Many students with learning disabilities exhibit problems organizing and planning work, time management, and with working memory. These skills fall under the category of executive functioning, which according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, is defined as “set of mental processes that helps us connect past experience with present action.” Executive functioning skills are crucial for academic success because they allow people to multi-task, complete work in a timely manner, engage in group work, and formulate plans for projects.
Currently, executive functioning skills cannot be measured by the use of a single test or even a series of standardized tests. Teachers and parents interested in what executive functioning skills look like in the classroom setting may notice that a student has trouble waiting to be called on, has difficulty estimating how much time it will take to complete an assignment, difficulty beginning a project or assignment, and problems retrieving information from his or her working memory. Putting information in a logical sequence during writing activities is also a manifestation of executive functioning problems.
There are a variety of strategies teachers, parents, and others who work with students with learning disabilities and these types of problems can use. The use of planners, organizers, and assignment sheets can help students keep up with when projects, tests, and assignments are due. In the beginning, someone may need to help the student set up his or her planner and model the correct way to use it, such as to make sure to record the due date for the assignment as well as the assignment details. Writing checklists for lengthy assignments can help a student visualize tasks that need to be completed for those types of assignments and help the student plan ahead to estimate the time he or she will need to complete the assignments. Many students fail to complete work because they have not paid attention to written or verbal directions or fail to write key information on the work. Such students will benefit from a checklist geared for each class that reminds him or her to write the name and date on each assignment as well as a reminder to read the instructions carefully. There are software programs that help with organizational skills, such as Lotus Organizer. When a student with executive functioning problems is assigned a lengthy project, it is helpful to give the student the assignment in chunks, with specific due dates for each part of the assignment. This will help the student plan tasks more efficiently and become less overwhelmed with longer projects.