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How does Executive Function weakness affect students?

  • Does your child have a hard time starting or completing tasks?

  • Does your child forget to turn in homework?

  • Does your child have difficulty with organization or managing time?

  • Is your child bright but struggling in school?

If this sounds like your child, it could be related to weak executive function skills.

Executive Function is an umbrella term in neuroscience to describe the neurological processes involving organization and self-regulation. Executive Function takes time to fully develop, and it develops at different rates in different children. Moreover, the prefrontal cortex of the human brain is constantly growing and changing in young children as well as adolescents.

The Highlands School program helps students develop EF skills (like time management, notetaking, and active listening) through direct instruction and classroom strategies. The school is widely recognized as a regional resource by professionals, parents, and educators. Our ability to offer individualized instruction to more than 100 students each school year draws families from a large geographical area including Harford, Cecil, and Baltimore Counties, Baltimore City, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

What does it mean to be an EF Smart School?

It means The Highlands School integrates executive function strategies into all of our academic programs. Executive function core skills are taught explicitly in a daily course, which allows students to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Strategies to improve EF weaknesses are reinforced and applied in both large and small group settings. This approach gives our students the tools they need to become more independent and achieve academic and social success at school and beyond the classroom.

Highlands focuses on EF skills including:

  • time management
  • notetaking
  • active listening
  • project planning
  • how to manage priorities
  • self-regulation

EF Strategies at Highlands

• binders
• planners
• flashcards
• color-coding
• memory tricks and mnemonics


The Impact of EF Skills

Executive functioning can impact the ability to focus, prioritize, follow instructions, and so on. Research and our own experience tell us that executive function skills can positively impact literacy and math skills. Our students often meet or exceed grade level, achieved by bringing together our small group instruction in Phonics, Reading Comprehension, and Math, together with classroom instruction and practice of EF skills and mindfulness.


When students are provided direct instruction to develop and improve executive function skills, it enables them the ability to become more confident learners. Students benefit individually and also socially by developing self-advocacy skills and become more aware of those around them.

Kim KujalaEducational Director of Classroom Instruction and Special Programs

More resources to understand Executive Function weakness

The expert staff of The Highlands School collect and curate educational resources on Executive Function weakness to share with our community and promote the most effective strategies for improvement

Executive Functions: A General Overview

George McClosky is a respected psychologist who is known for his expertise in student learning with a focus on executive function (EF) weaknesses. He defines EF as a “diverse group of cognitive processes that act in a coordinated way to direct perception, emotion, thought and action.” These processes impact learning and daily lives of many children and can also affect adults. The Highlands School has created an environment in which our students can be successful by providing strategies that students can use both in the classroom and outside of school

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Executive Function Strategies

Meltzer and Greschler’s article, published by the International Dyslexia Association, provides a resource for how executive function weaknesses impact a child's reading development. Although dyslexia is a phonemic-based reading disability, executive function weaknesses have a clear impact on a child’s ability to learn to read. The Highlands School provides direct instruction to assist a child’s ability to learn to read but also provides specific strategies that students may use to improve their ability to function in the classroom but also in daily life, even as an adult.

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The Nation Speaks with @CindyDrukier

The Nation Speaks with @CindyDrukier on Twitter: "#Teachers feel dispirited: "It's very sad when they're very frustrated, and don't believe in themselves, because of something that's outside of their control." — Janice Lloyd, EF Education Specialist at The Highlands School

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