Without executive function processes, going to the movies would be a nightmare. But students are often unaware of how executive function processes play a role in their daily lives. Far too often, I’ll ask a new student what he or she thinks executive function means, and a typical reply is “I don’t know what it is, but I don’t have it.” That’s a dangerous mindset because the student is assuming that he or she won’t be successful before we’ve even begun executive function strategy instruction.
In SMARTS, we use the executive function wheel activity to prove to students that they are engaging their executive function processes every day in ways that they might not expect.
Going to the movies is a great example. When you go to the movies, do you get there early or buy your tickets online beforehand? By making a plan that ensures you’ll get a seat, you’re organizing and prioritizing. Do you have a favorite place you like to sit, such as in the middle of the theater or on the aisle? You’re accessing memory to make your seat selection. Do you like to go online and read the reviews before you see the movie, just to make sure it’s good? Then you’re using a self-checking strategy to make sure you aren’t about to waste your time and money.
Whenever we have a specific goal in mind, like heading to the movies, we need to engage our executive function processes. You can use many day-to-day activities to help your students see this point: deciding what clothes to wear, brushing your teeth, doing chores, or even eating a meal at a restaurant.
Students come to understand that executive function is not just something they’re ‘bad at.’ In fact, they use executive function all the time! What’s more, they probably use a number of executive function strategies to accomplish these daily tasks. For example, they may have an app for checking movie reviews and buying tickets.
Helping students understand how universal executive function processes are is a crucial first step for teaching executive function strategies. Once students see that they already use executive function strategies every day, they will be more open to learning strategies that will help them overcome academic challenges.
- Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director