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The Educator's Guide To Teaching Executive Function Skills by Grade Level

Updated: Jun 19

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, developing robust executive function skills – including self-regulation, cognitive flexibility, and goal-directed behavior – is critical to students' success, as well as their long-term outcomes.

Research supports this shift in focus. For example, a 2012 study published in the National Library of Medicine, concluded the following:

EFs are more important for school readiness than are IQ or entry-level reading or math

And furthermore:

EFs predict both math and reading competence throughout the school years

Thus, we present the Executive Function Skills Core Standards, a new framework parallel to the Common Core Standards for math and reading. These guidelines aim to equip our students with EF skills, which research has shown to be even more crucial to academic success than traditional academic competencies.

This concise roadmap aims to prepare students for the complexities of modern life and work, enhancing their ability to solve problems, think critically, and learn independently. It is not a curriculum but a set of goals for what students should learn at each grade level in the domain of executive function skills.

The Executive Function Skills Core Standards are a bold step forward in American education. By integrating these standards into our educational framework, we can better equip our students with the comprehensive skill set they need to navigate the challenges of the 21st century and lead successful, fulfilling lives.

How can educators, administrators, parents and public policy officials use these standards?

We urge you not to wait for a mandate to introduce these standards into your districts. Take the initiative now and foster these essential skills in your students, equipping them to solve problems, think critically, and learn independently.

By actively integrating these standards into your curricula, you are taking a decisive step towards improving educational outcomes and nurturing well-rounded, adaptable students ready for the complexities of the 21st century.

We believe that as educators, parents, administrators, and policy officials, you have the power and the responsibility to shape our next generation.

Hold your students to these standards.

Be proactive and address the most pressing needs in students' education today:

Executive functioning skills.

The roadmap is in your hands; lead the way for your students' success.

Executive Function Skills Core Standards

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Kindergarten - Grade 2

Standard EF.K-2.1: Develop Self-Regulation Skills:

Demonstrate the ability to follow simple rules, control impulsive behaviors, and adjust behavior to suit changing circumstances, with a focus on gradual challenges and parental guidance to foster independence.

Standard EF.K-2.2: Enhance Working Memory:

Use working memory to recall and utilize relevant information during activities, incorporating tools like visible calendars and checklists at home to support memory retention and organization.

Standard EF.K-2.3: Cultivate Cognitive Flexibility:

Show cognitive flexibility by understanding multiple ways to solve problems and demonstrating the ability to switch between tasks or strategies, with parental support to encourage exploration and adaptation.

Standard EF.K-2.4: Advocate for Personal Needs:

Begin to advocate for personal needs and understandings in an appropriate manner, with parents modeling and guiding effective communication and self-advocacy techniques.

Standard EF.K-2.5: Demonstrate Inhibition Skills:

Use personal technology devices responsibly during designated times, supported by consistent routines and clear parental expectations to manage screen time and other distractions.

Grade 3 - Grade 5

Standard EF.3-5.1:

Develop, articulate, and initiate steps toward personal short-term and long-term goals, with a focus on setting realistic, incremental challenges and celebrating progress to build confidence and motivation.

Standard EF.3-5.2:

Understand and apply effective time management strategies, including planning, pacing work, and using tools like planners or digital calendars to complete assignments on time. Emphasize the development of a daily routine and the importance of planning the night before.

Standard EF.3-5.3:

Organize personal items and school materials effectively and maintain an organized workspace, supported by creating an organization station at home and using visual aids to keep track of schedules and tasks.

Standard EF.3-5.4:

Complete and submit assignments in a timely manner, demonstrating the ability to prioritize tasks. Encourage parents to set clear expectations and provide consistent routines to support task management.

Standard EF.3-5.5:

Advocate for oneself in a respectful manner, expressing personal needs and requesting assistance when necessary. Parents should model and guide effective communication and problem-solving techniques.

Standard EF.3-5.6:

Apply inhibition skills to manage personal technology use and potential technology-based distractions during schoolwork time, with the support of parental guidelines and clear rules regarding technology use.

Grade 6 - Grade 8

Standard EF.6-8.1:

Independently initiate tasks and work assignments in a timely manner, with an emphasis on developing a structured routine and using tools like planners to manage time effectively.

Standard EF.6-8.2:

Sustain attention on tasks despite distractions and interruptions, including technology-related distractions. Utilize strategies to minimize distractions and maintain focus.

Standard EF.6-8.3:

Apply metacognitive skills to monitor, assess, and adjust learning and problem-solving strategies, encouraging reflective practices and self-evaluation to improve academic performance.

Standard EF.6-8.4:

Consistently complete and submit assignments on time, demonstrating effective organization and time management skills. Use organizational tools and set clear goals to stay on track.

Standard EF.6-8.5:

Exhibit increased self-advocacy, effectively communicating personal learning needs and negotiating for appropriate resources and supports. Practice assertive communication and problem-solving skills.

Standard EF.6-8.6:

Demonstrate the ability to inhibit distracting technology use, maintaining focus on academic tasks. Implement strategies and guidelines to manage technology use responsibly.

Grade 9 - Grade 12

Standard EF.9-12.1:

Develop and implement strategic plans to achieve goals or complete tasks, including completing and submitting complex assignments, by breaking down tasks into manageable steps and using tools such as planners and checklists.

Standard EF.9-12.2:

Make thoughtful decisions by considering potential outcomes and consequences, including those related to assignment completion and submission, emphasizing the importance of weighing short-term and long-term impacts.

Standard EF.9-12.3:

Manage and respond to emotional experiences in a constructive and adaptive manner, using strategies such as mindfulness, self-reflection, and seeking support when needed.

Standard EF.9-12.4:

Exhibit consistency and reliability in completing and submitting assignments on time, using advanced time management and organizational skills, including prioritization techniques and long-term planning.

Standard EF.9-12.5:

Demonstrate self-advocacy skills, effectively articulating personal needs, negotiating solutions in complex situations, and seeking help when necessary, with an emphasis on developing assertive communication and problem-solving skills.

Standard EF.9-12.6:

Begin to explore potential career and vocational paths, using executive function skills to investigate, plan, and set personal career goals, incorporating research and self-assessment tools to inform decision-making.

Standard EF.9-12.7:

Exhibit effective inhibition of distracting technology use, demonstrating the ability to prioritize academic tasks and manage potential digital distractions, with strategies to create technology-free study environments and set boundaries for screen time.

Advanced Standards

Standard EF.A.1:

Lead and collaborate with others in group tasks or projects, effectively handling group dynamics, roles, and shared responsibilities, including assignment completion and submission. Emphasize the development of leadership and teamwork skills, incorporating strategies for conflict resolution and effective communication.

Standard EF.A.2:

Apply critical thinking skills to analyze complex problems, consider potential solutions, and make informed decisions. Incorporate reflective practices and evidence-based decision-making processes, aligning with the development of higher-order thinking skills as expected by common core standards.

Standard EF.A.3:

Showcase advanced self-advocacy skills, effectively communicating personal learning needs and goals, and managing conflicts in a proactive and constructive manner. Focus on assertive communication, negotiation skills, and conflict resolution strategies.

Standard EF.A.4:

Engage in detailed career and vocational planning, using executive function skills to identify potential paths, understand the requirements and challenges of chosen fields, and plan steps towards achieving career objectives. Integrate career exploration tools, self-assessment exercises, and goal-setting strategies to facilitate informed decision-making.

Standard EF.A.5:

Demonstrate mastery in managing personal technology use and mitigating digital distractions to maximize productivity and focus. Develop and implement strategies for creating technology-free zones, setting boundaries for screen time, and utilizing technology purposefully to support academic and career goals.



If you found this helpful, you may want to try my Semester Success Blueprint (SSB) course is designed to help parents and educators support students with ADHD or Autism in prioritizing what matters most.

This self-paced course empowers students to have fewer missing assignments (or none!), confidently communicate with their teachers, earn better grades and test scores, and reduce parental nagging and bickering.

Join SSB to help your student develop better executive function skills for this semester and beyond.

About the author

Sean G. McCormick is a former public school special education teacher who founded Executive Function Specialists to ensure all students with ADHD and Autism have access to high-quality online executive function coaching services. 

With this mission in mind, he then founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains schools, educators, and individuals to learn the key approaches to improve executive function skills for students.

He is also the co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, a business with a mission to provide adults with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder, access to high-quality executive function coaching services that can be accessed through Self-Determination funding.

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