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Executive Function: Organizing and Prioritizing Strategies for Academic Success

Executive Function - Organize and PrioritizeEmily is a scattered child. She loses things all the time and is always late in the morning because she cannot find her books or her gym shoes. Last week, she missed a field trip because she forgot to hand in the permission slip and could not even find it in her locker or backpack. I wish I knew how to help her to become more organized. (Parent of a 7th grader)

To organize is to arrange possessions, information or tasks into a structured whole so that the parts are coordinated efficiently. As adults, we use a variety of organizational strategies and tools (e.g., calendars, file cabinets and computers) to help us schedule and manage tasks and keep track of important information and papers. These techniques help us to accomplish tasks successfully and achieve our goals. As we organize, we also need to prioritize based on our goals and the level of importance of the tasks. For example, we need to select the tasks we will attend to first, as well as the papers we will file and the ones we will discard. We then need to develop a logical sequence for activities. Organizing and prioritizing are important executive function processes. Children with learning and attention challenges often have difficulty in these areas, and it is important that parents help their children to learn strategies that strengthen these processes. (See “Executive Function and School Performance: A  21st Century Challenge.”)

Why Is Organization Important for Academic Performance?From the early elementary grades to middle school and beyond, the increasing pace of the curriculum and higher demands for independent learning call for stronger organizational strategies. The key areas in which students face organizational challenges include:

  • Homework: This requires students to write down all assignments correctly, bring home materials needed for their work, complete tasks on time and remember to submit work.
  • Long-term projects: Students need to keep track of numerous details and to manage multiple elements of their projects simultaneously.
  • Studying: Students need to organize class notes, homework and other materials to prepare for cumulative tests and quizzes.
  • Writing: Students are required to produce cohesive, integrated, analytical compositions that are well organized and prioritize important details.  

Why Is Prioritizing Important for Academic Performance?Students who understand where to focus their efforts on a given day or within a given task are able to complete complex tasks with ease. Students need to prioritize when they:

  • respond to the demands to juggle long-term and short-term tasks day to day.
  • select the most important information for note-taking, studying or writing.
  • manage the competing demands of school, homework and extracurricular activities without losing track of important deadlines.
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