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From remembering to turn in assignments to showing up for soccer practice on time, the development of strong executive function skills is vital to student success! In kindergarten through high school classrooms, we help our students build the mental processes that allow them to plan, focus their attention, remember and follow instructions, and juggle multiple tasks simultaneously. These executive function skills depend on working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control, which individuals can develop over time. Our built-in methods explicitly teach students how to stay organized, follow directions, and meet their deadlines.

What are executive function skills?

Executive function is an umbrella term in neuroscience to describe the processes involving mental control and self-regulation. Students need strong executive functioning to become independent and successful adults! These skills also improve academic performance, help to build strong relationships, and reduce anxiety. Students with deficits in this area often struggle with:

  • Getting started on a task and staying on track
  • Managing time
  • Organizing thoughts and materials
  • Paying attention
  • Planning and prioritizing
  • Reflecting on past behaviors and outcomes
  • Remembering what to do or when to do it
  • Solving problems

Executive function does not come easily to some, but it is essential to building confidence and juggling the many tasks and events that students face as they grow and prepare for life outside of a structured setting. Because of the human brain’s plasticity and enormous capacity for learning, it is possible to significantly improve executive functioning through evidence-based classroom strategies and support.

How does Lawrence help students improve executive function skills?

In every Lawrence classroom at every grade level, our teachers weave executive function coaching into their instructional approach. The entire school day is organized to help students build these skills—from visual cues to consistent routines to metacognitive language. This is a school-wide directive and every faculty member is trained to provide direct instruction, frequent reassurance, and consistent feedback.

Skill building looks different depending on the age of the student, and examples are plentiful. The following illustrates one our coaching techniques for high schoolers:

Just like in traditional schools, high school students are provided a weekly planner to keep track of their assignments and a period during the school day to work on homework. However, Lawrence takes this typically unstructured time to the next level with the deliberate design of our proprietary organization and executive function curriculum. Students spend 45 minutes each day in the Learning Resource Center, where, under the guidance of full-time faculty members, they establish personal goals and learn to self-evaluate their progress.

The period begins with students listing and prioritizing their homework tasks. Assignments are ranked daily by estimated completion time and level of importance (due tomorrow, due next week, etc.). Once the work that needs completed is identified, students set a timer to track the actual minutes they spend on each task. Upon completion, they log the time spent next to their estimate so they can compare how long they thought it would take versus actual completion time. This daily exercise greatly improves their ability to prioritize and accurately track time. Throughout the year, students become noticeably more independent in their ability to manage their assignments and complete them on time.

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