As we were speaking with educators in our community today, this question was asked, “What does the cognitive conversation sound like when you are providing direct instruction regarding the development of executive function skills?”

Here is a 4-minute video on the types of things you can say to your students when you are teaching them about executive functions.

Here is a short summary of the three steps as they are lived out in real life with your students. We used three different cognitive skills, to show you a variety of conversations.  

These types of conversations take place after the child has been introduced to the names of a few EF’s (not too many). Now it’s time to think about when we use specific cognitive skills in our real lives. Using inquiry, we talk about cognitive skills to help students “begin to notice” and “be aware” of when they are using them.

Making executive functions (or cognitive skills, as we call them with our students) transparent can be done in many ways. One activity we do with our students is to name, apply and show them how they use EFs in the course of everyday life. When we teach cognitive skills, the “direct” part is that we are naming a specific cognitive skill (planning, previewing, sequencing, inhibition etc). We are defining it just as a “Cognitive Scientist” would, then we are talking about when and how our brains use that skill in real life. The entire process, as is true of all our work, is quite collaborative and even fun for the student.

1. Name It. Choose one executive function and talk about what it is called.  Simply naming the EF makes it lose it’s mystery. We chose planning.

Planning is the act of looking forward and imagining what a task or experience “will look like” so that one may strategize to take action in a meaningful, purposeful and goal-directed manner. Planning helps you think about the BIG picture of what you will do in what order. Planning is the “big picture” activity before you begin to sequence out the steps in a task.

2. Apply It. Talk about an activity the child does in the natural course of life and describe how he applies a specific executive function. In this example we chose sequencing.

Sequencing is putting the parts of a specific task or action in the proper order to execute the task efficiently and successfully.

3. Live it. We know that helping to make cognitive skills transparent relies on our ability to meaningfully translate cognitive science topics in a way in which children can relate. Now that the child knows the name of an EF and how to apply it, we provide an example of when the child exhibited or “lived” the EF.  In this example we chose inhibition, some researchers call this self-control. 

In our work, we use the word inhibition because we emphasize to our students that together, we are becoming “Cognitive Scientists”. We use the technical terms and apply them to the students’ lives. We even tell our students some of the research, they love it!

Inhibition is the ability to exercise restraint. When you inhibit, you recognize an impulse to think, say or act and make a conscious choice to push the pause button.

Of course, there are many parts to having collaborative “Cognitive Conversations” regarding what executive functions are and how we use them. We hope this is a helpful beginning for you to use in your own work.

Let us know if you have more questions, we’ll try to answer them in brief videos to support your work this coming year.

We develop research-based tools, activities, and strategies to improve children’s thinking, self-regulation, learning, and behavior by increasing their executive and social-emotional skill sets. 70 Play Activities (Kenney & Comizio, 2016) provides activities, worksheets, and strategies to teachers, school counselors, and school psychologists to help children learn new #EF and #SEL skills. Our goal is to change the trajectory of children’s learning with joy, empowerment, and respect. Join our motivated community of over 10,000 educators, parents & clinicians and get the news about workshops, activities, and research here.

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