DeCoste Writing Protocol
Access to eLearning
Complex Needs eLearning Curriculum
Learning Recovery Toolkit
Dyslexia & Dysgraphia
Learning is For Life
Google for Education
Written by Mary Pembleton
Based on a Webinar by Diana Petschauer
Imagine that your brain has trouble filtering out distractions: it may feel like trying to work inside a dark movie theater with the volume turned all the way up and your favorite movie playing. Focusing in such an environment may seem impossible. You may feel angry, and the way you experience anger adds to feelings of overwhelm. You want to throw your work down on the theater floor and run outside.
Now you can begin to understand what a student with executive functioning difficulties experiences every day. They may be working on a computer in a house where their baby brother is yelling in the background, video games are calling from the living room, and the webpage they’re trying to read is buried in flashing advertisements designed as clickbait. Any one of these distractions could lead down a rabbit hole and away from the task at hand. Of course, focus is only one of the many components of executive functioning.
Navigating school with executive functioning deficits is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But we believe that, given the right tools, students who struggle with executive function can learn and work effectively even in an unpredictable environment.
Learners without access to those tools may find that they feel frustrated, anxious, or even ashamed when they have a difficult time paying attention, organizing and planning tasks, maintaining focus, managing their emotions, and keeping track of academic responsibilities. And educators, who may also be feeling overwhelmed themselves, may be at a loss for ways to provide learners with needed support.
In an effort to build a direct and accessible path through these challenges, Diana Petschauer, M.Ed, ATP, and Laurie McIntosh, MS, OTR/L, ATP, put their brilliant minds, and years of experience, together to curate an executive function toolkit for educators and their learners. They’ve compiled some of the most effective digital tools available to aid executive function. You’ll find their executive function toolkit is brimming with resources to empower students to focus their attention, organize their thoughts, and work through this tough school year with greater confidence and independence.
The toolkit below consists of extensions, programs and apps, many of which extend across digital programs and platforms, all of which bridge specific executive function needs.
Apps + Extensions
These are the heart and soul of the toolkit, and can do the work of several apps and extensions at once. In other words, one of these multi-function programs used in conjunction with another can meet many executive function needs. Specifically, the tools that follow help with scheduling and organizing, and support students with reading, research, and writing tasks.
Snap&Read, by Don Johnston provides users with a set of intuitive reading tools that can help students overcome executive function issues. Thousands of school districts use Snap&Read to give access to the curriculum and help students with executive functioning issues.
Focus: Snap&Read reads aloud from any text, be it from a document, a webpage, or PDF, while highlighting each individual word for visual tracking. It can also reduce visual distraction by transforming busy web pages into easier-to-read (less salesy/flashy) displays of text, promoting the ability to focus on the reading. Learners can use Snap&Read’s screen masking function, which provides a visual color overlay to assist with reading focus as well.
Organization: The note-taking option makes researching, planning, and crediting sources a breeze: students can highlight any text and snap it into an outline that automatically tracks sources in detail and compiles them into a bibliography. This can be hugely helpful to those who struggle with executive function- keeping track of both information and sources, and then organizing sources into a bibliography is a multi-step process that requires much in the way of planning and sequencing. Snap&Read also offers the ability to annotate PDF documents, which can be beneficial in streamlining tasks needed to complete work.
Working Memory: Built in text leveling tools adjust difficult text vocabulary—unfamiliar words that can be a stumbling block for students with executive functioning challenges—into more readable terms.
With both Co:Writer and Snap&Read, schools will benefit from centralized student management, data reporting, and LMS integrations, including direct connections with Google Classroom.
Snap&Read works hand-in-hand with our next tool, Co:Writer.
Co:Writer, also by Don Johnston, is an immensely popular writing assistant. It’s a versatile tool that includes word prediction, translation, and speech-to-text that can help students write, edit, and complete assignments.
Word prediction can help support the executive function skills of planning and aid working memory, and for this, Co:Writer comes equipped with easy-to-use word prediction that displays as a list of words and phrases as students type. The list is populated by words and phrases based on the context of the sentence and what’s likely to come next in real time as a student types. Co:Writer’s word prediction is particularly phonetically sensitive—especially useful for students who struggle with spelling. It helps unstick ideas and get them to flow into writing. The helpful word/phrase list can follow along with the cursor or be placed in a static position out of the way for occasional support.
If students are writing about a particular subject, Co:Writer’s word prediction can be finely tuned to a specific topic by selecting one of the thousands of available Topic Dictionaries. For example, a student can select dinosaurs, and the predictive text will offer dinosaur-specific vocabulary, allowing them to express that their favorite dinosaur is something as obscure and uncommon as Saurolophus. Which, let’s be honest, many teachers wouldn’t even be able to spell. Topic Dictionaries also encourage students to maintain attention on their chosen topic.
And Co:Writer also offers a Speech-to-Text (voice typing), which can be helpful to students for whom planning skills stand in the way of writing cohesive text. In addition, the text can be read aloud after the student voices it, which helps students self-edit their work. Co:Writer can also be set to read each word aloud as it’s written, and/or to read each sentence after the period, which helps students self-assess mistakes while writing.
Google Keep: This is a fantastic tool for scheduling and organizing tasks that syncs across all devices. It allows for sharing and collaboration and makes it easy to organize and label lists and reminders by topic. Step-by-step checklists help learners who struggle with sequencing. Users can create to-do lists, schedule reminders, and organize class assignments, all in one central location.
These free extensions offer easily integrated, straightforward tools to address specific executive function issues: time management, distraction reduction, and organizing research.
The following apps offer concrete digital resources to help with organizing thoughts and information.
These apps address organization and sequencing needs.
Interested in learning more? Our Executive Function Toolkit Webinar offers detailed visual and audio explanations of how to use the tools listed above, along with further resources.