Executive function (EF) is often compared to the CEO of a company or the conductor of an orchestra. People use this set of mental skills to manage the way they understand tasks, form plans, organize their materials and thinking, execute work, and assess their progress. Some people develop these skills naturally through experience, while others need explicit instruction and practice. (Visit Understood.org for an in-depth explanation of executive function and how kids use it.) Poor executive function can stop even the brightest kids in their tracks.
The ever-increasing use of technology in schools has been a great help to kids with poor EF in many ways. More teachers post calendars, grades, and assignments online, allowing students to check due dates, keep tabs on their progress, and figure out what they’re supposed to do without having to keep track of papers.
All of this is great, but the proliferation of online resources adds a new set of challenges for kids who struggle with EF. The internet abounds with distractions. Further, a student who can’t keep a binder organized isn’t likely to somehow develop the skills to manage his email inbox and online file storage.
Many students, particularly those with weak EF, need help organizing their digital lives and keeping them organized. Over the next three posts, we’ll share tips for helping your student keep his files (think Google Drive) and his email inbox organized and functional. We’ll also provide some information about helping your student to minimize distractions when he’s online and keep straight the many logins he needs.
As you read, please remember that if these skills don’t come naturally to a student in the first place, it’s unlikely that simply sharing these ideas with him will result in lasting changes. Students will need ongoing support until these strategies become habit, so be consistent and be patient. Although most kids resist any kind of new system, many intuitively come to love this kind of organization because having a sense of control over their time and materials lowers anxiety.