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Cultivating Executive Functioning at Acera

By May 30, 2024No Comments

By Emily Achilles Stefanich and Jamie Schefen 

Guiding Question: How do we teach/support executive functioning at each grade level? 


Executive functioning skills are crucial for students’ academic success and overall development, forming the foundation for effective learning, problem-solving, and decision-making. At Acera, we are dedicated to intentionally nurturing these skills throughout every aspect of our students’ educational journey.

Our approach at Acera involves weaving executive functioning development into each learning experience in a manner that is both developmentally appropriate and thoughtfully scaffolded. Teachers at Acera have participated in ongoing professional development to provide research-backed support for students in growing in their adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, working memory, time management, and organizational skills. From structured classroom activities to spontaneous problem-solving opportunities, we ensure that students engage in practices that enhance their ability to organize, strategize, and adapt. Our holistic support system aims to foster an environment where any gifted child can access their learning at the level of their true capacities. 

In the Lower School 

In the Lower School at Acera, we begin fostering executive functioning skills from the earliest grades, building on each child’s existing abilities and progressively enhancing their competencies. Recognizing the foundational importance of these skills, we employ a variety of targeted supports and strategies designed to meet young learners where they are.

Our classrooms utilize graphic organizers to help students visually organize their thoughts and ideas, making complex information more accessible and easier to manage. Projects are broken down into manageable chunks, enabling students to approach tasks step-by-step and feel a sense of accomplishment with each completed section. Time-bound tasks accompanied by visual cues (such as visual timers or color-coded clocks) assist in developing time management skills helping students understand the passage of time and stay focused on their objectives.

We incorporate multisensory tools, such as chimes, visual reminders, checklists, and others, to facilitate organized transitions between activities, ensuring that students can shift gears smoothly and with minimal disruption. Clear routines and predictable schedules provide a stable framework within which students can thrive, knowing what to expect and when. Additionally, we emphasize the importance of previewing changes and upcoming events, giving students the chance to mentally prepare for significant transitions or tasks. These strategies collectively create a supportive environment that nurtures the growth of executive functioning skills, setting our young learners on a path to future success.

In the Upper School 

Students in the upper school have more built in transitions through electives and open project based learning through their IMPp projects. Along with these wonderful opportunities, we need to support our students in building their executive functioning skills in order to manage these expectations. This means weaving in supports that work for a child’s brain who may struggle with executive functioning. This may look a few ways, for example: 

  1. “To do lists” are visual representations. Often a hurdle for being able to complete a task is that a child with excellent executive functioning will automatically form an image in their minds of a future state in which they have completed a task; both what they will look like when it is finished and what the work will look like. For a child’s brain who struggles with executive functioning, this will not be automatic. They instead need support in imagining this future. Below you can see a visual provided to students in an elective of mine in which they can see what the finished product will look like before setting up for a gallery. 
  2. Working from the finished product to getting ready. Often I will use “Get ready, do, done”s where we will first consider “What will this look like when it is finished?” before questioning “how do we go about completing that?”, and finally “what things do we need to get ready for the assignment.” Doing this process with the children can help them imagine what needs to be done.
  3. Setting up a classroom intentionally. Our classrooms have “zones” that are predictable. Students know where they can go for group work, which zone is to get materials, and which zone is to have full class discussions. This helps students move throughout a space in an organized way.
  4. Using a “working clock”. One way we may help students with time blindness is through the use of a working clock. By drawing the amount of time students have, the students can visually see the time pass and understand how long each task will take. We may think ahead about how much time they need, and then reflect after if this was the right amount of time.
  5. Supporting students in breaking large tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Emily Achilles Stefanich is a Core Classroom Teacher and Coordinator of Acera’s Lower School.

Jamie Schefen is a Core Classroom Teacher and Coordinator of Acera’s Upper School.