Executive Function

executive functionEncouraging children and teens to use executive function strategies puts them on the path to success in school and in life.  The crucial role of executive function processes begins in the preschool years and increases as students progress through elementary school and high school when they are expected to master complex skills that involve summarizing note-taking and writing.  Success depend on students’ ability to plan, organize and prioritize tasks, materials and information, separate main ideas from details, think flexibly, memorize content and monitor their progress.  It is important to help children to understand how they think and learn, and to teach them to use strategies in the major executive function areas.

What is “Executive Function?”

Executive function is a set of mental processes that helps connect past experience with present action. People use it to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.

If you have trouble with executive function, these things are more difficult to do. You may also show a weakness with working memory, which is like “seeing in your mind’s eye.” This is an important tool in guiding your actions.

How Does Executive Function Affect Learning

In school or at home, we are called on all day, every day, to self-regulate behavior. Executive function allows us to:

  • Make plans
  • Keep track of time and finish work on time
  • Keep track of more than one thing at once
  • Meaningfully include past knowledge in discussions
  • Evaluate ideas and reflect on our work
  • Change our minds and make mid-course corrections while thinking, reading, and writing
  • Ask for help or seek more information when we need it
  • Engage in group dynamics
  • Wait to speak until we’re called on

How Can The ADDvocates Help?

The ADDvocates can help your child or teen in various ways.  These include:

Goal Setting:  We help your child to set attainable goals that are well-defined by breaking goals down into smaller steps and talk about alternative approaches.

Shifting/Thinking Flexibly:  We teach your child to think flexibly when solving problems by comparing their situations to everyday life with a variety of approaches to the problem.

Organizing Ideas:  We encourage your child to use outlines, graphic organizers or webs to organize ideas for a large project.  Additionally, we encourage your child to use two- or three-column notes when reading or studying and various other “tools” to make the task of organizing less tedious.

Organizing Materials:  We will work with your child to develop a system for organizing materials in folders, backpacks and lockers.  We do this by ensuring that your child has a designated place for completed assignments, encouraging them to clean out their backpack once a week and to provide a space at home to file old tests and study guides that may be needed at a later date.

Prioritizing:  We have your child “divide and conquer” upcoming assignments and projects by planing to complete larger assignments in steps to avoid last-minute panics.  The key to prioritizing is baby steps and it is encouraged continuously throughout coaching as not to overwhelm your child or teen.

Accessing Working Memory:  We believe that learning should be fun so we encourage your child to create his or her own silly sentences, acronyms or cartoons to remember information.  Additionally, we also help your child to create songs or stories to remember the steps involved in completing and checking written papers and math concepts.

Self-Monitoring / Self-Checking:  Children and teens need to learn to check their schoolwork before turning it in.  We help your child to develop personalized checklists to correct his or her most common mistakes.


For more information, please contact Karen Ryan, Founder of The ADDvocates at karen@theaddvocates.com.