| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 11/10/2020|
Executive function skills have always been vital to students’ long-term academic success. With remote learning eliminating teacher-student proximity and in-person scaffolding, executive function skills will continue to play a dominant role in determining student success because there are more moving parts involved with online learning than in-person instruction. Executive function is the region in the brain that dictates flexible thinking, planning, working memory, and self-regulation. For most students, executive function plays out in daily time management, organization, and study skills. In the world of virtual instruction, strong executive function skills can vastly enhance the cognitive process of learning. Below are three executive function strategies to maximize student success in the digital learning environment and beyond.
Centralize and Personalize: Avoid over-reliance on the school’s calendar and multiple portals, instead make an effort in consolidating all academic deadlines and blocking out your daily work times in one central location: Your own calendar. Using your own calendar will give the student more freedom, ownership, and flexibility to monitor and adjust tasks in a simpler, time-efficient fashion. Set aside 30 minutes daily to update your personal calendar by lifting key deadlines/information from the school’s website, make it even easier to remember by updating at the same time every day. The best way to habituate executive function skills is through repetition. The golden rule is the student should plan out their work 2-3 days ahead of time, so they don’t have to stop and think what they’re supposed to do next.
Digital Folders Wonder: For all important assignments and teachers’ directions, create a category and file those in designated folders for easy retrieval of current and future assignments. File it as soon as you create the document so you don’t have to worry about it later or have the need to remember the document’s title. Systematic storage saves time and eliminates stress.
2. Study Skills
Relax and Review: Research indicates that we forget 50%-80% of new knowledge if we don’t activate the knowledge in some tangible ways within 24 hours (Curve of Forgetting). Therefore, the best way to hold fast to your new knowledge is to review the information the same day you learn it. Even if it’s just a 45-minute review session per class, the intellectual imprint stays in your cognitive memory longer thereby making future recall of information quicker. If you combine daily review sessions with spaced repetition for exams, you will become a master student by taking the science of learning to the next level. For exams, spaced repetition is, by far, the most effective method to comprehend, review, and retain information. Let’s say you have 10 sections to review for an exam in 2 weeks. Spaced repetition means you would study 2 hours a day for 2 weeks (1 section per weekday) no more no less to give your brain its absorbing power to soak in the knowledge slowly but powerfully with retention longevity beyond belief. Simply put, there’s profound effectiveness in studying a little each day for a test rather than pulling an all-nighter or a single 6-8 hour study session. Even for online courses with few exams, reviewing notes daily will help you leverage knowledge acquisition from one semester to the next. When in doubt, test drive this method and see the results for yourself. This was the catalytic reason that converted me into a believer many moons ago.
3. Time Management
Be Productive Instead of Busy: Be clear on your priorities for each day and visually block out in your calendar how much of the goal you need to accomplish each day and within how much time. If you don’t plan out what you will do before you actually do it, you will waste time deciding what you should do next and how you should do it. That is valuable time wasted. Also, it is better to get 1 assignment done well than get 3 done carelessly because you over-multitasked. That is also valuable time down the drain. My favorite (I’m guilty too, but I’ve learned from my mistake through sheer observation): Avoid answering and organizing emails throughout the day (that eats up a lot of time), instead build in short email breaks first thing in the morning, after lunch, and at the end of each day. If you think you’ll forget if you don’t reply right away, then file important emails in a designated folder when they come in but reply later. There’s no real purpose in opening every email. Protect your time: only touch relevant emails and drop the rest. Focus on the flowers not the weeds.
Online learning does indeed require a different set of skills from learners. Executive function skills now have deeper implications and carry greater consequences, especially in the realm of remote learning. Therefore, students should take stock of what works for them traditionally and be ready to revise those strategies further to make them more applicable within the virtual medium. By acknowledging digital education requires a different learning approach, you can make creative, cognitive choices to obtain academic excellence. Take heart to what works for you and be courageous enough to change your academic routines in order to leverage the brave, new world of virtual instruction.
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