In my previous blog about Executive Functioning Skills (EF), I described several strategies suggested by experts. Here I will present some of the approaches I’ve used in my classroom and with students I tutor, which can easily be implemented by parents, teachers, or tutors. These strategies have helped my students demonstrate impulse control, calm their emotions, and persevere through tasks. I will briefly describe each strategy and additional resources are provided at the end of the article. I used this first technique in a classroom full of kindergarten through third grade students who had great difficulty controlling their emotions and their behavioral outbursts. We utilized a combination of deep breathing and “peripheral vision.” We used this routine after coming into the classroom from recess, when students were excited and tired in order to get back on track and re-focus. It is often used as a study technique for individuals of all ages—even adults.
Another calming technique has met with great success for several students at my current school. I learned this simple activity from Dr. Lynne Kenney and have shared it with classroom teachers and parents who report their successes, as well. When one of our kids is frustrated or feeling panicked, we have him walk backward. It’s simple. I find a safe place like a hallway or an open space in my classroom, clear any obstacles, and watch for oncoming traffic. The student walks backward at a comfortable pace. The extra concentration on motor control and the uncertainty somehow break the state of frustration and the level of anxiety is greatly reduced, like magic.
Dr. Kenney also suggests using rhythm and patterns to develop overall EF skills, as mentioned in my last blog. To develop these skills with some of my students, I keep a metronome in my classroom. I have one student who uses a ONE, two, three, four…count, tapping on the table in front of her. Her coordination and ability to keep a beat have improved significantly over the past few months and she loves doing this activity for a brain break, to let her re-set between challenging academic tasks. Another student recites the sounds of a given phonogram, to the beat of the metronome. I couple this activity with physical movement, such as marching or tracing giant letters in the air.
Another effective brain break has been the use of a “sparkle bottle.” When beginning a task, we set a timer. When the timer sounds, it is time for a break and the child gets to shake the bottle. To get the wiggles out, sometimes we dance or jump as we shake the bottle. The colors are mesmerizing and when the timer sounds again, the student is ready to resume working.
I have used “if-then” plans with many students and my own son throughout the years. This is a specific and explicit way of pairing preferred and non-preferred activities. I state the expected task or behavior, along with the preferred activity that will follow. For example, “If you complete ten math problems, then you can draw for three minutes.” These can also be “first-then” plans. Be sure that the first task is achievable in a reasonable period of time and gradually build stamina for the non-preferred activities. Some kids need a visual reminder, so placing the preferred item in view or using pictures of the first and second activities can be helpful.
For kids who frequently call out or interrupt, I use another of Dr. Kenney’s strategies. I have taught these students that when I show them “quiet hands” (hands made into relaxed fists in front of them), it is my turn to talk. Focusing on holding their hands like I’ve shown them gives them a physical cue that it is time to listen. When I touch the backs of their hands, it is their turn to talk and they release their fists. Meanwhile, I sit quietly and model quiet hands.
These are only a few of the many techniques I’ve discovered in my research and through trial and error. You will surely find many more as you do your own research into the subject of executive functioning.
· Peripheral vision: http://www.nlpworld.co.uk/peripheral-vision-or-the-learning-state/
· More on peripheral vision: http://georgegillas.com/soft-eyes-still-mind-laser-focus-2/
· “Improving Executive Function” from Dr. Lynne Kenney: http://www.lynnekenney.com/executive-function-resources/
· Sparkle bottles: http://www.instructables.com/id/Calm-Bottle-aka-Glitter-Jar/