Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Executive Function is Hard

Lately we seem to be thinking a lot about executive function deficits. Even though the term ‘executive function’ has been floating around the edu-sphere for a while, it came to the forefront of our office conversation as we worked with teachers who have students with challenges in this area. We were looking to provide technological supports for these teachers and their students with executive function deficits.

According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University,“Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.”

Students with conditions such as Autism or ADHD, for example, may have accompanying EF challenges. These challenges present real roadblocks for their learning and because of the broad scope of the deficit, they are exceptionally difficult for teachers to accommodate. It is not as easy as simply giving a speech-to-text tool.  While speech-to-text and text-to-speech tools have come a long way, they are only part of the puzzle when it comes to students with executive function deficits.

We have curated three new sections on 2Include Me (our inclusion website) that deal with particular aspects of EF:

In each of these sections, we have listed tools with features to support executive function. According to Kool Tools 4 Students, AT tools that support working memory best include “graphic organizers and templates for data collection and organizing information, embedded prompts for categorizing and systematizing, checklists and guides for note-taking.”  A link to this resource and more can be found in the “For Teachers” link on each of the tool pages.

As always with Ed Tech and AT tools, we must remember that one tool will not work for every student.  It can be a process to find the right tool for the right student on the right device. Here at the office we will continue to think about tools to support students with executive function deficits. As we are always adding and improving our selection of resources, we encourage you to let us know about the tools and teacher supports you are using.  What’s working for your students?