speaking skills then his teacher can help him by giving him assignments that include speaking. A teacher may also track his progress closely and guide him to improve at every step.

To develop executive function skills in students, teachers may also use examples depicting what active speaking and listening is to clarify any doubt in a student’s mind. They can even show video clips or play audio recordings of great speakers of all time. Further, teachers can tell students to closely analyze how they are performing and write down the key points. This will ensure that deficit students can learn not just by words but by actually experiencing the skill they want to learn.

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In many cases, students are aware of the tasks they want to do but have no idea of ‘How?’. For students lacking this skill, teachers can confirm whether they have complete material or resources to complete the task. A teacher can also make a checklist of all the necessary resources. For older students, teachers can guide them to make a checklist and then tell them to arrange the materials in the best way possible.

Infusing executive function skills by metacognition: 

Metacognitive strategies are another great option to explore to help students lacking in executive function skills. The key here is to use simple yet effective and personalized metacognitive language. Take as an example, articulating a young student with a challenge, “I see you don’t have a notebook to do the assignment. Without that, you won’t be able to do your work. Where are you going to get it from?”

It is worth noting that challenges like depicted above trigger a student’s mind to think creatively and actively. This will also increase his concentration as the work has to be done in a strict time frame. Teachers can also be creative while training their students. They can even provide metacognitive projects to students as per their behavior or personality.

Personalization of information greatly increases the memory retention of a student. Because when they relate to something, they actually experience it. The classroom can also include displaying steps and instructions by a number of students.

Simply stated, a student can repeat directions to a partner who, in turn, will dictate it to a volunteer and then to the whole class. This activity takes some additional time but gives time for auditory processing for any student who may need it thereby developing executive function skills.

Time management as a tool to build executive functions skills:

Developing a habit of planning before doing any task or work is indeed a sure-shot strategy to develop executive functions skills like time management. In schools, posting schedules and guiding students to work on the basis of a time table can further boost the process. Determining the duration and sequence of each period in a day and outlining the goal of it can give a glimpse of the day in a nutshell.

Long-term assignments can be particularly difficult for students who are a deficit in executive functions. One way of tackling this problem is to teach students how to break large projects into smaller chunks. These smaller chunks are often easy-to-do and ‘seem’ less in amount, thereby decreases mental pressure.

To manifold the advantages of this management strategy, one can even use a calendar to stay on track. Marking the start and the most likely end time of work will definitely help to grasp the time in hands.

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Review and revision increase long-term memory:

Reviewing is a very effective method to retain a huge amount of information for long periods. Not only it helps in increasing memory capacity but it also clarifies the concept every time you read it. Schools can provide a number of opportunities to students for review before moving on. This will ensure that students don’t just cram a subject, but rather understand it to the core.

There are a number of ways review and revision can be included in teaching methodology:

  • The simplest of them all is a quick oral presentation of the topic taught yesterday.
  • The teacher can also pair up students and let them share what they remember about yesterday.
  • Teachers can also ask fundamental questions regarding old topics.

This technique of review and revision can be paired up with mind maps and concept maps of the topics. The idea of a concept map is basic i.e. including useful graphic organizers for note-taking, comparing/contrasting, and writing. If done in groups, it will be of immense importance to the student lacking the executive function skills.

The key takeaway here is that the process of mind-mapping and review causes the mind to get organized. Hence, the thoughts get organized too which further helps deficit students get better mentally.

Teacher interaction:

The behavior of a teacher towards a student can also be very influential to students who may have deficits. In a school, it is the teacher who interacts with students most of the time. Thus, if a teacher shows her caring behavior to students, they will surely feel more motivated. 

Having a caring demeanor and a positive school experience helps a student grow fast. And it also further boost up the morale of students having a deficit of certain executive function skills. That’s why positive interaction with a teacher is of paramount importance.

Additionally, teachers can identify those students who need extra attention. Then they can decide to check in frequently and provide discreet support when needed.

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Offering environmental support: 

Environmental support means the development of a motivating space where students can learn, grow, and thrive. Some easy steps to help students improve their executive functions skills are:

  • Posting a daily schedule. A schedule provides a glimpse of all the activities and their duration that has to be done in a day. It also gives a clear idea of the time allotment and nature of work.
  • Providing visual aids such as colorful posters depicting problem-solving steps or routines. Color-coded folders and text may also be useful to clarify the nature of the information shown.
  • Minimizing clutter and maintaining clearly defined areas in the classroom to avoid any unorganized space.

The Bottomline

Executive functions take time to fully develop in students of various ages. This is because the prefrontal cortex of the brain needs a long duration of time to modify its neural networks. Also, the growth rate is different for students. Because of the human brain’s plasticity and the scope of improvement, it is possible to trigger the growth of mind through these strategies.

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