For those students who normally struggle with academic tasks requiring executive function (EF) demands, the covid era has increased the stakes. Successful remote instruction is reliant on students being able to:
-establish and maintain their attention to the task at hand;
-inhibit the urge to use their computer to access other websites during a lesson or while doing homework;
-sustain their effort/motivation from the beginning of a task to the end without getting derailed;
-regulate their emotions if they become frustrated by being unable to perform a task or understand a concept;
-activate themselves to work by attending online lessons and completing homework assignments;
-plan and organize their work schedules so task completion can be accomplished in a timely manner; and
-self-monitor their capacity to perform all of the above bolded EF and seek help when they cannot.
Whereas in person instruction serves the function of adding personal contact in the form of verbal and nonverbal cueing, this may be lost during virtual instruction where it is easy to drift off or zone out when students feel bored, frustrated, or find something more interesting to attend to. This places a greater burden on parents or other adults (i.e. tutors, coaches) to provide the external structure that may be needed to keep their student’s EF “firing” on all cylinders.
Whomever is entrusted with the task of monitoring students’ EF should utilize the following tools to keep things on track:
-ask students to repeat and explain directions to tasks before beginning;
-segment work into small, doable steps;
-build in structured breaks to anticipate and avoid the procrastination that results from students taking unstructured and lengthy breaks;
-utilize external organizers like calendars and a vibrating watch to activate students and keep them on task;
-employ assistive technology to: record lessons to reduce the burden on working memory; record the directions for tasks (i.e. sequence of completing math problems); listen to assigned reading by using audio books; dictate via speech-to-text programs when performing writing assignments;
-model previewing prior to doing assigned reading by creating structures (i.e. questions at the back of chapters in textbooks; providing study guides) to help students to encode and recall what was read; and
-use charts, visual organizers, and sequence cards to structure assignments and make the connections between information clearer and more concrete.
An often-missing step when employing all of the above EF strategies is the need to regularly consult with your student to:
-hear their objections and have them inform you about exactly how your plan will not work; and
-discuss what to say and do when it does.
The purpose of this type of consulting is to pre-empt failures and the frustrations that ensue. This is very important as the simple application of even the best strategies and plans without the accompanying relational contact via consulting will increase the probability of failure. By discussing with students why they think a strategy will not work, you will learn exactly how they plan to resist or defeat the plan before going to the trouble of implementing it. In this way, the plan can be tweaked and modified by engaging in a collaborative effort to do something that would be acceptable to both the adult (i.e. parent, teacher) and the student.