Teaching Children with Special Needs: Executive Function

I try to stay abreast of educational research; it's important to be aware of trends in how we view academic achievement. We are always looking for ways to improve learning, especially among vulnerable populations. In Review of Educational Research (March 2015), a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, researchers have published a paper about a meta-analysis of studies regarding the effectiveness of interventions for strengthening executive function skills* in children. The summary of the meta-analysis indicates that interventions are ineffective. There is no support to suggest that interventions provide improvements in test scores. This is notable because so much attention and money has been spent implementing expensive curricula to accomplish those goals.

Executive function has been relegated to a buzzword of late, but there is seductive logic in trying to apply what we know about it to improvements in learning. Executive function is the traffic control of the mind: if it’s working correctly, our thoughts flow in a logical order and we come to reasonable conclusions from our ideas. It is how we stay focused when distracted, resist urges, control our emotions and stay goal-oriented. Can we mold and strengthen executive function through targeted training? Are there existing apps, software and websites that can provide support for these skills?

Smartappsforspecialneeds.com is a website that provides a showcase for teachers with mobile devices who seek apps to strengthen all kinds of learning skills. One I liked was Nudge, a calendar that sends reminders to students to help them stay on task. You can also send a nudge to someone else (teachers will love this). It's available on iTunes for $.99.

Asperger's Syndrome, within the autism spectrum seems to be the disorder where deficits in executive functioning are presented. For the student, the complications from thought processing disorders are very real. There is an entire industry developing to provide teachers with tools and software for providing support for Asperger's.

The takeaway from the study is: don't be swayed by hype surrounding the newest learning fad or buzzword. It is tempting to do just that. Another one that people are using for novel approaches to curriculum support is blended learning. This one is a little different because it's so vague. It's really just short for integrating technology into your regular classroom curriculum. These technologies are useful in both regular and special education classrooms.
*To define: Executive functions (also known as cognitive control and supervisory attentional system) is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution.1

Some resources to help you understand executive function:

Understanding EF
Using iPads for Executive Functioning Issues
List of Tech Tools for EF
Pinterest EF

Please let me know how you're doing, comment below.
1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions

Grant Name: Family Service Community Grants

Funded By: Autism Speaks

Description: Autism Speaks seeks to directly support the innovative work of autism service providers in local communities across the United States. The focus of our Family Services Community Grants is three-fold: to promote autism services that enhance the lives of those affected by autism; to expand the capacity to effectively serve this growing community; and to enhance the field of service providers.

Program Areas: After-School, Arts, Community Involvement/Volunteerism, Disabilities, Early Childhood, Family Services, General Education, Health/PE, Library, Math, Reading, Safe/Drug Free Schools, Science/Environmental, Social Studies, Special Education, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Technology, Vocational

Eligibility: Public School, Private School, Other

Proposal Deadline: 3/26/2015

Annual Total Amount: $300,000.00

Average Amount: $5,000.00 - $25,000.00

Telephone: 917-475-5059

Email: sselkin@autismspeaks.org

Website: Autism Speaks

Availability: All States