Executive Functions

5 Academic Challenges Rooted in ADHD Executive Dysfunction

A teacher’s guide to facilitating learning and growth in students with executive function deficits tied to ADHD.

five students holding sheets of paper depicting various emotions in front of their faces

Executive dysfunction is difficult to recognize. When manifested in the classroom, EF challenges are often mistaken for disobedience, laziness, defiance, or apathy.

Here are five common (and commonly misinterpreted) executive functioning hurdles — and proven strategies for each.

EF Challenge #1: Getting Started

  • Prompt the student to start working by giving them a private signal like tapping your head or pulling your ear.
  • Ask a classmate to tap on the student’s desk as a reminder to keep working.
  • Set a timer or alarm reminder to start or resume work.

EF Challenge #2: Finishing Work

  • Encourage students to complete and submit their work in Google Docs that automatically save and can’t be easily lost.
  • Alternatively, allow students to submit completed homework via email with a scan attachment.
  • Assign student pairings to mutually double check work completion.
  • Religiously put completed assignments in the book bag each evening after homework.

[Get This Free Download: Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents]

EF Challenge #3: Forgetting Homework

  • Designate row captains to check that homework is turned in and that new homework assignments are written down.
  • Send homework assignments to students and parents via an app like Remind.
  • Designate a student to write down all assignments and distribute the list at day’s end or via email.

EF Challenge #4: Following Directions

  • Post concise class rules.
  • Write assignments on the board or print out instructions for each student.
  • When lining up to leave the classroom, ask a fidgety student to lead the line and set an example for others.

EF Challenge #5: Regulating Emotions

  • Give students a sheet of five or six basic emoji icons and ask them to circle how they are feeling each day.
  • As a class, read the flipbook, I Know What to Do When I’m Feeling(#CommissionsEarned), which is all about teaching emotional regulation.
  • Conduct a class-wide check on students’ emotional health by asking them to place one sticky note each on a chart displaying five or six feelings: “I’m great.” “I’m OK.” “I’m meh.” I’m struggling.” “I need a check in.” To maintain confidentiality, students should write their names on the back of the sticky note.
  • Hang a poster offering 10 self-calming tips — for example, take deep breaths, count to 10, listen to music, or walk it off.

How to Control Emotions & Other Classroom Challenges: Next Steps

Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions

Access more resources from ADDitude’s Schoolhouse Blocks: Foundational Executive Functions series exploring common learning challenges and strategies to sharpen core EFs at school.


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