By Kate Ryan
September 28, 2020
In my role as an educational consultant for the Landmark School Outreach Program, I see many teachers grappling with the best way to adapt their tried-and-true teaching methodologies to this new school landscape. Many experienced educators are feeling as though, after decades in the classroom, this is their first year of teaching all over again! The challenges are wide and varied: in-person teachers must manage staying distant from their students and teaching in a mask, teachers whose schools follow a hybrid model are tasked with staying organized in a constantly shifting schedule, and those educators who are fully remote face the challenge of engaging their students in a meaningful way. Whatever the learning environment, there are so many new strategies, apps, and best-practices to discover in an attempt to best support students. Although there is much uncertainty facing all of us, I do see a central question emerging from the dedicated and talented teachers with whom I partner: how can we support students who struggle with executive function to access content in a remote setting? No matter the setting, teachers are keenly aware that their students are also struggling to adjust to the new norms at school.
You are not alone if you have students who are struggling to:
Although these sets of challenges are unfamiliar and daunting to even the most seasoned educators, there is some good news: there are steps we can take and strategies we can employ to support our students and improve their ability to navigate new and incoming information. Before we examine these steps, let’s take a moment to define and review the clusters of executive function.
According to Patricia W. Newhall in her text, Language-Based Learning Series: Executive Function: Foundations for Learning and Teaching, “Executive Function is the brain’s ability to coordinate the cognitive and psychological processes needed to initiate, sustain, monitor and adapt the behaviors and attitudes required to achieve a goal” (2012, p.2). Additionally, Dr. Thomas E. Brown defines what he calls the six clusters of executive function: activation, focus, effort, emotion, memory, and action. Now, let’s examine the definition and the six clusters in the context of remote learning, which by nature taps deeply into the executive functions. For example, teachers may have seen students struggle to adapt behaviors and routines from their previous in-person classroom experiences to their new remote learning environment. Teachers may have also observed that some students have difficulty sustaining their attention and monitoring their behaviors to follow through with a task from the beginning to the end. Remote learning can also tax students’ memory, and as a result teachers may have seen students struggle to easily join a remote class via Zoom or Meet because they were too overloaded with information from varying directions. Any of these scenarios, all of which are language and memory heavy, can impact students’ emotions and can lead to feelings of being completely overwhelmed.
In short, remote learning places a heavy burden on our students. So, how can we not only support students with weaknesses in executive function, but also help all students feel success in remote learning? Although we are all learning new strategies as we go, here are some suggestions:
Newhall, P. W. (2012). Executive function: Foundations for learning and teaching. In P. W. Newhall (Ed.), Language-based teaching series. Prides Crossing, MA: Landmark School Outreach Program.
Kate currently works as an Outreach consultant where she partners with schools in different capacities to help support students with language-based learning disabilities. Previously, Kate taught algebra I, language-arts tutorials, and student advocates at Landmark High School. Kate was also a special educator at a public middle school and public charter high school where she taught small group math classes and managed a caseload of students. While working at the public charter high school, Kate was also a special education department head and then an assistant principal. Kate holds a BA from Colby College with a major in human development and minor in mathematics, and she earned her master’s degree in special education from Simmons University.
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