1. Preparing for the Fall Semester: What Do You Want to Share?
  2. Instructional and Assessment Technology to Prepare for Your Fall Semester
  3. Preparing Teachers for Standards-Based Lesson Planning
  4. Preparing for the Fall Semester: Aligning Instruction to Standards
  5. Technology in Coaching to Decrease Pre-service Educator Stress
  6. Boom-ing into Data Collection
  7. Accessibility Checker for Slides
  8. Technology to Support Executive Function Skills
  9. Preparing for the Fall Semester: The Wrap Up
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Technology to Support Executive Function Skills

Author: Kiera Anderson, OTR/L; info@ciddl.org

Summer, a time when many educators have the opportunity to reflect on the past school year and determine how to revamp lesson plans, classroom activities, and focus on professional development activities. Educators participate in these activities because they are invested in maximizing learning gains so all students can develop confidence, resiliency, and a love for lifelong learning. Wow, educators, what a feat, you take on the responsibility of helping brains develop at all ages! Supporting executive function (EF) skills can help you as a teacher educator prepare your pre-and in-service teachers prepare their students’ to maximize learning gains by understanding how their brain works for improved life management. This blog will briefly describe EF skills and what challenges may look like and identify various practical and easy-to-use technology sources that can be used to support and enhance EF skills.

Executive Function Skills

Executive function skills allow us to control purposeful behavior required to plan, organize, and reach goals in our daily lives. Constructs associated with EF include working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Within these primary constructs, many other skills are hard at work keeping our brain on track, including self-regulation, emotional control, time management, task attention, planning and organization, and metacognition. These skills have often been considered as our brain’s GPS system because we constantly have to plan and adjust accordingly to attain the completion of goals. For example, a student must focus enough on an instructor’s lecture to remember directions specific for a homework assignment, then organize and plan time to complete the task. After class, this student’s friends want to go out, so the student must now exert self-regulation to decide how their time should be spent in order to reach the assignment completion goal. The student then procrastinates or starts the assignment (task initiation). Just as obstacles require GPS changes when driving, the brain is constantly adjusting during life tasks.

Challenges in Executive Function Skills

Working memory is the EF skill that allows us to hold information temporarily and use it to organize and problem solve for cognitive tasks. Deficits in working memory may appear as difficulties in following conversations, forgetfulness, and multi-tasking. Inhibitory control is the ability to pause and control responses when needed. It is not uncommon to see young children overreact in a temper tantrum when things do not go as they wish or to be impulsive in decision making. However, these would not be appropriate reactions for older children or young adults. These skills are learned and developed over time with guidance and practice. Problems with inhibitory control often manifest as making rash decisions, rushing through tasks, or challenges with completing tasks. 

Cognitive flexibility stems from the development of working memory and inhibitory control, including the ability to think about things differently and adapt as necessary. Deficits may present as difficulty adjusting to new routines, understanding abstract concepts, and different ways of thinking. 

Executive function skills can be negatively impacted at any stage of life from delays in skills acquisition, stress, anxiety, poor sleep habits, distraction, overwhelming fears, and lack of physical activity. The good news is, EF skills can be improved at any stage of life! The numerous amounts of technology available within devices we commonly use or as applications (apps) can be used to compensate for and improve upon EF deficits. 

The following descriptions include some of the many available tools with links provided. This is not an exhaustive list as there are many additional tools available. Most importantly, the technology must be usable and useful for the individual to benefit from the functions.

Executive Function Skill

Tool

Description

Inhibitory Control

Android: Digital Wellbeing

iOS: Focus

These items are available within devices allowing users to customize settings to focus on salient tasks

App: Pomofocus

A customizable time tracker providing visual cues for organization and focus to complete tasks

App: Freedom

Allows users to block website and application distractors on all devices simultaneously

Planning and Organization

Android: Google Calendar

iOS: iCal

Calendars within devices offer many options for planning and organization, which are intuitive and easy-to-use

App: Calendly

Many features including personal and team scheduling, calendar management, and personalized booking links with intuitive customizable preferences

App: Habitica

A gamified way to increase productivity with built-in rewards and punishments for motivation

Time Management

Android: Google Calendar

iOS: iCal

Calendar features include customizable features such as alerts, syncing, and recurring events to assist with time management skills

App: Todoist

Many features including the ability to set personal and professional goals, create and track tasks, and track progress, and acts like a task manager

App: TimeTree

Places social, personal, work calendars all in one place and shares seamlessly with others for easy communication and collaboration

Emotional Regulation

Android: Digital Wellbeing

iOS: Screen Time

Easily access screen time use reports, set limits, easily set focus and do not disturb modes to decrease feelings of being overwhelmed

App: Calm

Includes guided meditations, mood check-ins, music and visual scenes for focus, relaxation, and sleep

App: Happify

Offers user-friendly guided meditation, games, and programs to decrease stress and anxiety all within manageable time frames (5-15 minutes)

Keep the Conversation Going

What other applications or tools do you use to support EF skills? How do you ensure your students are aware of the availability of these supports and value the importance of EF skills as a foundational tool for success? Join the CIDDL community and keep the conversation going!