Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

January 2018

Nobles Parents' Newsletter January 2018

"How To Be An Executive Functioning Ninja" by Director of Academic Support Mike Hoe



I was helping a student earlier this fall and I remember him telling me: “I just don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t even know where to start and I can’t figure out what I even need to do.” This is a common challenge that all students at Nobles share—especially the ones who tend to have challenges with organization, prioritization, and everyone’s favorite current buzzword, executive functioning

In case you aren’t aware of what executive functioning is, it encompasses a lot of what students at a fast-paced place like Nobles need to be good at: our ability to organize, plan, execute tasks, prioritize, identify gaps in knowledge, hold details in our mind as we work through extended problems (i.e. working memory), shift tasks and focuses, self-regulate and inhibit our distractibility, and so on. Executive functioning develops and usually works in the frontal cortex, and more specifically, the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The irony here is that with all of the things we throw at students, we essentially expect students to be already be really good with their executive functioning. However, the prefrontal cortex is in its most robust development during the teenage years. The fact is that if your child doesn’t seem to be too good with their executive functions, it’s probably because they’re just not yet—their brains are young and are still developing.

While there’s no way to magically speed up the development of executive functioning, there are ways to help ensure that students are putting these skills into constant practice. What is great about doing these things is that they actually require students to use executive functioning skills to develop their executive functions. In other words, these can help you and your children become executive functioning ninjas.

  1. Make lists. Lists help students visualize their tasks of the present and of the future. This helps students prioritize their work and helps them anticipate any big projects or assignments that might be coming down the road.
  2. Even if they already use a planner, have them write out a weekly schedule. Much like making a list, mapping out the week helps students to “zoom out” and see the big picture. By making a weekly schedule of each and every class, they can both prioritize and organize their week in order to set themselves up to execute each task with ample notice.
  3. After making a nightly work plan, have them talk it through out loud from start to finish. Physically talking out a list not only reinforces the plan, but it can actually help students work on remembering lots of details and steps that they’ll need to retrieve throughout the night. This is a deliberate and active way to practice working memory.
  4. Work binge, tech binge. The way our brain is wired makes it impossible to multitask and produce the best quality work. Ironically, students growing up in this day and age crave multitasking. Instead, have students turn off wifi, their phones, etc. and study/work extremely intensely for 20-30 minutes (the time our brains can function at maximum power/efficiency at a time). Then, have students take 5-10 minutes to read through texts, social media feeds, etc.  This allows students to practice self-regulation and shifting tasks as they move from one thing to the next.

So after reading this you might be thinking, “This is great and all, but my kid won’t even know where to start with this stuff!” Well, I hear there’s this great and magical place at the end of Shattuck called the Academic Support Center/Academic Achievement Center where some real life executive functioning ninjas live and are waiting to help your kids.

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If you have questions, comments or suggestions for this newsletter, email Kim Neal at kim_neal@nobles.edu.