Executive Function

Lightening the Load

overloadLast month I began a series of posts about executive function (EF) and how it can affect students’ learning, starting with an introduction and following with thoughts on classroom and homework situations. It’s time to look at some of the strategies already touched on in a bit more detail.

Supporting Executive Function

Since the publication of Visualizing and Verbalizing: for Language Comprehension and Thinking some three decades ago, this has developed into an international programme which can be seen in depth here. I first came across the book, dusty and forgotten in a cupboard at school, and opened it as much out of curiosity as anything else.

The recommendations resonated with me, reflecting facets of my own practise, but my students’ needs at that point did not encourage me to dive into the programme straight away. Nevertheless, the ideas were there and the concepts became perhaps a little more evident in my planning and techniques. Later, trialling strategies specifically to support EF, and encouraged by recommendations by Christopher Kaufmann in his book Executive Function in the Classroom, it made sense to bring visualising and verbalising into my intervention.

As with any individualised teaching programme, the students’ needs were at the heart of my planning, and each step taken was guided by the last. I’m one of those teachers who borrows ideas I’ve seen in others’ good practice, and I tend to see a scheme as a recipe… Don’t get me wrong, I know that sometimes you have to follow certain instructions to the letter, but other times I can see where adding an ingredient in the form of tailored props or activities, or altering the ‘cooking’ time to suit the learner’s style, whether we’re talking low and slow or high pressure, can be a benefit. What’s important is the end result, the learning objective met, and the learner’s goals attained, with their self-esteem not only intact but, hopefully, boosted.

If you intend to employ this method with your kids or students, you’ll probably want to do your own research. In a nutshell, the activities I found most useful were

  1. Encouraging students to develop the skill and habit of expanding on their idea, starting with a single word, building a mental picture, describing each added detail as the image was ‘fleshed-out’. As well as benefiting both enjoyment and comprehension of a story, it enables students to build on their own ideas when writing.
  2. From this, developing the ability to picture a phrase, a sentence etc., until the ability to listen to and process a whole story becomes more secure. This can strengthen listening attention and comprehension, improve the ability to process instructions and other information and lays the foundations for better reading comprehension, too.

In my next posts I’ll introduce other adaptations that have worked for me.

Further reading

Bell, N. (2007) Visualizing and Verbalizing: for Language Comprehension and Communication. San Luis Obispo. Gander Publishing.

Kaufman, C. (2010) Executive Function in the Classroom – Practical Strategies for Improving Performance and Enhancing Skills for All StudentsBaltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

More blogs on executive function can be found here:

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