Executive Functions Training

Executive Functions Overview

The ability to plan your day, prioritize your activities, and manage your time so that everything gets done.

The ability to stop yourself from saying, “Did you know you’re a fat man?” to the large gentleman standing in front of you in line like my little sister said (at age 5).

The ability to realize that you have stopped paying attention to your teacher and to refocus on what she is saying.

The ability to come up with a goal and all the necessary steps to achieve that goal, followed by the completion of all those steps and the accomplishment of that goal.

That is what your executive functions let you do.

And then some.

Yellow post it notes with various written to-do tasks affixed to

Executive Functions: The brain-based pathways that allow us to execute and perform tasks. They help us decide upon a course of action, make decisions, and solve problems.

The 31 “Flavors” of Executive Functions

Perceive, Modulate, Sustain Attention, Sustain Focus, Interrupt/Stop, Hold, Organize, Balance, Choose, Pace, Manage Time, Focus Attention, Focus Effort, Shift Attention, Manipulate, Generate, Store, Monitor, Check, Execute, Initiate, Gauge, Inhibit, (Be) Flexible, Anticipate, Associate, Plan, Retrieve, Time Sense, Correct, and Metacognition.

Some of the main ones I focused on with students included: (Definitions from Peg Dawson’s presentation for the Center for Learning and Attention Disorders). 

  • Response Inhibition
    • The capacity to think before you act. The ability to resist the urge to say or do something allows your child the time to evaluate a situation and how his behavior might impact it.
  • Working Memory:
    • The ability to hold information in memory while performing complex tasks. It incorporates the ability to draw on past learning or experience and apply it to the situation at hand.
  • Emotional Control:
    • The ability to manage emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behavior.
  • Sustained Attention:
    • The capacity to keep paying attention to a situation or task in spite of distraction, fatigue, or boredom.
  • Task Initiation:
    • The ability to begin projects without undue procrastination, in an efficient or timely fashion.
  • Planning/Prioritization:
    • The ability to create a road map to reach a goal or to complete a task. It also involves being able to make decisions about what is important to focus on and what is not important.
  • Organization:
    • The ability to create and maintain systems to keep track of information and materials.
  • Time Management:
    • The capacity to estimate how much time one has, how to allocate it, and how to stay within time limits and deadlines. It also involves a sense that time is important.
  • Goal-directed Persistence:
    • The capacity to have a goal, to follow through to the completion of the goal, and to not be put off by or distracted by competing interests.
  • Flexibility:
    • The ability to revise plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks, new information, or mistakes.
  • Metacognition:
    • The ability to stand back and take a bird’s eye view of yourself in a situation, to observe how you problem solve. It also includes self-monitoring and self-evaluative skills (e.g., asking yourself, “How am I doing?” or “How did I do?”).

Children develop their executive functions as they grow up by building neural pathways. It is harder for some.

Right now, your child has a way of doing things. There are neural pathways in her brain that have formed through habit. When she is assigned a task, she uses those habits to accomplish the goal. However, when the task gets too hard, she may stop working or skip the problem because she does not know how to deal with this new, more difficult situation. Therefore, we, as parents/teachers, need to try to help her develop new neural pathways so that she can deal with the harder situation. We need to provide our learners with strategies to use different neurons or pathways that they were not exercising before and help those pathways become habit. The Executive Functions Training Series is dedicated to that goal. To provide strategies to develop habits and rework those pathways.

Additional References:

Brunswick, K. & J. DeTeso (2014). Executive functions: Developing an independent learner. Greenwich Schools.org

Dawson, P. & R. Guare (2012) Coaching Students with Executive Functions Deficits. Guilford Press.

Kucher, David. (2010). Personal discussions and training sessions at the Southfield Center for Development.