July Challenge #6 A Surface Level View of Executive Functioning

This topic could be addressed at a MUCH deeper level than I will here…but for a surface level view, here goes:

When I first heard the term executive functioning it was in relation to students with a disability.  Actually, the term used was executive dysfunctionin relation to difficulties associated with students with a learning disability.

The executive functions refer to such tasks as organizing, prioritizing, sequencing, planning, shifting attention, as well as working memory.  This set of skills was given its name because it mimics the tasks associated with someone that heads a company…an executive.


Although these functions tend to be associated with students with disabilities…if you look closely at an average student without a disability (middle school age and older), many of these tasks present a great challenge.  In fact, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls the executive functions, isn’t fully mature until about the age of 25.


Think about what this can mean in the math classroom (or any classroom for that matter). Students may have difficulty with:

  1. Initiating tasks
  2. Self-control
  3. Sustaining attention
  4. Transitions
  5. Remembering procedures
  6. Self monitoring

And then think about how this impacts students with disabilities, as well as students that struggle but do not receive specialized instruction according to an IEP.

This simulation does a good job of demonstrating how it might feel for a student that has difficulty completing multi-step problems.

What can you do???  A few simple things include:

  • Chunk information…allow students to process and work with the information that you’ve just delivered to them
  • Use timers and visual cues to keep students on target
  • Check for understanding by having students repeat back directions
  • Use checklists (teacher created or…better yet-student created)
  • Visual organizers
  • Graphic organizers

I’d love to hear other thoughts about this!

Some resources:

Executive Functioning Problem or Just A Lazy Kid

What Is Executive Function?

What is Working Memory and Why Does It Matter?

In Brief: Executive Function:  Skills for Life and Learning

Boosting Executive Skills in the Classroom:  A Practical Guide for Educators

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