Executive functioning skills training may help prevent interruptions in learning, reduce the need to implement behavioral interventions, and improve student outcomes.
Incorporating such training as part of schoolwide tiered supports can solve executive functioning deficits sometimes viewed as issues of behavior, discipline, or other disability, says Val Sharpe, co-director of the Institute on Executive Functioning.
“Many times, it is misinterpreted as a behavior issue,” adds Sharpe, a former special education teacher. “It’s not that [students with these skills deficits] are being defiant, it’s that they don’t know how to start. They don’t know where to begin.”
“The idea is we want to prevent habits that need to be fixed,” she says. “If you prevent them, then you have more instructional time.”
Training may be especially beneficial during remote learning, according to Roberta Strosnider, also a co-director at the Institute on Executive Functioning and a former special education teacher.
Professional development is vital for teachers to learn strategies to disseminate among their students to help them cope with and eventually thrive in school and elsewhere.Strosnider advises that schools incorporate executive functioning skills training incrementally, starting with basic techniques such as mnemonic devices that help students stay on task or approach their day with order.
“We don’t advise for them to do all of the executive functioning strategies,” says Strosnider, advising that teachers set goals and set a pace “one step at a time” to provide to students.
“The reason strategies don’t work is either the strategy is inappropriate for the child developmentally or it is not taught in the method of explicit instruction,” Sharpe adds. Students must be able to practice and model behavior. The purpose of executive functioning skills training is to promote and build capacity for independent learning among students.
“A lot of students aren’t even trying anything because they don’t know how to analyze, or scan, plan, and do an assignment,” adds Strosnider.
The concept of personalized learning is further compromised in working remotely because teachers do not have the control they had in the in-person classroom setting, says Sharpe. Students should be learning to set goals and make plans to meet those goals during remote learning.
Executive functioning skills need to be addressed to keep students from entering that downward spiral. Sharpe says, “Students don’t outgrow their executive functioning deficits.”
Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for Special Ed Connection, a DA sister publication.