This summer I had the joy of teaching “Seeing My Time,” an executive functioning (EF) curriculum by Marydee Skylar. Roughly twenty bright-eyed young ladies showed up every Monday for eight weeks to gather tools to sharpen executive functioning skills. The profile for teens and adults that benefit from this class is as follows: poor time management, procrastination connected to starting work or projects, failure to meet deadlines, failure to plan ahead, over-scheduling, and poor paper management.
You may have read that list and felt that you would benefit from this course. The truth is that anyone and everyone would only gain from this class, and one family took the initiative to do just that this summer. After hearing about the class, they decided to do it on their own in order to engage in the parallel process along with their daughter.
EF skills are the located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain and aid in impulse control and productivity. These skills include task initiation, regulating emotion, organization, time management, planning and prioritizing, goal-directed persistence, flexibility, sustained attention, response inhibition, working memory, and metacognition. In teenagers, emotional escalation clouds underlying executive function difficulties, making it difficult to tease out the ‘what’s what.’ It is often that when emotional regulation improves, that executive function deficits are more noticeable, and can subsequently improve with applied tools.
Let me revisit two keys of the curriculum. First, working memory is the part of our brain that keeps track of information, like a notebook. This is a critical piece to EF as most people can track with seven pieces of information at a time, and with age, this capacity decreases. Second, metacognition is key as it is being able to think about your thinking, which brings focus to the task at hand and an increase of self-awareness to behavior and emotions.
With these things in mind, it is important to remember that an individual’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, so organic struggles with ADHD on top of a brain in development is a challenge for many teens, parents, and teachers. Some of the tools acquired in this course include discovering learning styles, note taking skills, planning and executing assignments, prioritizing, seeing time as concrete, and using organizational tools such as a planner, binders, folders, and sticky notes.
Individually the girls came to understand if they were a “DVD” (visual) or a “CD” (auditory) learner. To accompany this is a new note taking technique that involves drawing symbols rather than writing words. The brain remembers pictures, as a picture is worth a thousand words, rather than keeping up with a lecture. Not only did they learn about their own brain development, but they learned the skills necessary to support growth and learning for a lifetime. Tools are beneficial when we know which to use and when. I look forward to watching them access their tool belt throughout the school year because they are more equipped than ever before!