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Working Smarter Pays Off with Executive Function

Maybe your child is struggling in school to get work started, completed, and/or turned in. They seem to spend countless, exhaustive, disorganized hours on homework or projects, above and beyond the effort needed. Wouldn't it be great if they could find ways to assit in #WorkingSmarter instead of harder than everyone else.

Some of the skills necessary to be successful with the above tasks are part of #ExecutiveFunctioning (#EF). Skills that EF is responsible for include #planning #prioritizing #organizing, paying attention, keeping track of what you need to do, starting and completing tasks while staying focused, keeping your emotions regulated and understand other's viewpoints.

The three main areas of executive functioning are:

1) #WorkingMemory - being able to hold information in your mind and use it

2) #CognitiveFlexibility - being flexible in your way of thinking, switch focus or think about multiple concepts simultaneously

3) #InhibitionControl - being able to control automatic responses and resist temptation, distraction and choose a response through attentiveness and reason

Let's look at how each of these areas might affect a student's learning. When a student has Working Memory challenges it might look something like this. Alex is in his English language arts class. He is reading a short informational document which will be followed by a quick 5 question in-class quiz. Since the working memory requires a student to hold the information they read and then apply it in some way, Alex might very well struggle to provide the needed input to complete the quiz. This may lead to frustration and negative thoughts about ability. Which may further impact Alex. Educational strategies, such as external aides or recall methods might be needed to assist Alex in his academic setting.

Let's look at Cognitive flexibility. A person who demonstrates good cognitive flexibility has a greater ability to learn quickly, adapt to new situations and respond more affectively and problem solve in more creative ways. All of these skills are key in the academic setting and to learning. Jemma is working on a science project. She has her mind set on the likely outcome. Since she is not very flexible or open to other possibilities she doesn't consider any other possible hypotheses. As she moves forward with her project, signs begin to point to a different outcome. However, she ignores the information and dismisses the input of friends because she lacks the cognitive flexibility she needs. In the end she does not receive the grade she expected and she feels the teacher is to blame. Cognitive flexibility is very important. Studies show that there will be more importance placed on creativity and adaptability in the future job market.

Okay, now for Inhibition Control...yep good ole resisting temptation and stimuli. Of course all of us probably struggle with this at some point or another. for eaxample, we are supposed to be handling a task at home or work but we seem to be drawn to the drama on tv or the co-worker in the cubicle across from us talking about the new Mandalorian episode. Or maybe chatting about the fabulous dessert they had at the new restaurant that opened up last weekend. We lose focus on what we are doing and begin surfing the internet for info on the Mandalorian episode or the new restaurant. Before we know it we are 20 mins into our automatic response. We forgot what we should be focusing on and our work begins to suffer. Let's take a look at this inthe classroom. Trey is sitting in class while the teacher is lecturing and he hears two other students whispering. Before he knows it the bell rings and he realizes he missed the entire lecture and notes. Trey acted in an automatic response mode rather than using his attention to choose a different path. He may benefit from #accommodations such as preferential seating away from distractions and copies of guided lecture notes to assist in his area of weakness.

To access the education being presented in school your child needs to be able to pay attention, keep track of what needs to be done, start and complete tasks while staying focused, keeping emotions regulated, understand other's viewpoints and #planning/#prioritizing/#organizing. Without these abilities/skills and the tools to assist them it's possible your student will struggle, feel frustrated and possibly give up. You too may feel frustrating and wonder what you can do to help.

While accommodations might very well assist your student in accessing his education, it might be even more useful long term to teach you child how to strengthen his executive functioning skills and learn new tools to assist in school and life. Because EF skills will definitely be needed for a life time. This how Working Smarter can pay off. If your student acquires skills and tools to assist with the EF deficits they are facing, they will no longer be working harder than peers, but rather they will be Working Smarter.

Here are a few areas that you can look into to assist your child, or yourself at #WorkingSmarter:

1) Hire an Executive Function Coach

2) Use visual aides (wall calendar, digital calendar/reminders, academic planner,

3) Use a tech device for note taking with an application like Notability or others that can allow note taking and recording that is aligned with the typed notes

4) Use a step by step approach to assignments/projects

5) Make daily schedules in your planner and look at them several times a day

6) Use written and oral instructions

7) Make checklists and use them daily

8) Break assignments into chunks and write dates for completion of each chunk in planner

9) Write due dates on assignment papers and in planner then back date in planner for completion steps

10) Let students pick the tools that they will use, giving tools to a student that they don't like or won't use is a waste of time and is not Working Smarter.


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