Technology Assistance for Executive Functions

Wake up.  Eat breakfast.  Clean up (self and surroundings).  Head to school.  Work work work.  After school.  Extracurriculars.  Homework.  Dinner.  Sleep.

Student schedules are increasingly demanding as they get older.  Although they think they can manage their day through memory alone, teaching explicit executive functioning skills helps prepare them for the demands they will face as they become older.  Middle school is a crucial time to set good habit and routines that can be carried throughout life.

In our middle school we try to focus on supporting student executive function needs by providing binders that contain color coded folders, a paper agenda, and writing materials.  Teachers also receive a binder from the Rush NeuroBehavioral Center that provides ongoing surveys and scaffolded practice that call attention to the skills students need and how they can reflect on their progress.  Additionally, the students have Chromebooks to help manage their email, Google Drive information, and other digital documents.  Although we provide these supports, there are still other strategies needed to support working memory, response inhibition, planning, and organization.  

Struggling students, especially students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are at greater risk for difficulty in these areas which can be frustrating for the student and teacher (Langberg et al. 2013).  As educators, we hope to alleviate some of the stress associated with academics that are compounded by difficulty with executive function by providing accommodations to students to struggle.

I also try to think about class practices that can help other struggling students, not just students who have more formal learning needs.  Executive functioning skills are practiced and developed in middle school and are a part of  the teacher’s role in preparing students for high school.  Most students struggle with writing assignments down, multi-tasking work, and organizing their work.

Digital tools appeal to students, especially when they can utilize their Chromebooks, rather than write tasks in an agenda or notebook.  The digital tools also eliminate the chance students will leave their essential to-do list as school.

After exploring a few tools, and admittedly also looking for something I could use in my day-to-day planning, I came upon Todoist.

Upon first view you can see that Todoist is very clean not overwhelming visually.  Students with ADHD or who struggle with executive function difficulty are overwhelmed, they are less likely to function academically (Langberg et al. 2013).  The interface is simple and intuitive with easy navigation.  Logging in is easy too with a link to a Google account.  Our students have students Google accounts so it helps with streamlining login and protecting student privacy.

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Tasks are easily added and organized with very few selections and keystrokes.  I was able to input my week’s schedule in under 3 minutes.  A weekly view within the same dashboard helps students organize short term and long term goals.  A longer glimpse into the calendar would help, but is not available with the free version.  At $28.99/year, I might consider upgrading my account if I find it useful, but students may opt for the free version.  iCal syncing is also available with the paid version.

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Another feature that should be highlighted is the productivity tracker.  As you check tasks off the list you’re awarded “karma” points.  We are strong proponents of positive reinforcement at our school and it also helps students track their own progress.  Executive function skills are hard to track, but planning and organizing are some of the skills that struggling learners have the hardest time with (Langberg et al. 2013).

Finally, each project created can be shared making communication with peers, teachers, and parents/guardians easier to partner with for success.  Students may have peer buddies or study buddies.  Projects such as history fair or other collaborative projects can be shared.  Parents can make sure they are shared on the items students need support with.  And teachers can track student progress on goal setting.

Overall, this tool shows a lot of potential for chunking assignments and encouraging goal setting.  The screencast below will give you a short tutorial for Todoist.


Executive Function – Rush NeuroBehavioral Center | Building on the strengths of children, teens, and young adults. (n.d.). Retrieved January 18, 2016, from

Langberg, J. M., Dvorsky, M. R., & Evans, S. W. (2013). What specific facets of executive function are associated with academic functioning in youth with attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder?Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 41(7), 1145-1159. doi:10.1007/s10802-013-9750-z


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