5 Ways to Motivate Students to Use Executive Function Strategies

Executive function doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To use executive function strategies, students must be self-aware, believe they can succeed, and above all, they must be motivated!

Dr. Lynn Meltzer, president and founder of ResearchILD and creator of the SMARTS Curriculum, created a paradigm that connects executive function, metacognitive awareness, self-concept, and motivation and effort. The result of her research, replicated in schools and after-school programs, is clear: Students must be engaged if they are going to be motivated to learn and apply executive function strategies.

When students are motivated, they are able to select and adapt executive strategies flexibly, successfully tackling whatever challenges come their way. When students are not motivated, they struggle to adopt new strategies and can give up when tasks feel too hard.

5 Ways to Motivate Students

1. Make a game out of it

Games are a great way to start conversations about strategies. Students who struggle in school may be reluctant to talk about areas of relative challenge. By using games, you can talk about executive function and strategies in a fun and nonthreatening way. After students have developed an understanding of what strategies are and why they matter, it’s time to teach strategies for academics.

2. Connect executive function to students’ daily lives

Help students see that executive function is used every day, from getting dressed in the morning, planning a weekend, or making a snack. Even better, show them how essential executive function strategies are for adults. Have students interview a family member or an adult in school to learn how they use executive function strategies to stay on top of their work.

3. Promote autonomy

Students can lose motivation when they feel that their decisions are being made for them. When possible, provide options that allow students to feel in charge of their application of strategies.

4. Share the research

Research shows that executive function and self-awareness are crucial to success. Strong executive function is associated with not only improved academic performance, but better health and more success in college and in professional life. Share brief, relevant research findings to help students see the value of learning executive function strategies.

5. Remember to reflect

When students use strategy reflection sheets, they identify which strategies they do or do not like. They also explain why. Doing this repeatedly can give them a chance to reflect on the strategies they are using and shift accordingly.

Try out some of these methods and get your students engaged with learning and applying executive function strategies!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director