Executive Functioning Explained and 20 Strategies for Success

Our guest blogger today is Dr. Erica Warren, and she’s here to explain more about executive functioning and how to implement strategies to assist your students with executive functioning impairments.

Executive functioning is likely a term the average educator does not know; however, it affects many of our students. Learn what it is, how it affects cognitive and emotional performance, and strategies for address executive functioning issues in students in this guest post, written by Dr. Erica Warren. Click through to read the entire post.

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Many students are now being diagnosed with executive functioning problems, and schools are scrambling to meet the needs of this population of learners. Because many teachers and administrators don’t understand the difficulties associated with this problem, countless students with these difficulties are mislabeled as careless, lazy, or unmotivated. Unfortunately, these misunderstood learners often become discouraged, and many experience feelings of helplessness, depression and anxiety.

So What Can We Do to Help?

First, we need to understand the complex nature of executive functioning. Then, we need to educate teachers and administrators on what they can do to accommodate these capable learners.

What Is Executive Functioning?

Executive Functioning (EF) is the command and control center of the brain. Much like an air traffic controller, EF manages and manipulates information traveling in and out of our consciousness. It’s a place where learned experiences and present actions connect. Another appropriate metaphor is to think of EF as the conductor of cognitive skills. EF directs the cognitive performance played by our senses.

How Does EF Impact a Learner’s Cognitive Performance?

  • Slows processing speed
  • Impairs motivation
  • Undermines stamina
  • Sabotages goal-directed persistence
  • Impedes one’s ability to hold and manipulate information
  • Blocks one’s ability to retrieve information
  • Triggers impulsive behaviors
  • Minimizes one’s ability to sustain attention

How Does EF Impact a Learner’s Emotional Regulation?

  • Minimizes one’s ability to manage frustrating situations
  • Triggers an overall negative attitude
  • Sparks feelings of anxiety
  • Blocks one’s ability to prioritize
  • Inhibits one’s ability to self-regulate

How Does EF Impact Schooling?

All of these internal difficulties can have a profound impact on a learner’s educational experience. Common manifestations include:

  • Difficulties initiating schoolwork
  • Problems recording assignments
  • Issues locating and handing in assignments
  • Problems maintaining an organized book bag, locker, and homework space
  • Trouble arriving to class on time and keeping appointments

What Are Some General Strategies that Can Help Those Who Struggle with EF?

  • Participate in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Embrace meditation and mindfulness training
  • Pursue cognitive remedial therapy in areas such as working memory and emotional regulation
  • Maintain a structured daily routine
  • Use planners and PDA technology

What Are Some Academic Solutions?

  • Create a structured routine for completing homework
  • Make to-do checklists
  • Help student motivation by offering incentives and positive reinforcement
  • Create and use graphic organizers for writing
  • Use technology, such as a smartphone, to create reminders
  • Work with someone who can help:
    • Set and monitor priorities
    • Break large assignments into manageable chunks
    • Demonstrate note-taking skills
    • Teach study skills and test-taking strategies
    • Generate memory strategies
    • Teach metacognitive skills by thinking through the process aloud

Academic Tools for Success

There are a number of tools on the market that can help support the needs of students with executive functioning challenges. Here are some free sample pages from my publication, Planning Time Management and Organization for Success. If you want to strengthen executive functioning while having fun, try my Executive Functioning Card Games.


Dr. Erica WarrenDr. Erica Warren is an educational therapist, online course creator, and author of multisensory and mindful educational materials. She resides in New York, where she works one-on-one with students as a “personal trainer for the brain” and as an educational consultant/teacher trainer. Dr. Warren offers her own free video podcasts at Go Dyslexia and materials at Good Sensory Learning and Teachers Pay Teachers. She also teaches online courses at Learning Specialist Courses. You can get free advice and resources by following her blog here.

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