Executive Functioning for High School Students

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Self-Management Skills for High School Students

By 12th grade, Executive Function skills are needed for a smooth transition to college, where heightened school demands compete with new freedoms and extracurriculars.

Parents and teachers may notice:

  • Organizational challenges: The student has difficulty organizing class materials, keeping track of and turning in homework, or approaching writing assignments and long-term projects
  • Behavior or emotional management challenges: The student may have poor relationships with teachers, be unable to resist distractions, have difficulty settling down to do work, or give up easily on challenging or tedious tasks
  • Time management challenges: The student leaves work until the last minute, causing panic and stress at home
  • Academic challenges: The student lacks persistence or often not start or complete assignments, may do poorly on tests due to ineffective study habits, may lose credit for late assignments, may not know how to take notes
  • Self-care challenges: The student needs reminders to complete grooming or hygiene routines or household responsibilities - or does not make time for adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise, or other healthy habits

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Executive Function Skills Expected in High School:

  • Self Regulation
    Self- Regulation
  • Attention
  • Task Initation
    Task initiation
  • Organization
  • Planning & prioritzing
    Planning & Prioritizing
  • time-management
    Time Management
  • cognitive
    Cognitive Flexibility

Executive Function Goals For High School Students:

  • Learn and practice methods to cope with strong emotions
  • Learn how to get work started and persist with challenging work
  • Develop systems to start and complete writing assignments
  • Develop self-reflection skills to help them take ownership of new habits
  • Learn how to study and take tests effectively
  • Learn how to advocate for themselves with teachers
  • Learn and apply strategies to stay on task and maintain attention
  • Develop personalized systems to organize materials and work areas
  • Learn how to break assignments into smaller parts and plan when to get the work done
  • Identify and use technology that improves their productivity
  • Gain insight about what motivates them, and use that knowledge to be productive
  • Prepare for a successful transition to college

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Executive Functioning Strategies For High School Students

What Can Parents Do to Help Their High School Students Develop Executive Function Skills?
When The Morning Rush Is Too Stressful

A student's tendency to use the snooze button isn’t the main issue; there’s a lack of planning on their part that makes the morning routine more frantic than it needs to be. If it's wardrobe indecision that's driving the morning crush, we might even suggest enlisting the help of Snapchat for this (bear with us, here). Each night, the student could pick out three potential outfits and Snap them to friends. Whichever gets the votes goes right to the on-deck area for the morning. Students can also set up daily alerts for 8:30 pm the night before that walk them through a checklist of items they need to pack up: lunch, homework folder, planner, textbooks, and gym clothes. This way, they can get to school with homework in hand and a lot less stress.  

When Classes Feel Too Boring

Although it’s tough to maintain your attention when a subject that you find uninteresting is presented in a dull manner, learning to do so is part of developing Executive Function skills. Students can’t change a teacher's voice or teaching style or the subject, but they can change what they do when they listen to it. That might start with posture. Sitting upright rather than slouched over can help students get more oxygen into their lungs to feel more alert. So might the way they take notes — by finding a method that works for them (jotting down keywords, diagramming concepts, connecting chemistry to other aspects of her life). Other students have success by challenging themselves to participate in class a given number of times or by popping a strong-tasting mint to boost alertness.

When Procrastination Is A Problem

Students' tendency to put off their homework until the last possible minute is understandable. The amount of energy and attention students need to focus on classes all day leaves them with little gas in the tank to begin a homework session. Add in distractions from friends texting and a younger brother watching cartoons in the next room and students' task initiation skills are put to the ultimate test. A student could start by setting up a to-do list for the evening. If distractions are the real barrier to getting started, they can try reducing their effect. They might try the Forest app on their phone to “plant” a tree on their phone so that while they work, it grows. If they touch their phone, the tree dies. If the distractions come through on the computer, installing Freedom might do the trick as this widget can block the user's access to tempting websites for a set amount of time. And, of course, they need to be mindful to relocate away from sources of distraction like siblings watching TV or overexcited pets who want attention.


Strategies To Beat Test Anxiety For High School Students

  1. Write it down. During the test, write out your reasoning, even if you don’t know the exact answer. Get partial credit where you can. If the wording for a question is ambiguous, write down how you interpreted it in order to answer the question.
  2. Use imagery. If you can’t remember a fact during a test, close your eyes and picture where that information is in your notes or in your book. Was it highlighted? Did you doodle something right next to that piece of information? Was it near a graph or table in the textbook? Sometimes picturing the context in which you saw the information can help you recall it.
  3. Get psyched, stay psyched. Coach yourself before and during the test. Say positive messages like: “I know the material and will remember it easily.” Henry Ford said, “If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Either way, you are right.” Unleash the power of your mind to keep you focused on what you want to accomplish, and not what you fear if you don’t do well.
  4. Keep your perspective…it is not all or nothing. One single test will not decide your future. Think of tests as a snapshot of a student’s ability to show what he or she knows on a particular day and time, given competing priorities and other factors that can help or hinder performance. That grade is not a reflection of how “smart” you are, but rather how well you prepared and maintained your focus during the test.
  5. Show all work. Avoid strictly mental calculations when doing math. This allows your teacher to get a glimpse into your problem-solving process and pinpoint where you may be going off the rails. It can also help to not only avoid simple errors, but to get partial credit when one small error early on throws off your answer.
  6. Stay physically and mentally healthy – rest, eat well and exercise. It sounds simple, but so many students neglect the very things that keep brains functioning at peak performance. You wouldn’t try driving a car with an empty gas tank, would you? How can you expect to execute the sharp mental turns necessary for a calculus test on 2 hours of sleep and half a Pop-Tart?
  7. Get tricky: use mnemonics for recalling material. Creating funny memory tricks can help a student easily access the material when it comes time to take an exam. Need to recall a list of words for a test? Whether it’s planets, states, or presidents, this handy little mnemonic generator will create a suitably ridiculous sentence based on the first letter of each word you type into the text box
  8. Uncover your error patterns. Scrutinize your previous tests. What went wrong? Do you always mix up timelines? Practice writing out key events in order. Were some unexpected questions on material from a handout or Powerpoint? Make sure you track down and review those handouts in addition to the textbook.
  9. Hunt for clues. Dig through your notes and on your class website. Did your English teacher mention The American Dream every day for a month? Chances are this will feature prominently in the exam; be able to describe it in great detail, with examples from your readings. Justify what you spend time reviewing. “Well, I have this underlined in my notes, so I can tell Ms. Jordan really wants us to know tectonic plates for this test.”
  10. Study in a small group. Don’t be content to “look at notes” to prepare. Active studying requires quizzing yourself -- better yet, in a small group of classmates, quiz each other on essential terms, formulae, themes, etc. Even the ability to create questions for your study group peers will show what you know about the important ideas for the test.
ADHD coping skills

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