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Executive Functions and Classroom Behaviors


									Executive Functioning and Its
Affect on Student’s Performance
                        Presented by:

                  Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman


                    Hewlett High School

                     December 7, 2009
What Is Executive Functions and How Does It
Pertain to Success or Failure in High School?
A student’s ability to manage their time, organize
  their paperwork, and numerous other day to day
  classroom activities are impacted by their
  executive functions.
This presentation will explain the role of executive
  functions and offer practical strategies for
  school personnel to help students who have
  weaknesses in this area.
What Is Executive Functioning?
Executive Functioning refers to our ability to be able
   to make and carry out plans, direct our attention,
   focus and also control our internal states: our
   impulses and emotions and to be able to switch
   from one task to another.
It is involved in processes such as planning, cognitive
   flexibility, abstract thinking, rule acquisition,
   initiating appropriate actions and inhibiting actions,
   and selecting relevant information.
What Are Executive Functions?
Directive capacities of the mind.
Multiple in nature, not a single capacity
Part of neural circuits that are routed through the
  frontal lobes.
Cue the use of other mental abilities.
Direct and control perceptions, thoughts, actions,
  and to some degree emotions.
A Producing Disability.
Executive Functions Are Not a Unitary Trait
Frequently referred to as “the CEO of the Brain” or the
  “Conductor of the Orchestra”
These metaphors hint at the nature of EFs, but are far too
  general for effective understanding of the concept.
  These metaphors create the impression of a central
  control center or a singular control capacity
A more appropriate metaphor for executive functions:
  “A Team of Conductors” and “Co-Conductors of a
   Mental Ability Orchestra”
What Do Students with Executive
Functioning Weaknesses Look Like?
On Demand/Producing Deficiencies
Because internally driven production is much easier to
  accomplish than externally demanded production for
  children who have these difficulties their lack of production
  on demand often stands in stark contrast to their seemingly
  effortless production “when the spirit moves them”.
The on-demand deficiencies observed by others are often
  attributed to negative personal characteristics such as being
More and more however, neuroscientists are saying that these
  underachievers may suffer from neurological abnormalities,
  particularly in the FRONTAL LOBE.
Executive Functioning and the Brain
Kids Do Well If They Can…*
Behind every challenging behavior is an unsolved problem or
  lagging skill.
Challenging behavior often occurs when the demands being
  placed on a kid exceed his capacity to respond adaptively.
One needs to determine what thinking skill the child is lacking so
  that the thinking skill can be taught.
One needs to determine the triggers/antecedents: the what, who,
  when, and where.
The goal is to develop a plan with the child that resolves the
  problem in a realistic and mutually satisfactory manner.

* Based On Ross Greene’s “Lost At School”
Executive Functions and Clinical Diagnoses

Most of the clinical conditions described in the
 DSM-IV reflect some form of Executive

The DSM-IV can be thought of as “A User’s
 Guide to All the Things That Can Go Wrong
 With the Frontal Lobes”
Children with ADHD Have the Following Executive Functioning
Executive Functions and ADHD

Pharmacological treatment of ADHD usually only
  addresses the problems associated with the EFs
  specific to ADHD (Inhibit, Modulate,
  Focus/Select, Sustain)
Most persons with ADHD will require additional
  interventions to assist with the additional self-
  regulation difficulties that persist even when
  medication is being used effectively to treat the
  primary ADHD problems.
Not Just Being Lazy
Parents, teachers and others involved with a child
  with executive function difficulties must be careful
  not to attribute the particular production deficits
  they observe to character flaws or consciously
  chosen states of mind, such as laziness, lack of
  motivation, apathy, irresponsibility, or
Rather, these behaviors are the result of inadequate
  activation of executive function capacities that are
  necessary for regulating perceptions, feelings,
  thoughts and actions.
    Can’t Versus Won’t
                   “We are encouraging people to become involved in their own rescue.”

Remember rewards will not work if the child does not have the skill. Reward programs imply that
a child can do it if he/she wants to or is motivated enough to. This often leads away from
the realization that many children who do want to change their behavior don’t know what to do
to change it.
Executive Function and Development
                      Because EFs are developmental
                      in nature, natural maturational
                      delays and lags are observed.

                      Inter-individually, there is also
                      great variation relative to
                      chronological age.

                      The developmental progression
                      is from external to internal.
Executive Function Intervention

During classroom instruction, it is necessary to
   find the balance between providing enough EF
   SR cueing to help students function, but not too
   much to prevent EF skill-development.
It is essential make the child conscious of the EF
   skills he/she is lacking and how to engage them.
An Observation Form (McCloskey, Perkin, &
   VanDivner) has been developed to identify EF
   weaknesses and to structure interventions.
A Developmental Perspective for Interventions for
Children with Executive Skills Deficits
                               Children with developmental
                               executive skill deficits also fit
                               this developmental
                               progression from external to
                               Children with
                               underdeveloped executive
                               skills can be supported in one
                               of two ways:
                               1. By Intervening at the Level
                               of the Environment.
                               2. By Intervening at the
                               Level of the Person.
Intervening at the Level of the Environment
                     Changing the Physical or
                       Social Environment to
                       Reduce Problems
                     Changing the Way Cues
                       are Provided To
                       Prompt the Child to
                       Perform Tasks or
                       Behave in Certain Ways
                     Changing the Nature of
                       the Task
Intervening at the Level of the Environment: Changing
the Physical or Social Environment to Reduce Problems

Are there impediments to smooth executive functioning
  that can be removed or added to the environment?
Front versus back of the class.
Moving them away from a window or near their friends or
  talkative students.
Placing a student with weak skills with a very structured
For impulsive children, placing them in smaller settings or
  under more adult supervision.
Intervening at the Level of the Environment: Changing the Way
Cues are Provided To Prompt the Child to Perform Tasks or
Behave in Certain Ways
Verbal prompts or reminders,
  Visual Cues
Schedules, Lists, Pager Systems
  or Alarms
Provide time management aids
  such as calendars, clocks,
  timers, schedules
Audio-taped cues that increase
  self monitoring. When the
  tape sounds the child is
  instructed to answer the
  question, “Was I paying
Intervening at the Level of the Environment: Changing
the Nature of the Task

Make the task shorter
Make the steps explicit
Make the task close ended instead of open ended (e.g., fill in the blanks, T/F, rather
   than essays, providing word banks)
Build in variety or choice with respect to the tasks to be done or the order in which
   the tasks are to be done
Offer bonus points for handing in homework and assignments on time instead of
   taking points away
Offer feedback and opportunities to revise writing assignments before grading them
Offer students choices for ways to demonstrate content knowledge
Offer credit for all efforts to correct work
Offer opportunities to retake failed tests
Offer multiple ways to participate in classroom activities, not just oral expression
Deduct no more than 5-10% of total points for minor detail errors
Teach note-taking, memory strategies, and study skills when necessary
Changing the Way Teachers Interact with Children
With Executive Skill Deficits
                          Changing the way adults interact with
                             them can often ameliorate the
                             negative impact of weak skills.
                          Remembering that you are the biggest
                             vehicle of change and a model of
                             good executive functioning.
                          Increasing the level of supervision,
                             support, and cueing are the easiest
                             way to impact executive functioning.
                          Increasing children’s involvement in the
                             decision making process.
                          Creating a balance between support and
                             acting as the child’s frontal lobe with
                             the ultimate goal of having the child
                             develop their own executive skills
                             sufficiently so they can function
Intervening at the Level of the Person
                    The goal of this strategy is to
                       change the child’s capacity
                       for using his/her own
                       executive skills.
                    1. Teaching him/her ways to
                       develop or fine tune
                       executive skills that he/she
                    2. Motivating him/her to use
                       the executive skills that
                       he/she has but is reluctant to
Teaching Children Executive Skills: Teaching Thinking and
Organizational Skills in Addition to Content Knowledge
                               Initially teachers become the frontal
                                   lobes for the child.
                               After having walked the child through
                                   the process many times the teacher
                                   can then begin to reduce the level of
                                   supervision and support.
                               The next step might be to begin to
                                   transfer the responsibility to the child
                                   by asking a more general question
                                   (e.g. “What do you need to do?”)
                               The transfer is complete when the child
                                   reaches the point when he/she asks
                                   himself/herself “What do I need to
                                   do”? and either refers to the list
                                   independently without prompting
                                   from the parent or remembers the
                                   steps on the list and can perform the
                                   task without referring to the list
Motivating Children to Use Executive Skills
Aligning External Demands with Internal Commands.
  Using natural self-generated sources of motivation
  whenever possible.
Motivating May Include: Praise and Recognition or
  Incentive Systems
What We Are Doing In Harrison to Address
Students with Executive Functioning Weaknesses

“Find Out What Kind of Student You Are
Survey breaks down executive skill difficulties
  into 4 areas: homework, long term projects,
  studying for tests, organizing materials and
Each skill is addressed over 3 sessions.
Last Thoughts       Your student is not lazy.
                    You need to teach students the
                        importance of responsibility, time
   Think Win-Win:       management, attention to detail and
                        other important qualities.
                    State the problem in behavioral terms
                        that indicate a behavior that can then
                        be changed.
                    Learning is a process.
                    As much as possible try to align external
                        demands with internal desires to
                        maximize motivation. The devil is in
                        the details
                    Don’t give up too soon, but revise plan
                        if needed. It takes 3 weeks for new
                        habits to form.
                    Your student didn’t fail, the strategy

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