Updated: May 5
Teaching Functional Communication Skills To Students With Executive Function Challenges
Do you have a student who struggles to communicate with their teachers?
Maybe you’ve heard something along these lines when you suggest they reach out to their teacher to address a missing assignment or low test grade:
I don’t want to bother my teacher.
I’ll just talk to them in class.
That assignment isn’t supposed to be graded so don’t worry about that zero.
For many parents, tutors and educational coaches, hearing these statements sounds like nails on a chalkboard. The more they insist that the student clarify things with their teacher, the deeper the student digs in their heels in resistance.
We all know that communication is a core competency to living a productive and meaningful life. Good communication builds relationships, strengthens families and creates peace among people and nations. Bad communication does the opposite.
So how do we teach our students to communicate effectively so they can achieve successful outcomes in school?
This question has been the focus of my work as an executive function coach for years, and after working with hundreds of students who struggled with missing assignments, low test grades, and endless bickering with their parents, I’ve created the P.I.N.G. methodology to ensure they can effectively communicate with their teachers. P.I.N.G. stands for the following:
Inform and inquire
Negotiate your needs
Gratitude for their assistance
The secret sauce of this formula is in the breaking down of communication into component parts that most students would forget unless it were explicitly explained to them. When they start to use this methodology, I’ve seen many students go from “D”s and “F”s to “A”s and “B”s, while also experiencing more fulfilling relationships with teachers and parents that were once antagonistic and defensive.
Here is a step by step example on how a student can P.I.N.G. their teacher:
The “Pleasant introduction” can be a very simple statement that aims to lower the affective filter a teacher might have up after a long day of work. By not jumping straight into a demand, the student is showing grace and tact, putting the teacher at ease and demonstrating the student has appropriate social skills. Here is an example of one possible pleasant introduction:
I hope you are doing well.
If the student wants to add a bit of flourish, they could remark on something pertinent that happened in class recently, like so:
It was great to be a part of the discussion we had in class this week on the importance of Black Lives Matter protests worldwide. I appreciate you calling on me to share my thoughts.
Next, you’ll want to help your student “Inform and inquire” about the particular issue they are experiencing. This usually has to do with a low-grade, a missing assignment or less than desirable outcome on a test. Here is an example of what “Inform and inquire” could look like:
I noticed that my grade in your class is currently a (grade). My goal is to earn a (desired grade). My plan is to complete the following assignments in this order:
(Assignment I will complete first)
(Assignment I will complete second)
(Assignment I will complete third)
Is there anything else you suggest I do to work toward my goal of earning (desired grade) in your class?
Notice that I let the student choose what grade they want. Encouraging your students to executively choose what grade they want to earn (not get) is a big piece of the executive function puzzle. When the student is executively choosing their own goal you will find they are much more likely to follow through on taking actions to reach their stated goal.
By informing the teacher they are aware of their current standing, it also alerts the teacher that this student cares about their standing in the class and desires to do better. This small step often has a ripple effect and improves the overall student rapport between student and teacher.
After “Informing and inquiring” about the approach to succeeding in the class, it will be important for a student to “Negotiate their needs.” The way this is done is by using a request in the form of a question:
Will I be able to earn full credit if I complete these and submit them to you by (choose date)?
If you don’t ask, you can’t receive! Knowing that it is ok to negotiate and ask for something they want is the beginning of self-advocacy skills that all parents and teachers wish upon their students. I also have them choose the date by which they can submit the missing work in order to continue to strengthen their executive ownership over the process and “own” each step of the way. Remember, many students with limited self advocacy skills also have time management challenges, so it is ok to encourage them to choose an extended deadline (rather than a short one) and tell them it is best to “undersell and overdeliver”.
Finally, encourage the student to end with “Gratitude for their assistance.” This mirrors the pleasant introduction and shows the teacher that the student has the soft skills necessary to build relationships and that they value their teacher’s input. How nice is it for a teacher to get an email like this, rather than a parent stepping in for the child?
Thank you for your guidance ,
If you are looking for a range of communication templates that students can use to connect with their teachers, please visit the webpage below. I hope this helps your student communicate clearly and confidently so they can reach their goals and find joy!
If you'd like to schedule a free consultation to discuss a plan to support your middle, high school or college student in learning how to implement this system, visit our homepage by clicking this link.
About the author
Sean G. McCormick founded Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization, and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization, and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered. He trains educators, parents, and other professionals to support students with ADHD and executive function challenges through his courses in the Executive Function Coaching Academy.
Executive Functions, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Some of the links in this post may be Amazon.com affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, Executive Functions, Inc. will earn a commission.