Executive Functioning Skills for Students: Organization and Intentional Focus
Executive functioning skills often challenge students, making it difficult to complete assignments on time and according to directions. Such executive function skills refer to functions in the prefrontal cortex of the brain that are required to complete a task. Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or dyslexia often exhibit comorbid challenges with executive function skills. While such challenges persist, implementing strategies can support students’ learning and productivity.
Challenges with two essential components of executive functioning skills, organization and intentional focus hinder productivity. However, with a few simple tips and strategies, students can overcome common obstacles and be successful. Below, find specific executive functioning strategies to help a student become organized and increase intentional focus.
Create a clean and clutter-free home workspace designated to complete homework. If possible, choose a space different from the area for leisure activities. For example, choose a homework workspace separate from the space in which a student assembles airplanes for a model collection.
- At this workspace, have a space for everything and put everything in its place.
- If multiple members of the family use the same space, use stacking trays for each person’s supplies, removing clutter from the desk surface.
- Be sure to replenish supplies as needed.
- Place a lamp at the workspace to focus attention on the work at hand.
- At the end of each work session, put all materials away, returning the space to its original, clean, clutter-free surface.
- Have only the materials necessary for one assignment on the workspace. Put completed assignments away before beginning the next assignment.
As a result of implementing such strategies, a student’s focus on an assignment increases.
Intentional focus—different from focus—directs a student to a specific task with a specific expected goal. An example to delineate between the two will demonstrate the difference. Two people attend a movie premiere. One person focuses on the movie, enjoying the plot and character development without a specific goal in mind. The second person uses intentional focus to give specific feedback to the director about character interactions, and writes a review to provide recommendations.
When a child completes a homework assignment, intentional focus is needed to complete the assignment on time and according to the directions. Below are strategies to increase such intentional focus and help students meet their goals:
- Complete only one assignment at a time.
- If a worksheet appears overwhelming with too many problems (distracting focus), cover all but one problem with another piece of paper, allowing the student to see only one problem at a time.
- Read the teacher assignment from the planner and the worksheet directions (focus on the goal).
- If unsure of directions, read them out loud and highlight key words on the directions.
- After reading directions but before starting the assignment, estimate the amount of time needed to complete it. Set a timer. Commit to work on the assignment until the timer goes off.
- Always reread the directions after completing the assignment to check work.
- Take five-minute brain breaks between assignments. Stand up and move around during this time. Do not extend the break beyond the five minutes, or additional time will be needed to refocus attention.
- Have finger food snacks and a closed-lid drink available. This provides motor movement while sitting at the workspace. Be sure that the food choice does not produce crumbs or colored dye on the fingers. Grapes or pretzel nuggets are ideal examples.