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12 thoughts on “Week 9: Solidifying Executive Functions (March 24-30)

  1. Because I have worked with multiple groups of Sped students, and with the Sped teachers, I knew what executive functions were, but I didn’t realize which specific activities would help students to improve their executive functions. I found it really interesting in the video when Adele was talking about how stress impacts executive functions, and it makes so much sense. The students who may have stressful situations going on at home, are often the students to exhibit “behaviors” which are mostly related to executive functioning (impulse control). Like we talked about in class, when the thinking brain isn’t engaged, or they have “flipped their lid” it’s no wonder they are having trouble with impulse control!
    One of the strategies that I would not have thought about for executive functioning was the activities that involved physical activity. As most teachers know, sitting in a chair, at a desk for long periods of time is not ideal, but I never really connected that to physical activities helping with executive functioning. Dancing was one that really seemed interesting to me and the more that Adele spoke about the dancing and how your brain doesn’t recognize the difference between sequential motor tasks and sequential cognitive tasks, it all made so much more sense to me. I often get my students to do “GoNoodle” which often times requires students to follow a guided dance to popular songs. We do this sometimes as a brain break to get the wiggles out. We also do it as a calming method, because some of the videos have guided meditation or yoga type activities. The kids absolutely LOVE GoNoodle, and ask to do it all the time!
    I realized while reading through the section for my students’ age group, I already implement some of the activities, not for the purpose of improving executive functions, but just simply because my kids enjoy them. For example, sudoku puzzles, dancing, card games, etc. I wanted to try out a strategy that I don’t already do to see how the students reacted. I chose to implement organized sports, specifically kickball) as one of the strategies. In my 5th grade year, we always played kick ball as a class, and I think maybe my teacher was on to something, so I am going to give it a try!
    We have now played kickball 2 recess days in a row, and the kids love it! I think at first they were reluctant because they wanted to play with kids from other classes, but by the end of the second day, they were all asking about the next day! I think that this is not only good for students to strengthen their EF, but also for team building. My students were all working together on their team to win, but at the same time supporting the other team!

    1. Carmen,

      I am eager to hear more about how physical activity impacts your students. As a middle school teacher, it is something I envy! I wish we had more time in the day to take our students outside to let them play games and be active. I don’t think 1.5 hours of PE every other day is enough. I took my 8th grade students outside today given that the weather was so nice and even though we were doing the same assignment as we would in the classroom, they were far more productive! Clearly movement and fresh air can really go a long way. As I read your post about games, I was reminded of our annual extracurricular event: “Math Night.” At the beginning of each school year, the math department at New Kent Middle School puts together an evening centered around math and a specific theme. This year, the focus was on games and how they build executive functions. I never realized the benefits created by card games, board games, puzzles, etc., but it was fascinating to see students and their parents that evening who participated because they were all so engaged in the activities. I am including links to the two articles our math department head sent to the faculty prior to the event. They were fascinating to read.

      1. http://www.fundamentallychildren.com/2015/05/14/5-reasons-why-children-should-play-board-games/

      2. https://geekdad.com/2014/01/play-games-kids/

      On another note – I, too, remember my fifth grade teacher taking us out to play kickball – how funny! Often times, that opportunity was provided as a reward. Your post made me reflect on my own schooling experience and how my teachers tried to incorporate physical activity into their teaching.

    2. Carmen,

      GoNoodle is awesome! We use it a lot in first grade, but like you mentioned, we do it more for the students to have a chance to get their wiggles out and move their bodies through much of the sedentary school day. I never connected these movement breaks as a chance to develop executive function skills, but it’s just another reason to include them as a part of our everyday routine! I loved the example you shared with implementing games into your school day with the intentionality of developing EF skills. To the students, it’s an awesome thing to be able to play a game, but as a teacher, it is an awesome thing to see these skills being fostered and developed as they are PLAYING! I think that play, as mentioned in Adela Diamond’s video, is something that is forgotten and pushed aside more and more, especially as students get older. Giving them the chance to play has so many benefits for their social, emotional, and physical skills! I hope you are able to continue to cultivate this in your slightly older students, even when that dreaded SOL season is quickly approaching! 🙂

    3. Hi Carmen,
      The kickball games sound like a lot of fun. What a great way to build teamwork and a sense of community. I think that we often overlook how the simple things, like having an organized game at recess, can have benefits within the classroom. I am excited to see that you incorporate movement into your classroom activities as well. Giving your students a chance to move is important for so many reasons. In my fifth grade collaborative class, the teacher has started to use the last five minutes of our longer academic blocks as a chance for the students to move around and socialize. It has helped to increase focus, but also decrease talking during class time. The longer instructional blocks really need to be broken up with things like Go Noodle and other brain break activities.

  2. Prior to taking this course, I was not familiar with the term “executive functions.” From my undergraduate coursework and professional development and teaching experience, I knew that it was important for students to organize, plan, problem solve, remember details, pay attention and manage their impulses, but I did not realize that those skills all fell under the umbrella of executive functioning. Upon learning more about them through our readings and Adele Diamond’s video, I realized that a lot of what I already do in the classroom helps strengthen students’ executive functions.

    I teach students in sixth through eighth grade, meaning that they are roughly between 10 and 14 years of age. In reading the Harvard University article about enhancing and practicing executive function skills, I was especially intrigued by the section on adolescents and goal setting. I will typically have my students set goals for themselves when they start a new project that are both short term and long term. I usually do this with them verbally and do my best to check in along the way to make sure that those goals are being met. I decided to do something different this week and had students put their goals into writing. I created a “goal setting” form for my 8th grade Advanced Art students who just began a unit on landscapes using mixed media. On the form, students wrote out the objective of the unit and then set both short and long-term goals for themselves. Some students wrote about how they hope to become better at manipulating different art materials and some wrote about how they hope to create a piece of artwork worthy of going into the art show. Others wrote about how they hoped to stay more on task during this unit or how they hoped to manage their time more appropriately. This form was then glued into their sketchbooks so that they could consistently refer back to it. By writing out their goals, I am hopeful that my students will be more eager to meet them. My plan is to check in with them after spring break to check in on their progress, which will involve looking back over the form and determining how goals can be met. I think that when my students hear the word “goal,” they perceive that as meaning something big and grandiose, when in actuality, they should be thinking “smaller scale” and more reasonably. I’ve tried to be more cognizant and consistent with my goal setting strategies for students. I have started asking them to set small but realistic goals for themselves at the beginning of each class period. If those goals are met, they are supposed to set a new one to keep moving forward on their projects.

    In terms of other strategies I use to solidify executive functioning skills, I try to make my lessons and units as visual as possible. The walls of my room are completely covered with artwork and posters. In addition, I maintain bulletin boards throughout the room that are dedicated to each class I teach. For example, my 8th grade Advanced Art students I mentioned earlier have a bulletin board dedicated entirely to their mixed media landscape collage unit. It includes the objectives, a finished example of the project and pertinent vocabulary terms. Students love referring back to this board to help them throughout a project and I think it really helps with their working memory and cognitive flexibility skills. I also try to provide rubrics for every unit I teach. I will also hand them out to students as soon as we start a project so that they know what they will be evaluated on. My rubrics are unique in that students actually get to grade themselves first when they’ve completed a project. They then submit that rubric to me so that I can assess whether the grades they assigned themselves were accurate or appropriate. Knowing what I do now about executive functions, I hope that I am challenging students in a way that they will be able to problem solve in and outside of my classroom. I am eager to try out some of the other strategies outlined in our reading and continue to be more observant of how my current practices impact students’ EF.

    1. Emma,
      Like you, prior to this course, I was unfamiliar with the term executive functions. I explained in my post my confusion how I could be missing such a critical component of my student’s development! Also like you mentioned, although unfamiliar with the overarching theme of EF, we already have implemented many activities that can help strengthen EF skills in our students. I enjoyed reading about your students’ goal setting and am eager to hear how they reflect on these goals after some time working on their current unit! I learned a lot of valuable information about goal setting with students in our Assessment class with Dr. Micou and the power it has for student motivation. I am eager to be more intentional about goal setting with my first graders and see how it can strengthen their executive function skills.

  3. As a SpEd teacher, I would have to say that I am very aware of the executive functions needed for school and life success. I understand the opening statement made by Adele Diamond; that children should have language skills when they are entering school; not necessarily literacy skills. Hands on learning is one way to solidify and improve executive functioning. This concept is so simple, but I think it has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle of educational success. One EF in particular the has an impact on classroom performance for my students (and many others) is self/impulse control. These are the friends who shout out in class; and make questionable choices at recess and lunch. However, these are also the students who have difficulty cutting in a straight line, or forming their letters correctly. I see this a lot with my students, and when we identify it, the behaviors that we see in class can be explained. By identifying the weakness in their executive functioning, we can work towards improving their academic performance. We have incorporated activities in the classroom such as movement and brain break activities, but we are also exploring the use of yoga and relaxation. One of my colleagues is using the Zones of Regulation curriculum with some of our shared students, to help improve EF. With the Zones curriculum, we have seen some early signs of success for some of our friends; they are becoming more self aware, and using self reflection to help with decision making.
    I was struck by the Ms. Diamond’s comment that the use of movement by the National Dance Institute is not only important for EF, but that it also fosters a sense of belonging. It made me reflect on our discussions of the basic needs, and how a feeling of belonging is so important for health emotional development. Some of our students who need improvement in the area of EF get so discouraged with themselves, and start to feel that their impulsivity is just who they are. I think it is so important to remind students that being imperfect does not equate to being worthless.
    One way that our school is working towards the goal of educating the whole child is by establishing a Wellness committee. The purpose of this committee is to help students and staff by creating a healthy learning environment. The Wellness committee has developed some classroom activities that are being shared at faculty meetings. These include movement and games. They have also designated Wednesdays as “no-study hall days”, so that on Wednesday, all students participate in recess; no one goes to study hall. Every class has access to a Chinese jump rope, and teachers are being encouraged to engage their students in structured recess games at least once a week. We also have playground games that can include all children, even those who find recess difficult or overstimulating. They can play checkers or card games.
    My third grade collaborating teacher and I use several of the strategies mentioned for the 7-12 year old students. Our students love the game “Blurt”, and we have used it as review for several tests. We also try to incorporate movement into most lessons, using GoNoodle, or Kagan strategies like Stand up, Hand up, Pair up. I would love to see our kindergarten students have more “center time”, but usually stops around this part of the year, so there is more academic time. After watching the video, I have a new reason to advocate for center time!

    1. Marchia,
      I literally just received the Zones of Regulation curriculum from my supervisor. We will be implementing it with our students. I haven’t had a chance to review it yet but I am excited to incorporate it to help with SEL. I also think initiatives like the Wellness Committee and “no-study hall days” are a great way to help shift school culture/climate. My son’s school began a “no SOL day” where teachers have free range to teach using activities, games, outdoor play, etc. It is such a great reminder to students that learning can be fun and creative. It definitely changes the learning environment.

  4. Marchia,

    Let me start by saying that I LOVE the idea of a Wellness Committee and will be bringing that idea to my administrators when we return from Spring Break. What I love even more is that the actions of the committee are geared towards both faculty and students. It is so important for teachers to take time to make sure that they are healthy both physically and mentally and the same goes for our students. I look forward to sharing how that conversation goes with you all.

    I really do wish that there was more time in our day dedicated to activity for our kids. So much of their day is spent sitting in the classroom and if they are active, it is typically during PE and does not involve their teachers’ participation in activities. I try to get my students moving as much as possible in the art room and will also allow them brain breaks, however, I never feel like it is enough. I am lucky to teach a subject that requires a great deal of hands-on learning, and hopefully that provides some compensation. I am thrilled to be doing my semester project on art therapy, yoga and mindfulness techniques. I never realized how much of a role those areas of study play in executive functioning. Your post made me realize that a great deal of what I am doing during the summer camp will also tie into EF so I am going to be more intentional about including that terminology in my future blog posts and updates about our semester project.

    I wanted to also let you know how much I appreciate what you wrote about “reminding students that being imperfect does not equate to being worthless.” I am always trying to promote individuality in the art room and encourage my students to be unique both in their work and in their personalities. With my students who are more impulsive, I’ve become more cognizant of the language that I use with them before reacting. I try to figure out how I can even tie their impulsive behaviors into their character strengths so that they are shed in a more positive light. For example, when students blurt out answers in my class or blurt out reactions in certain situations, I try to commend them first for attempting to demonstrate their knowledge rather than telling them to be quiet. Thank you for sharing your thoughts this week and for giving me some extra inspiration and motivation for my semester project!

  5. I believe I may have mentioned this in a previous post for this class, but my level of awareness concerning Executive Functions prior to this class was fairly limited. Reading and learning about executive functions in class was eye-opening for me! I think I had the basic knowledge of incorporating and strengthening working memory and impulse control within my young students, but wasn’t exposed to the greater umbrella that is executive functions! I think this is such a critical component for students at any age that I actually question why I don’t know more about this… I’m eager to explore more about how to cultivate and strengthen student EF skills in my classroom and how it will impact their learning. While reading the article from the Developing Child Harvard article, I honed in on the 5-7 age group to read how I can support my first grader’s development of EF skills. I also noted that we aren’t born with executive function skills, but we are born with the potential to develop them. I think this is another crucial thing to consider, especially as we as educators can support and scaffold the development of these skills. After our EF discussions in class, this article, and the TED talk video with Adele Diamond, I am eager to integrate more activities that strengthen my students’ EF skills as a part of an everyday practice. I also enjoyed Adele Diamond’s TED talk about how adults can model that making mistakes is OKAY and instead of being penalized for the mistakes they make; students can be rewarded for their attempt to try. I thought this was such an important reminder that we can model and teach students how to react when a mistake is made and turn it into a learning opportunity rather than a failure.
    Three EF strategies that I believe would be easy to try out with my first graders include the increased time for students to practice strategy/memory games, movement songs, and games that require fast responses. These are three strategies that I think could be easily implemented (or increased implementation) for my students! One that we tried out this week was games that require fast responses. I went to the Virginia Council for Teaching Math conference a couple weeks ago and attending a session on fact fluency. There were some strategies and games for students to use to increase fact fluency and a lot of it had to do with the foundational pieces of recognizing numbers shown in different ways and being able to subitize numbers. One game that we implemented was a paper plate subitizing game where random number of dots were displayed on paper plates. (similar to these: http://www.sommerslionpride.com/2014/06/thrifty-thursday-subitizing-plates.html)
    Students were quickly shown the paper plates to count as quickly as they could and say the answer before their peer. The students really seemed to enjoy this game and it was tricky at first, but as they continued to play, their response time was reduced and they came up with strategies to count the dots quicker. Students explained their strategies that including: grouping the different colored dots and then adding the groups together, counting the dots from top to bottom or left to right, and pretending the dots were on a dice to quickly recognize patterns to count. This was an easy implementation to not only build fact fluency in math and foundational number sense skills, but also executive function skills such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. I am eager to try out more of these activities that can be hitting academic and EF skills at the same time!

    1. Kirsten,
      I really like how you pointed out the part that adults can play in building EF by just taking the opportunity to turn a “failure” into a teaching moment. I think that we sometimes have unrealistic expectations of our kids and when mistakes are made the students are discouraged. Not only have they “messed up” but now they feel they have disappointed someone as well. And both the article and video were eye opening to me as well. I was a bit familiar with EF skills but had no idea that activities of play have such a positive affect on them.

  6. Prior to this reading I was somewhat aware of the importance of building executive functioning skills. Much like everyone else, I also found that I was already implementing some of the strategies noted in the Harvard article; not only with my students but also with my children. Within the first two to three weeks of meeting, I ask my students what their strengths are as well as what they need to improve on, we then work together to set goals that will help to improve on those behaviors (or restore/build relationships). I also try to stress to teachers and administrator that this is a process not an overnight fix, especially when dealing with impulsive behaviors and self-control. I like that Adele Diamond was very specific in the skills/abilities that she listed; self-control, discipline, perseverance, creativity, mental flexibility, and reasoning. These encompass the essential skills that we all need in order to deal with adversity in our everyday lives.
    Three EF strategies that I believe are easy to implement are (continued) goal setting, planning, and self-monitoring. I believe these go hand-in-hand. Many times I find that students set goals are not clear about how to go about achieving their goals. Yes, they understand they must change something about themselves, but the how is where the problem lies. It was challenging this past week to work with students as they were completing their writing SOL’s so I decided to focus on the reflecting on the best and worst part of their day. By doing this I was attempting to encourage self-awareness as a way of self-monitoring. They seemed to be more aware of what triggers them and why, which sometimes was simply just waking up on the wrong side of the bed that day.
    In reading the article, I was curious as to how my stress level is affecting my executive functioning skills. I often find myself unable to retain information, easily distracted, and having difficulty managing my time, even though I set daily goals. I will be implementing some of these strategies myself to see if there is a change in my EF.
    And if this makes any difference at all, I did participate in GoNoodle in my sons class this past Friday. 🙂

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