Executive Functions in Our Learners

By Dan Ahlstrom, Ph. ED.

One developmental transition that becomes increasingly important as students mature is their ability to plan, organize and execute. The ability to make sure things get done from the planning stages of the job to the final deadline is commonly called “Executive Function”. As your student moves through elementary school, the responsibility for managing things like a day planner, homework, and other school related tasks will shift from the parent to the student.

Nearly all students struggle with Executive Function at times. Good educators believe that we are not only responsible for teaching the content of our classes, but we are also charged with providing our students with the tools necessary tobe successful learners.  These skills should be a part of any successful educational environment.

Here at Cedar Learning we support great educators in fulfilling their vision every day.

Executive Functions

  • Impulse control: This is your child’s ability to stop and think before acting.
  • Emotional control: This is your child’s ability to manage her feelings by focusing on the end result or goal
  • Flexibility: This is your child’s ability to roll with the punches and come up with new approaches when a plan fails
  • Working memory: This is your child’s ability to hold information in her mind and use it to complete a task
  • Self-monitoring: This is your child’s ability to keep track of and evaluate her performance on regular tasks.
  • Planning and prioritizing: This is your child’s ability come up with the steps needed to reach a goal and to decide their order of importance
  • Task initiation: This is your child’s ability to get started on something
  • Organization: This is your child’s ability to keep track of information and things.

What Teachers can do

  • Create a structured, consistent classroom
  • Present information in more than one modality
  • Make learning as visual and concrete as possible
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Break down assignments and tasks into smaller more manageable chunks
  • Model inner speech and executive functioning skills
  • Develop lessons that are intended to teach the above skills
  • Create a system for students to get the information they need without feeling ridiculed or embarrassed
  • Don’t assume all students have executive functioning skills and do not assume that because they lack executive functions that they lack intelligence or ability

 What Parents can do


  • Make checklists. Listing the steps involved in a task will make it easier for your child to see how to get started.
  • Set time limits. Your child may struggle to budget time for an activity and also for each step of that activity
  • Use planners and calendars. Not all planners have to be on paper, which is a good thing if your child has trouble keeping track of items.
  • Explain yourself. Children who are inflexible thinkers or who have difficulty with emotional control don’t always take feedback well or see the point of learning new ways of do things.
  • Let your child explain, too. Just because kids have trouble with executive functioning skills doesn’t mean their way of doing something isn’t valid

1 thought on “Executive Functions in Our Learners”

  1. I really enjoyed your article because not only was it beautifully organized and alerted parents and educators on behaviors to look for, but also offered excellent intervention ideas.

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