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Summer and Executive Functioning Skills

Summer is a great time to catch up on material your child may not have mastered during the school year. Teaching reading, writing, or math concepts will have clear benefits for your child when they re-enter school in the Fall. But what about something as elusive as executive functioning? Can executive functioning skills be developed during the summer? The simple answer is yes.

Step One: Identify the areas your child needs to build.

One great rating scale is the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function® (BRIEF®) which consists of two rating forms–a parent questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire–designed to assess executive functioning in the home and school environments. The BRIEF is divided into 2 parts:

  1. Behavioral Regulation which includes the areas of:

  2. Inhibit, Shift, Emotional Control

  3. Metacognition includes the areas of:

  4. Initiate, Working Memory, Plan/Organize, Organization of Materials, Monitoring

If your child’s executive functioning weakness is behavioral regulation your intervention will be different than if metacognition is the area of weakness.

Step Two: Plan your intervention

Dr. Judy Willis ( identifies some wonderful strategies to build executive functioning skills. Here is an edited version of her article.

1) Provide Opportunities to Apply Learning

When you provide students with opportunities to apply what they have learned — especially through authentic, personally meaningful activities — and then provide formative assessments and feedback throughout a unit, facts move from rote memory to become part of the memory bank.

  1. The expanding of related categories of information (Piaget’s schema) through executive function activities will consolidate learning into networks. These networks can be activated when students are prompted to use new learning to solve problems or create new products. This is the transfer process that further promotes network activation with the resulting neuroplasticity to construct long-term memory. Without these opportunities for strengthening, any memories learned by rote are simply pruned away from disuse after the test.

2) Introduce Activities to Support Developing Executive Function

  1. Students need to be explicitly taught and given opportunities to practice using executive functions such as learning, studying, organizing, prioritizing, reviewing, and actively participating in class.

  2. Activities that can support executive function network development include comparing and contrasting, giving new examples of a concept, spiraled curriculum, group collaboration, open-ended discussions. Additionally, executive function is developed when students summarize and symbolize new learning into new formats, such as through the arts or writing across the curriculum. (See The Brain-Based Benefits of Writing for Math and Science Learning.)

  3. Consider how to acquire any skills or knowledge they lack to reach desirable goals. This type of student-prompted information and skill seeking strengthens students’ attitudes about the value of learning. When motivated to solve personally meaningful problems, students apply effort, collaborate successfully, ask questions, revise hypotheses, redo work, and seek the foundational knowledge you need them to learn. And they do this because they want to know what you have to teach.

3) Model Higher Thinking Skills

  1. In planning instruction, consider how and when you will model these higher thinking skills and provide opportunities for students to activate their developing executive function networks throughout the learning process.

  2. Judgment

  3. When developed, this executive function promotes a student’s ability to monitor the accuracy of his or her work and analyze the validity of information heard or read. opinion are examples of promoting the development of networks for judgment.

  4. Prioritizing

  5. This executive function helps students to separate low-relevance details from the main ideas of a text or topic of study. Prioritizing is the executive function that guides students when they plan an essay, select information to include in notes, and evaluate word problems in math for the relevant data.

  6. Setting Goals, Providing Self-feedback, and Monitoring Progress

  7. Until students fully develop these pre-frontal cortexes (PFC) executive functions, they are limited in their capacity to set and stick to realistic and manageable goals. As they develop these executive functions, they need guidance to recognize the incremental progress they make as they apply effort towards their larger goals.

  8. Prior Knowledge Activation and Transfer Opportunities

  9. Plan activities where students can relate what they know from past experiences to their current learning and tie it to the larger concept.

  10. Metacognition

  11. When you plan for and teach with mental manipulation for executive function in mind, your students will come to recognize their own changing attitudes and achievements. Describe your mental manipulation, challenges, and the executive functions you used to create something new as you found the authentic active learning opportunities that activated the students’ interest, perseverance, and higher levels of thinking.

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