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25 Ways to Improve Executive Functioning- Useful Tips for Parents and Teachers

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, “Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.” (National Center for Learning Disabilities, Dec 2010)

In a blog article written by Nicole Eredics from The Inclusive Class, there are 25 ways for parents and teachers to help improve students’ executive functioning. In italics,  I have written a response to each idea to describe what I do in the classroom. I hope it is helpful for people to see what could happen in a general education setting. Please keep in mind middle school and high school might be slightly different. I will comment on those settings at the end of the list.

The list is as follows:

1. Have students take homework and planners out of their backpack and place it ON their desks at the beginning of the day (homework should never see the inside of a desk!).
As a teacher, I agree with this. I have had more students shove homework in their desk and forget about it. Then when it comes time to dismiss it is not in their backpack. They can’t find it. They come the next day unprepared. I have a little saying in my class, “If you put it where it is supposed to be, it will always be there.” After once or twice, most of my students are able to organize themselves much better. When the homework is passed out, most of the students will place it in a folder in their backpacks.

2. Teacher makes time to check-in with each child to see if homework is completed and parent signs planner.
I have a daily note, I require parents to sign each day. This is something I need to reinforce. However, it is sticky because I ask the students but it is the parents that also must remember. It is late in the year this year but I will work on this for the 2012-2013 year.

3. All homework is put into a “Hand-In” bin.
I don’t’ have a hand in bin but I do call 5 children at a time to check their homework. The homework is very easy to spot check.

4. A Daily Schedule is posted in the class and the teacher reviews the plan for the day.
I need to make room for this on my whiteboard. I think this will help many of my students who have anxiety as to what comes next.

5. Older students keep materials such as pencils, erasers and markers in a pencil box inside their desk. In younger classrooms, pencils are kept in containers, which are passed around or kept at group tables.
I have a system in my class for pencils. Each child has a pencil box. Inside the pencil box, the student has a scissors, crayons, and a pencil. If the pencil breaks, I have a trade system. The student must put the dull pencil in the dull basket and take a sharp pencil. The rule is “you must give one to get one.”

6. The tops of desks should be kept clear. If it can’t fit into the desk, find a shelf in the classroom to house large items.
I agree that the tops of the desks should be free of clutter. I used to place the alphabet strips and name plates on the desk. This just seemed to distract the student. Now, I have nothing on their desks.

7. All work is kept in a color-coded folder according to subject. The folders are kept in separate bins on a shelf in the classroom. I.e. a blue folder is for Math
I don’t have this system. I like the idea. I have binders for Language Arts. The students must keep it organized. It contains a few sections that align with our Language Arts program. I don’t have a system for Math. I love the idea of the colored folders. I think I will implement this for next year.

8. Lessons are kept in age-appropriate chunks of time and students are cued when a transition is about to take place. I.e. “You have 10 more minutes until Math begins.”
I am constantly informing students  when the next transition will be happening. This is very important for all students. I also use a timer as well. This keeps me in check too.

9. Countdown students before instruction is about to begin. For example, “You have to the count of 5 to stop, look and listen.”
I like this. I don’t do this countdown to instruction. I will add this to my bag of tricks for next year.

10. Give instructions in short, simple steps.
Short and simple steps are crucial. I write the steps on the board too. This way if the student forgets the steps, the student is able to help him or herself in order to finish the activity.

11. At the end of each lesson, have student’s hand-in unfinished work, as well as finished work. Again, paper should not go into the desk!
In my class, the finished work is placed in my finished workbasket. However, there is paper in the desk because I can’t stand the up, down and walking around. It creates too much chaos. So, I have an “Unfinished work folder” They keep this in their desk. We clean it out every so often.

12. Create a checklist of daily activities for students to keep at their desk and check off when items are completed.
I like this idea. I have a checklist. I have to make it more visible. I should move it to the front of the room. This might help many of the students who wonder, “What should I do? Oh, I’ll just sit here and wait for my teacher to tell me.”
13. Organize class into groups. Give instruction regarding movement and change according to groups. For example, “Can the Blue Group please line-up at the door?”
I do use groupings. It eliminates the students running like a herd of buffalo toward the door, paper bin, etc.…it is for safety purposes.
14. Make a seating arrangement when students are sitting at the carpet. Learning takes place here as well as at desks, so give this area just as much thought.
We only sit at the carpet when we venture out to the library. I make the students sit in a colored box. Their body must stay inside the box, and sit “Criss-cross apple sauce”.
15. Consider having the students turn the desks around (so that the opening of the desk is facing the front of the classroom) to prevent loose papers from being placed inside.
I like this idea. However, it makes it hard when you have double desks. I think it is helpful for those students who fidget inside their desk and are focused on the items in the desk instead of listening to the instruction.

16. Model the activity or behavior you expect from children and then have them practice it. Repeat if necessary.
This is crucial. If you don’t model the activity, students have a difficult time visualizing what the final product will be. The student can read the directions but demonstrating really helps cement the process of the activity in the students’ brain.

17. Create a Homework Board. At the end of the day, set aside time to review the homework for the day. Then have all students copy homework into their planners. Accommodations can be made if the student has trouble writing from the board, (ie. the student can take photo of homework board with a digital camera, a buddy can write out homework etc.).
I review the homework on Mondays. I think I need to add this for next year. I will write the homework on the board and review it before dismissing students. Even though I have the homework sheet posted on my web page, this might be more helpful to students who are more forgetful.

18. Guide students as they gather their homework, planner and materials to take home.
I need to work on this too. At the end of the day, I am always running late. I need to take five minutes and make sure children have their reader, homework, and parent notes.

19. Have students place their homework and materials immediately into their backpacks.
Even though this year most I my students place their homework in the backpack, I will begin my class next year training the students how to be organized about placing the homework in the backpack.

20. Some students may benefit from having an extra copy of textbooks to keep home.
My students don’t need an extra copy of the textbook. The only time a student is able to have an extra copy of the text is if the parents of the student have this written into an IEP. The general education class has the students bring the textbooks to the home and back to school the following day.
As for my son, who is in middle school, we have this extra copy of textbook written into the IEP. The reason for this is the heaviness of the books, and the anxiety of remembering to bring them home each day and then return the book the following day is stressful for my son.

21. Use the school website to post assignments, announcements and communicate with parents, as well as paper documents.
I think this is crucial. I have my homework posted each week. It is easy to keep up. In addition, I have links to great websites that might help my students.

22. When the child arrives home, unpack the backpack right away!
Parents need to do this more often. They need to go through their child’s backpack. They need to look at their child’s work and look for any school information. More often than not, parents don’t take the time to unpack the backpack.
As for my son, even though he is in middle school, we still take the time to go through the backpack. I am able to see where he still needs help placing papers in a folder or binder. This allows my son and I to have a conversation about papers floating in the backpack.

23. Help the child lay out homework and materials in a quiet workspace, where an adult can check-in and oversee progress.
I think this is important for parents to remember. The television and radio must be off. If you really want to listen to music, have the music be classical and on a soft volume. Many times, I hear too many stories from my students about the television being too loud and the student had a difficult time focusing. Parents need to be mindful of this situation.

24. Check to see if all homework is completed and then sign the homework planner to indicate that the homework is done.
Most parents in Elementary check their child’s homework. However, I do have some parents who don’t check the homework and the homework comes back to class incorrect because the student needed some clarification of directions.
I did check my son’s homework in elementary school and for the first two years in middle school. Now, I don’t need to check as much. I spot check for neatness and grammar issues. In addition, he has a tutor due to the fact that he is in honors classes and most of the concepts he is learning is over my head.

25. Have child pack all homework and materials into his/her backpack as soon as everything has been completed and leave it by the door for the next day!
I think this is very important to teach organization skills. It is important because the child is able to fully rest knowing that in the morning everything is all ready to go. The student doesn’t need to run around looking for all their homework or books because they took care of everything the night before.
We do this with Nolan. He has improved tremendously in his organization because of having his backpack ready the night before. He wakes up rested and relaxed. He has breakfast, gets ready for school, and is out the door. He is not frantic or having a panic attack. Every now and then, he forgets something, but it is not such an ordeal anymore.

Here is the link to the full article.
http://www.theinclusiveclass.com/2012/05/25-easy-ways-to-improve-executive.html

So, How Does the 25 items play out in Middle and High School?

How should these 25 tips play out in Middle School and High School?

Some could work better than others. The most important ones are as follows:

1) Create a Homework Board

2) Use the school website to post assignments, announcements and communicate with parents, as well as paper documents.

I think not only should the teacher have a homework board, the teacher MUST post the homework on a webpage.

3) Give instructions in short, simple steps. –

More often than not, teachers assign projects with unclear instructions. The instructions should be clear. The teacher should provide a rubric or checklist for the requirements of the assignment. If possible scan and link an example of the assignment on the webpage.

4) Some students may benefit from having an extra copy of textbooks to keep home.

In middle school and high school the textbooks are heavy and thick. If the student is to carry all those textbooks each day in a backpack, it is too heavy. It may cause back injuries from being hunched over, as well. We have tried the rolling backpacks. Most seem to fall apart, just like the backpacks, from the heavy load. I know this year alone we purchased three backpacks.

5) Guide students as they gather their homework, planner and materials to take home.
Most of the time, the teacher is rushed at the end of the period. Their should be a warning bell before the dismissal bell, to help teachers stop and help guide students to gather homework planner and materials to take home.

6) This is not mentioned in the list.  The school needs to have each teacher post the assignment on an e-grade book system.

Many schools have this.  Unfortunately many do not.  This is useful for the parent and child to see what assignments the student is missing.

Executive Functioning is Crucial to Success

In a blog I read, written by Byron McClure, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and author of the Blog Fligher Education, Understanding Executive Functioning, this blog cites information from a book Assessing Executive Functions: A Life-Span Perspective, by Cecil Reynolds.  In this book, Reynolds states Executive Function is  “associated with the frontal lobe of the brain.”  Reynolds states, the importance of the frontal lobe is that it “involves self-regulatory behavior, generative behavior, meta-cognition and working memory” (Reynolds, 2008) http://flighered.com/2012/05/13/understanding-executive-functioning/.
How does a school assess if a child has an Executive Function deficit?  One of the questionnaires that School Psychologists use is called Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning (BRIEF). According to McClure, the “BRIEF consists of two rating forms, a parent questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire, which is designed to evaluate and measure executive functioning in the home and school settings. The BRIEF is useful in evaluating children with developmental and acquired neurological conditions.”  In addition, McClure discusses a second assessment.  It is called “Conner’s – Third Edition Behavior Rating Scale.  This assessment is used for students who may have ADHD.  The assessment has a subset that rates Executive Functioning.”

On the www.ncld.org website, Dr. Sheldon Horowitz, defines Executive Function as the student’s ability to complete the following:

  • Make plans
  • Keep track of time and finish work on time
  • Keep track of more than one thing at once
  • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
  • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
  • Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
  • Engage in group dynamics
  • Wait to speak until we’re called on
  •  
 Students with Learning Disabilities have difficulties organizing their time when working on a project.  More importantly, these students have difficulties asking for help.   Here is the link for further information.  http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-executive-functioning/basic-ef-facts/what-is-executive-function
Here are some strategies used to help students with Executive Function Deficit suggested on http://www.ncld.org/ld-basics/ld-aamp-executive-functioning/basic-ef-facts/what-is-executive-function
General Strategies
  • Take step-by-step approaches to work; rely on visual organizational aids.
  • Use tools like time organizers, computers or watches with alarms.
  • Prepare visual schedules and review them several times a day.
  • Ask for written directions with oral instructions whenever possible.
  • Plan and structure transition times and shifts in activities.
Managing Time
  • Create checklists and “to do” lists, estimating how long tasks will take.
  • Break long assignments into chunks and assign time frames for completing each chunk.
  • Use visual calendars at to keep track of long term assignments, due dates, chores, and activities.
  • Use management software such as the Franklin Day Planner, Palm Pilot, or Lotus Organizer.
  • Be sure to write the due date on top of each assignment.
Managing Space and Materials
  • Organize work space.
  • Minimize clutter.
  • Consider having separate work areas with complete sets of supplies for different activities.
  • Schedule a weekly time to clean and organize the work space.
 Managing Work
  • Make a checklist for getting through assignments. For example, a student’s checklist could include such items as: get out pencil and paper; put name on paper; put due date on paper; read directions; etc.
  • Meet with a teacher or supervisor on a regular basis to review work; troubleshoot problems.
  •  
My husband and I use many of these strategies with our son.  It is very helpful.  We have our son create an assignment calendar using iCal. Nico’s calendar syncs with my husband’s and my calendar.  This way we can also keep an eye on his schedule.  In the calendar we have him schedule time for projects.  We have our son work a little bit each day.  This helps chuck the assignments in to small digestible bites.  We use the timer to help us transition from break time to the next activity.  We also allow Nico a choice as to what assignment he will do first.  On the weekends, we ask him what time he wants to start his homework, he tells us the time, and for the most part he sticks to his promise.  Was life always like this?  No, it sure wasn’t.  My husband and I realized we needed to help our son with executive functioning because the school wasn’t going to provide any assistance. Please trust me, for every two steps forward, sometimes we take one step back.
  In today’s school system, the students either sink or swim.  The school’s excuse is that their isn’t enough funding, or the teacher has too many students.  My question to the school is “How many of those student in the class have an IEP?”  This is a contract between the parent and the school to ensure your child swims and doesn’t sink.   In reality, it is up to the parents and the parents alone.  The notion of it takes a village to raise a child doesn’t hold true in most public schools today. 
Here is my advice, identify and understand whether your child has an executive functioning deficit is crucial to the success of his/her school and future life experience. 

Steve Kurtz interview on ADHD

I have found this most fabulous site.  The Coffee Klatch is a remarkable site that interviews many top notch professionals who work in the fields of Aspergers, OCD, ADHD and many other disorders.  
This afternoon, I listened to The Coffee Klatch.  I heard the interview with Dr. Steve Kurtz.  “Steven Kurtz, PhD, ABPP, is one of the nation’s leading clinicians in the treatment of children’s behavioral problems and disorders, particularly attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the social anxiety disorder selective mutism (SM)”  

Here is a brief summary of the interview.  I have a link below to click to listen to the entire interview.

What causes ADHD?  ADHD is difficulty with attention, materials, staying on task.  In addition, ADHD also includes, Difficulty with impulsivity not able to sit in seat.  There are two categories: inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.  There are differences.  As a teacher and a parent, it is important understand that the child with ADHD is painfully uncomfortable sitting still.  Dr. Kurtz compares a child having ADHD to wearing a straight jacket.  It is uncomfortable, frustrating and painful to wear.  Because ADHD causes a child to stand out, this affects the child’s self esteem.  The children tend to have low self-esteem.

How do children get ADHD?  According to Dr. Kurtz,  ADHD is about 77% genetic. Most of the time it is passed through the genes of the parent.  Other factors that can cause ADHD include, low-birth weight, and exposure to alcohol, nicotine or drugs. 

Students with ADHD have low executive functioning.  A recent intervention “Cog med”, http://www.cogmed.com/, is a new computer assisted program.  “Cogmed” is about training your working Memory.  The idea of “Cogmed”, computer assisted program, is that it retrains the brain.  It is targeted for students about age 8 and up.   The primary intervention is still using medication.  The children  who improved in executive functions had a combination of psycho-pharmacology and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and medications have made the most growth. 

In regards to CBT,  it is different from play therapy.  In the interview, Dr. Kurtz discusses that CBT is about providing the “parents and teachers skills to prompt, monitor and reinforce appropriate behavior, they do significantly better.”  It is important for the teacher and parent to know the behavior they are targeting.   It is important to reward for the appropriate behavior in order to support the child.  Dr. Kurtz said, “The child needs the adult to point out the behavior.” With older children, CBT works a little differently.  According to Dr. Kurtz, the teens are taught how to be there own monitors.  They teach the teen “how to organizer their world”.    Basically, teaching the young adults to advocate for themselves. 


As a teacher, I loved the idea about recognizing the ADHD student at least three times for something that child did well before I have that child change his/her clip (a very common behavior plan in many classrooms) for making a bad choice.   This is forcing the teacher to recognize that child for making good choices.  According to the interview, when teachers have the behavior plan and certain children change their clips for bad behavior, we, the teacher, are stigmatizing the child.  I had never thought of it in this way.

Click here and listen to the entire interview.



 http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thecoffeeklatch/2012/05/07/child-mind-institute–adhd-and-selective-mutism


www.childmind.org

Child Mind Institute – Anxiety Disorders and OCD 05/06 by The Coffee Klatch | Blog Talk Radio

The link below is an interview with  Jerome Bubrick, PhD, is a nationally renowned cognitive and behavioral psychologist who specializes in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I really enjoyed this interview.  This interview talked about OCD and anxiety issues.  In addition, Dr. Bubrick discusses what the root of the anxiety.  He discusses how these are genetic and through the brain as well as, learned.   The most important part about their work is to teach parents, teachers to be proactive and intervening to help the children through the anxiety. Most important tip to remember is never be dismissive about a child’s anxiety.  It is not a good decision to say, “It is all in your head.”   The recommendation for treatment is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).  Through this therapy helps teach people how they think, feel and do.   CBT is not just therapy where people talk about their anxiety.  The person talks about how they think, how it makes them feel and then what the person can do about the feelings.   It is a structural approach that moves at the individuals pace. 

Click on the link below and take some time to listen.

Child Mind Institute – Anxiety Disorders and OCD 05/06 by The Coffee Klatch | Blog Talk Radio

For more information visit: www.childmind.org

Reduce Anxiety Naturally

I loved this article on reducing stress.  My favorite idea was when Amy set the timer and wrote her worries, that really troubled her, on a piece of paper.  When she was done she tore the paper in shreds.  In addition, Amy practices yoga three times a week to help relax her.

Now, I don’t think I can get Nolan to practice yoga.  We are still trying to get Nico to run on the treadmill at least once a week.  But, I do think I can start having Nolan write down his worries on paper and tear it up.

Please click on the link  Reduce Anxiety Naturally  and read the article.

So Tired of Bureaucratic BS and Lack of Response!!!!

Nolan is starting 9th grade next year. The placement test for his high school is June 2nd. I have tried to connect with the RSP teacher at the new school since March to arrange the placement test accommodations. It is now the end of April. I sent several emails and a few phone calls. The one time she did get back to me was to ask for the IEP, which I sent her the following Monday. I asked the RSP teacher to confirm she received it. Do you think she has confirmed ? It has been 3 weeks since that email. How hard is it to say,”Hey, I received your email. I am swamped. Let me get back to you by…”. What kind of customer service is this?
None!!!!
If I treated parents in my school district, like the some teachers I have come across in my son’s school experience, I would be written up in a heartbeat. I am shocked at the lack of respect some of these educators have when they speak with parents, whether special needs or not, is  unacceptable. Communicating in a positive and encouraging way with both parents as well as students should be part of their professional responsibility. The age and/or grade should not matter. If that child is under 18 and living under the parents roof then that educator should be communicating with that parent. Without the excuse they don’t have time. I know they don’t have time. I don’t have enough hours in the day either, but I make the time. Why? These kids and their feature success is important to me!!!!!  So, why isn’t it important to the other educators?  Did these educators forget why they signed up for this job?