Helping students who struggle with executive function

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Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses., Executive Function and Self-Regulation


Students who struggle with executive function are often experiencing the following:

  • difficulty with planning and organizing
  • trouble identifying what needs to be done
  • problems determining the sequence of accomplishment
  • difficulty carrying out the steps in an orderly way
  • difficulty beginning tasks
  • problems maintaining attention
  • trouble evaluating how one is doing on a task
  • difficulty taking feedback or suggestions

Tools and techniques

Designing your course to help students who struggle with executive function benefits all students. Some tools and techniques that can help students deal with executive function challenges include:

  • use Moodle or another online resource to organize content into logical sections
  • use a consistent sequence of activities and due dates throughout the course
    • E.g. annotations due on Wednesday, Quizzes on Friday, replies on Sunday each week
  • make important dates and deadlines very clear in the syllabus and in Moodle
    • E.g. In Moodle course settings > Appearance > Show activity dates = Yes to display due dates on the course home page
  • encourage students to utilize the Moodle Calendar or add a Checklist activity in Moodle listing the weekly due dates
  • group and present information in smaller, logical chunks (lecture videos < 6 min.)
  • break large assignments into smaller chunks with opportunities for feedback throughout
  • involve students in building a glossary of course terms

Sharon Trerise