Executive Functioning for Middle School Students

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Self-Management Skills for Middle School Students

In middle school, students must learn to adapt to the expectations of several different teachers who may schedule tests and due dates for projects on the same day.

Parents and teachers may notice:

  • Organizational challenges: The student has difficulty organizing - whether a backpack, a desk, or multi-step directions for class assignments, the student may lose or forget to turn in homework
  • Behavior or emotional management challenges: The student is impulsive or easily frustrated, cannot resist online distractions, has difficulty settling down to do work and persisting with tasks
  • Time management challenges: The student leaves work until the last minute, causing panic and stress at home
  • Academic challenges: The student may lack persistence or often not start or complete even small assignments
  • Self-care challenges: The student needs reminders to complete grooming or hygiene routines or household responsibilities

Beyond BookSmart coaches help students uncover their individual motivators, develop strategies for success, and ensure that they are equipped with a toolkit for the world beyond academics.

Executive Function Skills Expected in Middle School:

Self Regulation
Self- Regulation
Task Initation
Task initiation
Planning & prioritzing
Planning & Prioritizing
Time Management

Executive Function Goals For Middle School Students:

  • Understand their brains and how emotions affect learning
  • Learn and apply strategies to stay on task and maintain attention
  • Develop personalized systems to organize materials and work areas
  • Learn how to break longer-term assignments into smaller parts and plan how 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
  • Learn and practice methods to cope with strong emotions
  • Learn how to get started on work and persist when the work is challenging
  • 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

Executive Functioning Strategies for Middle School Students

When keeping track of materials is a challenge

One common problem is that students often forget reading materials for English class. That book is another item to keep track of and it's usually a smaller object amidst the bulky binders and heavy textbooks. As for keeping track of the book itself, a three-hole punched zippered pouch can work well as a dedicated holder for the current paperback your child’s class is reading. It can’t slip and slide to the bottom of the locker or scatter onto the floor in a rush to pack up at the end of class. A post-it note reminder attached to the front cover to return the book to its home can help students maintain this habit.

When getting started on homework feels impossible

Sometimes a student can feel like there's an immense mountain of work ahead of them - and no amount of slogging away can ever make a dent in it. In order to tame those emotions and reality-check the situation, we like to collaborate with students to create a plan for the night called a "Fast Break." This strategy is simply to list exactly what the student plans to do and when, while also planning out sensible and time-limited breaks to recharge and refocus. For example, they may list "math worksheet" first, because that will require the most brain power. Next to it, write down the time they'll begin and the estimated time they'll finish. Keep writing down start and finish times, in order, until all the assignments are accounted for.  This provides a guide for a student to know if they are on track - they simply look at the Fast Break list, check the time and what they're working on, and they'll see if they're running ahead or behind schedule. This strategy transforms a disorganized "too much to do" feeling into a confident, focused "I have a plan" attitude.

When phone distraction is a problem

Who doesn't feel distracted when trying to work with a phone nearby? It's typical to hear students say that their homework takes "forever" -  yet the biggest culprit that is stealing their time is right under their noses. Students can fool themselves by thinking that they can multitask while doing homework: a few texts here and there and a TikTok video (or 20), and before they know it, that 30-minute assignment has taken them 2 hours. The key here is to ask your middle schooler to simply experiment one night by having their phone safely out of reach (and their laptop on "do not disturb") while they do their work. Maybe you could model this experiment alongside them, to show that you'd like to better control your own distractions. Look at the results of the experiment together. Did you both finish your work more quickly? What did it feel like? Can they imagine trying this on their own? It's not easy to convince a student to put down their phone, but small experiments like this can reveal to them the costs of working while distracted and help them make smart choices about their technology.

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