Empowering Executive Function
It is difficult to read current research on language-based learning differences without hearing frequent mention of “executive function.” This term refers to the brain’s ability to coordinate and access all functions in goal-directed behavior. Dr. Thomas Brown, a leading expert on ADHD, likens the brain “to a symphony with executive function as its conductor” (Brown, 2007). Executive function difficulties often manifest as difficulty starting and finishing work, controlling emotions, memorizing facts, and planning for long-term assignments. (CHADD Attention Magazine, 2002).
Addressing Executive Function Weaknesses at Cambridge School
Because executive function difficulties often coincide with learning differences, Cambridge School introduced E.M.P.O.W.E.R. — a once-weekly class for students in Lower School I – Middle School II. The goal of E.M.P.O.W.E.R. is to provide students with strategies that address executive function weaknesses that impact studying, organization, and communication.
Study and Organization
The ultimate goal of the study and organizational portion of E.M.P.O.W.E.R. is to foster independence and success in life through the practice of effective organizational routines and study habits, including:
- Building an awareness of one’s individual learning style
- Creating an organizational system for school and home
- Establishing a time management routine
- Identifying and practicing effective study habits and note-taking
The Shelton System for Study and Organization Skills provides a framework for this portion of the class.
The practice of effective pragmatic language skills, communication, and social problem solving is another component of E.M.P.O.W.E.R. Research indicates that 75% of children with learning differences present with social communication difficulties (Forness and Kavale 1996). With this in mind, Cambridge uses the Choices Curriculum to teach social skills and concepts through direct, multi-sensory instruction, and focuses on:
- Verbal and non-verbal communication strategies
- Effective decision-making
- Determining the cause-effect relationship of successful social problem-solving
In E.M.P.O.W.E.R. class, students learn to develop a Growth Mindset approach to learning by incorporating explicit practice in The Habits of Mind. Initially developed by Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, Growth Mindset is based on the changing concept of intelligence as a dynamic quality that can be developed through hard work and persistence.
This research-based approach is designed to promote a metacognitive approach to learning that:
- Develops critical thinking
- Causes students to question and edit their thinking
- Encourages greater flexibility in thinking
- Considers alternative perspectives
- Results in more effective problem-solving
E.M.P.O.W.E.R. also addresses social-emotional learning through the use of The MindUp® curriculum, which incorporates mindfulness training as part of instruction. This evidence-based and comprehensive curriculum fosters:
- Social-emotional awareness
- Mindful attention
- Awareness about the brain and how it functions
The practice of mindfulness is utilized within the school day.