This week I visited a fabulous brain school, Lexis Prep (thank you Anita and Bonnie!) and met with a wonderful educator who is teaching her students executive function skills by embedding them in their daily classroom activities.

By using questions to help the children think about HOW they are learning, she guides them as they practice – previewing, planning, and memory strategies.  

  • “We have just finished our morning circle time, what do we have planned next?”
  • “What one cognitive skill can we use to know when we have completed a specific action?”
  • “When we are learning our math facts today will we encode them in Quick Rick or Slow Mo?”

There are three primary ways you can teach executive function skills to your children, clients or students.

Can you name them? Take a minute, write down your thoughts, then continue reading.

ORGANICALLY – We can teach executive function skills organically as the teacher mentioned above. When we teach EF skills or cognitive skills organically we use prompts, cues, or questions to aid the children in using the EF without directly naming it. 

DIRECT INSTRUCTION – We can teach executive function skills explicitly with direct instruction, using the THINK cards. Our Cognitive Conversations help us talk with the children about what executive functions are and when and how we use each skill.

“We are going to use sequencing to write out the steps we will take to study our vocabulary words. Let’s write down what we will do first, next and last so that we know what we will do in which order. Sequencing our actions will also help us keep track of what we have completed so that we know when we are done with this task.”

BRAIN TRAINING – We can use Brain Training programs such as MC2, Cogmed, and ACTIVATE.

For the children who have inattention, cognitive inflexibility and diminished procedural memory, Brain Training can help.  The important thing to know is that the science in this area is new and growing. We need to be judicious in matching programs with the specific needs of each student and adjusting our recommendations as the body of research grows.

70 Play Cover AmazonOur current research-based preference for EF training is cognitive-exercise. There is a growing body of evidence that shows when we combine motor movement with cognition, children learn better. In our new book 70 Play Activities, we cite the current research.

It is likely that the most evidence-based brain training program to date comes from C8 Sciences directed by Bruce Wexler, MD at Yale. 

ACTIVATE is a computer gaming program that incorporates on-going assessment and physical exercises.  Dr. Wexler was awarded a $4M grant from NIH to study the efficacy of ACTIVATE. They have data on 25K children with some solid research findings.

The program changes dimensionally in response to the student’s actions, so it requires many aspects of EF (response activation, response inhibition, attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility, planning). Here is the post on it,

ACTIVATE is extremely affordable, one year of cognitive training for each child currently costs less than one hour of psychotherapy.

I’d love to see ACTIVATE as well as our EF skills training activities in Title I schools. In 1985, I started working with inner city students and am eager to give back.  So let me know if you work in a high-need or Title I school, I shall share tools with you.

Together, we will lift education up!