Ill-structured Problems

We make decisions every day. In order for our brains to help us make decisions, it goes  through a process that helps us determine what needs attention right away and what things can wait. The skill of processing these decisions and determining which ones need attention is called our executive function or self-regulation. Our executive function is made up of our working memory, inhibitory control, and our cognitive or mental flexibility. Teachers and parents help scaffold and model things for children so that they understand how to follow multi-step instructions and how to play/work with others. Children are taught how to share and wait their turn as well as deal with mistakes and failure. Most of these skills and strategies are introduced to children between the ages of 2-5, when they are beginning to socialize more and deal with more complex problems.

Executive functions are skills that are primarily introduced and developed through Kindergarten and first grade. “The subsequent development tasks of refining them and learning to deploy them more efficiently can proceed into the adolescent and early adult years as tasks grow increasingly complicated and challenging”(Shonkoff et al., 2011, p. 4). Through my reading I have found that a lot of research is being dedicated to creating assessments and educational indicators to determine if children at a younger age need further support in “self-control and effective, goal-oriented approaches to learning and social encounters”(Shonkoff et al., 2011, p. 8). Being a Kindergarten and first grade teacher I am glad that a lot of resources are being developed to help teachers and parents support the development of executive functions in children. While I continued my reading of self-regulation and the development of executive functions, I couldn’t help but notice the ill-structured problem that was forming. The majority of research and development of training techniques are being developed for teachers and educational support staff for children in the preschool age range. So I was left wondering what resources are available to continue the support in the development of executive functions for students when they progress through school and enter into adolescence.

Next year I will be transitioning from teaching Kindergarten to teaching 7th and 8th grade. Now that I am making the move to 7th and 8th grade I want to find resources or technological tools that can help me model executive functions for my students. During adolescence, students are being presented with more complex problems and they are required to take more control of their own learning. “Teenagers need to communicate effectively in multiple contexts, manage their own school and extracurricular assignments, and successfully complete more abstract and complicated projects”(Shonkoff et al., 2014, p. 12). If students have not developed the necessary self-regulation and executive function skills than these requirements may become too demanding for a middle school student.

In order to help students continue their development of executive function skills, I wanted to find an assistive technology that can be incorporated seamlessly into the classroom environment. The middle school students at my school use Haiku Learning Journal where a lot of their work is done digitally on Google Docs and uploaded to Haiku. I found a Google Chrome Web Extension called Kaizena, that allows teachers to upload different forms of feedback to a student’s work in Google Docs. In Kaizena teachers can upload lessons directly to a student’s work that they find themselves re-teaching over and over so that students can watch them at their own pace. Teachers can also upload voice comments to help students who are more auditory learners. Students that have not developed appropriate executive function skills often struggle with multi-tasking or following multi-step instructions. With Kaizena, students can work within Google Docs and see the rubric for their work or skills that the teacher wants them to address all on the same page. Another skill that students need to learn how to develop is goal setting. When a student is still developing their self-regulation and executive function skills, they may not know what they are capable of achieving and how to monitor their progress. Kaizena allows teachers to establish skills that students are working towards and show students where they are in progress towards a specific skill.

Below you will find a screencast video of Kaizena and how it can be used to help support the development of executive function skills in adolescent students. Please leave any feedback on how you have helped support the development of executive function in your students. Thanks!


Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2014). Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence. Retrieved from

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from

1 Response

  1. I like the idea of being able to leave feedback right in Chrome. However, my school uses all Microsoft applications so this wouldn’t be of much use to me. However, after watching your video, I am really hoping that Microsoft makes something like this. I love all the items it allows you to do. I will say, your written description wasn’t very exciting but seeing it in action made me salivate for something like this. I will definitely look for a similar product that integrates with Microsoft. Thanks.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s