Executive Function

What are Executive Function Skills? Why are they Important for Student Success?

The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University refers to executive function skills as "the brain's air traffic control system," which helps us thoughtfully create an action plan for school and home. We draw from our past experiences including our mistakes to shape our decisions before taking action. We stop and think with the goal in mind before beginning a project. Knowing how long a task will take, we pace ourselves and allow adequate time to execute the parts of the job. These are critical skills for success in school and in life.

Research shows that executive function skills develop slowly, maturing by the early twenties. Yet, students are expected to manage complex daily schedules that include sports, social activities, and school. Their school work by middle school will include projects that require the ability to plan a project over several weeks, to predict the length of time that each step will take, to communicate with their teachers and other participants about their work, to manage their materials and most importantly, to execute each step efficiently and on time.

The student who is struggling with executive function skills often lose their work because they put it in the wrong place or left it somewhere; they inaccurately predict how long a task will take or get started without purchasing needed supplies. Memory and attention issues are elements of executive function as well; they may not remember the assignment or may not have written it down in their hurry to leave the class.

Addressing executive function issues is a joint effort by the parents and the teachers. Very specific strategies can be successfully taught in both environments to manage time, materials, and tasks completion. For example, Sara Ward who works in this field created a model for students for tasks completion. It is called, "Get Ready, Do It, Done." In this model, the student envisions the completed task before he begins. Using this image, he gets ready because now he knows the materials and resources; he will need to complete the task. When he enters the "Do It" step, he has the materials, he has the picture of what he wants to complete and his mental resources can be focused on the completion of the task. Often with long projects, each stage can be a complete process of "Get Ready, Do It, Done."

Metacognition is being able to look at a task such as a school project with some self- awareness. Did I manage my time, materials, and information well? How could I have done it differently? Looking back, one can assess their use of executive function skills; therefore they are acquiring the tools for consistent growth in this area. Parents and teachers can help the student look back without judging their efforts but with a desire to learn and change.

Understanding EF with Sarah Ward

Practical Strategies for Supporting Executive Function Challenges at Home and at School, from Sarah Ward, MS, CCC/SLP

From Sarah Ward's visit to Delaware Valley Friends School, October 2016.

EF and the Adolescent with Sarah Ward

Delaware Valley Friends School was pleased to welcome Sarah Ward, M.S., CCC/SLP, to speak before a full house of guests on Thursday, February 12, 2015. Around 200 people, from professionals in the field to DV parents and students, enjoyed Sarah's 2-hour presentation on "Understanding Executive Function Skills for the Adolescent Learner." Click for resources and videos-->
EF Resources from Sam Goldstein, PhD

On April 10, 2015, Delaware Valley Friends School enjoyed a lively and informative day with Dr. Sam Goldstein, author of (among others) "Raising a Self-Disciplined Child." Read more and find resources here-->

EF Resources from DVFS

Executive Function Resources


"The master binder system helps him know what he needs to pay attention to. For the first time in his life, he's able to do things independently. I don't have to stand next to him and be his teacher anymore. I'm getting a chance to just be his mom. And that's really important to me."
- Kara, parent
Class of 2019


  • Losing their work because they put it in the wrong place or left it somewhere
  • Inaccurately predicting how long a task will take
  • Forgetting to purchase or bring home needed supplies
  • Having trouble following multi-step directions or telling or writing stories in sequence
  • Forgetting assignments or not writing them down in their hurry to leave the class
  • Being easily distracted/finding it difficult to pay attention
  • Trouble setting goals
  • Struggling with making decisions
  • Focusing on either details or the big picture at the expense of the other
  • Taking longer than classmates to complete work in class and at home
  • Forgetting details of a text while reading it, or shortly after finishing
  • Getting frustrated with changes in schedules and adjusting to new routines
  • Difficulty shifting from one activity to another
  • Finding it challenging to shift between information that is literal vs. figurative, past vs. present, etc.
  • Getting stuck on parts of a task and can't move forward
  • Having difficulty controlling impulses - will say or do things without thinking through first
  • Becoming easily frustrated
  • Often talks out of turn or interrupts others' conversations

(adapted from Executive Function 101, prepared by The National Center for Learning Disabilities. For more information: www.ncld.org)

Delaware Valley Friends School
19 E. Central Avenue, Paoli, Pennsylvania 19301
Phone: 610.640.4150
powered by finalsite