Supporting teens in reaching their full potential

 By Kyle Andrews, Research Assistant – March 2022

While those with neurodiverse conditions may have more acute executive function skill challenges, embedding executive function skill development into educational settings benefits all students irrespective of their learning needs or academic attainment. 

Our Teen Workshop is a three-session programme delivered by CiMO staff designed to increase an understanding of executive function skills among GCSE and A Level students, with the goal to make the most of their strengths and use strategies to address their challenges in order to improve the outcomes of their exam revision. 

We delivered this to a group of Year 11 students at an all-boys state secondary school in West London. The students were all predicted to achieve high grades in their GCSEs and were, therefore, not obvious candidates to receive an executive function intervention. However, the intervention had a remarkably positive impact on the students’ confidence towards revision and succeeding academically. 

Developing an awareness of executive function skills, a neurological concept that they found fascinating, allowed them to understand themselves better. They were able to self-reflect and make greater sense of their strengths and challenges. Reflecting on their executive function strengths gave them greater belief that they could deal with the stresses and anxiety of exams, while identifying challenges gave them areas in which they could improve. 

The workshop positively supported the addressing of those challenges, providing the assistance required to create revision strategies and tools that mitigate the executive function skill challenges that obstruct efficient and successful revision. 

Task initiation was a common executive function skill challenge that was affecting revision. Students found it challenging to begin revision sessions, avoiding other distractions to do so. Being informed about the WOOP strategy, and creating their own, had a positive impact on dealing with their task initiation challenges. 

The WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle, plan) strategy is a mental contrasting technique that involves students suggesting what they wish to achieve, why this outcome would be beneficial to them, what obstacles they would face along the way, and how they plan to overcome those obstacles. Students reported being motivated by the goal-attainment nature of this strategy, wanting to reach the goals they had set for themselves. They could only do so by beginning the task, and overcoming their task initiation challenges.  

Those with sustained attention and goal-directed persistence challenges also saw the benefit of the WOOP strategy, but they were drawn towards the idea of group revision and accountability partners. The workshop encouraged active engagement and the co-creation of strategies. An environment in which students create strategies together, and then revise together thereafter, was seen as a healthy and productive one. 

Having an accountability partner meant that, for those who faced sustained attention and goal-directed persistence challenges, there was motivation to get work done through both encouragement and a sense of healthy competition. 

An understanding of these challenges, and the creation of strategies with which to deal with them, would not have been possible without CiMO’s Teen Workshop intervention. 

There is value in utilising executive function interventions for all young people, irrespective of age or neurological condition.