When Will I Ever Use Executive Function Strategies?

“When are we ever going to use this?” This question, in one form or another, haunts every teacher, whether they teach math, science, language arts, history, or foreign language. Sadly, as a teacher of executive function strategies, even I am not safe from this dreaded question. While you may not be able to surpress an eye roll when your students ask, as teachers we need to be able to help our students understand the purpose behind the content we teach.

In my opinion, this is a piece of cake when it comes to executive function strategies. Executive function processes are the foundation of lifelong success. As adults, we can barely make it through our week if we do not organize and prioritize our time, utilize strategies to access working memory efficiently, and shift our thinking as we move from home, to work, to social occassions.

The challenge, of course, is to help our students understand how important executive function strategies will be when they are adults. Envisioning the future is not easy for students, so the easiest method is to model the role executive function plays in your own life and in the lives of other successful adults. Show them your planner, so they understand how you organize your time. Do you have a mnemonic you use to remember important information? Share it! Discuss challenges you have faced and strategies you developed to overcome them. By sharing your own strategies you are not only helping them develop their own, you are creating an expectation in their minds that adults use executive function strategies as a matter of course.

Look for other opportunities to reinforce how important executive function strategies will be as your students grow up. If you are studying a famous scientist or writer, include information on how they  schedule their time, their editing strategies, or any other strategies of note. If your students are exploring careers, have them investigate how professionals in that career plan their time, break down projects, and flexibly problem solve.

Helping your students understand the demands of adulthood is an ongoing task; however, make sure that you present the evidence. Next time they ask, “When am I going to use this?” they’ll know you have an answer up your sleeve.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director