Organizational Strategies for Students with Executive Functioning Issues
School can be a challenge for many students, but for students who have marked problems with executive functioning, school may be especially overwhelming because the system in the brain that prioritizes and organizes information is at a deficit. This can result in major problems for success in school as students are bombarded with a constant flow of information, projects, and assignments. The strategies outlined below can help students with developmental deficits, learning disorders, ADHD, Autism/ Asperberger’s, and traumatic brain injuries.
Often, setting goals is something that might be implicitly taught in school, or a behavior that is picked up by individuals when they see it modeled by someone else. For students who struggle with executive functioning, setting goals needs to be explicitly taught, and modeled by the instructor frequently. When a student learns to be an effective goal-setter, they have a sense of direction when they take on a project. Students are motivated and empowered when they set their own goals, and are also more likely to complete a task when they have a clear vision of the end result/ goal.
Walk into any school, whether it be kindergarden or college, and you will see students whose binders and folders are a mess! For some students organization of school supplies and materials may come naturally, but for others this is another skill that needs to be overtly taught. It really can be a learned skill/ habit, but often it is barely mentioned early-on in schooling. By the time students reach middle school and high school, the organization of school materials is hardly mentioned, yet there are still students digging around in the bottom of their backpacks for a crumpled- up piece of homework.
The use of a daily planner/ organizer can also be an extremely beneficial tool for students, especially those who struggle with executive functioning. Daily assignment planners are an ideal way for students to visually see what what is due, and what work needs to be done. For students who struggle remembering dates and times, planners are essential, and using planners should be a habit that is deeply engrained. Again, getting in the habit of using a planner, and learning how to use one effectively is a skill that needs to be overtly taught to students.
Students are constantly given vast amounts of information. Imagine an instructor says, “Read chapters 1-4. Take notes, and you can use your notes on the quiz tomorrow.” For some students, this task is completely overwhelming. Textbooks are densely packed with details, and main ideas. Students need to be able to prioritize information, and pick out the key points that they should know. This is a skill that won’t come naturally to students who have deficits with executive functioning. Early on in education, methods for note-taking should be taught with great intention. It should be taught to the point that a student can open any text book, and figure out a method that they can take notes, and grasp an understanding of what the key points are. This is a skill students will use for the rest of their lives.
Rubrics are another way students can self-check if they are understanding what is important. An instructor can tell students, “read this poem to yourself and think about these 3 things…” but a student who has trouble prioritizing and organization will have a hard time with that task. Instead, an instructor can hand out a rubric with what they want students to be looking for as they read. That way a student has a visual reminder sitting next to the material they are reading, and they are reminded to stop at intervals an analyze what they just read in the context of the rubric. It is a great way to teach students self-monitoring, and gives students an awareness of what is expected of them.
If you are looking for more strategies, and interventions related to education-based executive functioning, come back to this website! There are more blogs on this topic to come. Also check out http://www.collegesupportnw.com for more resources!