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Executive Functions

3/4s teacher Jenn Drake returns to discuss some of the non-academic skills emphasized in UCDS classrooms. -Ed.

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I love the new wave of research that is coming out about executive functions, defined as a set of processes that have to do with managing yourself and reaching your goals.  Research says that these skills, revolving around working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control, don’t fully develop until the mid-twenties.  Wow!  It makes me think about how many times I’ve expected my elementary students to always turn in their homework, listen while others are talking, and keep their binders organized… and how hard that must be for so many of them!

Just like math, reading, and writing, executive function skills need to be taught explicitly and practiced.  We have several systems in place that support students as they grow their executive function skills.  For example, we teach our students how to use binders to keep their work organized.  We provide graphic organizers for students to express their thoughts logically before writing.  We set up digital documents that allow students to track their own personal spelling words — those practiced and those that need more practice. We set expectations and use questioning to help students make the best choices for seating and participation.

As a school, we’ve dedicated time and energy toward thoughtful planning that will help support students as they practice self-management skills.  It’s important for families to remember that these skills develop slowly over time, and though students may progress quickly in some areas (like turning in homework), they could take much longer to learn other skills (like keeping their rooms clean).  Children are works in progress and the more chances they get to hear clear expectations, practice, and receive positive feedback, the better.