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Gamifying for Executive Functioning Skills

In my last blog post I wrote about using a game analogy to support the understanding of executive functioning skills.

To build on this concept, I turn to games again to offer a few ideas of how to support kids with executive functioning weaknesses. Specifically, we can harness the broader idea of game mechanics, scoring systems, and great themes to help our students stay motivated. These suggestions are intended for individual or small group work with an educator who specializes in executive functioning skills.

Now, let's break this down into levels of complexity:

Level One: No Stress Card Deck

When my kids were leaning how to play chess, a friend had gifted us the No Stress Chess version. Chess is the ultimate game in strategy; the best players are thinking of many possible moves and follow up moves. It is a tremendous executive functioning load! The "no stress" version comes with an added deck of cards and new learners simply draw from a deck symbolizing the different chess pieces and a reminder for which direction that piece can move. The deck eliminates the analysis paralysis, and the player chooses a move based on a limited set of options.

Now imagine turning home and academic tasks into a card deck. Like No Stress Chess, learners can write down or draw the task on a card with a reminder for how to get started. We can also gamify these cards by adding featues such as point values, icons, coins/money, elements of chance/surprise, dice faces, or any other game mechanic to tie that card into a game.

Level Two: Score Cards (aka Rubrics)

Some strategic games such as 7 Wonders and Wingspan involve tabulating points at the end of the game. Usually there are multiple areas to focus game play, as a player cannot max out on points in all categories. Just like any complex task, we prioritize the areas that we can control, focusing on what matters! Of course, having a clear scoring system with organized score sheets helps us along.

Score sheets are not that different from all the rubrics we see in the classroom. Especially in the upper grades, rubrics can be a great evidence-based practice to give students a clear understanding of what they need to do to earn a certain grade/level of performance. However, your learners may not find rubrics all that fun, and in order to effectively gamify executive functioning skills, we need this to be fun!

Visually, we can make score cards look more like games and less like academic rubrics by incorporating color and icons. A second layer to gamify a score card is to incorporate a great theme. Maybe a student working on getting homework completed and submitted on time is working off a pizza or sushi restaurant themed score card. Or a learner working on self-advocacy/selecting the right supports for academic tasks is working off a zoo or animal care themed score card. Opportunities for creativity abound!

Level Three: Staying on Track

Track laying games such as Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride involve players laying pieces to move across the board, meeting goals along the way. Again, players must make strategic choices for track placement, oftentimes needing to shift their plan based on other players' placements.

When supporting our learners with executive functioning challenges, we can help them visually track progress on long term goals with board-game-style charts. The concept here is not unlike running tallies or streak counters - and maybe keeping it simple is what works best for your learner. However, to gamify this a bit more, we can turn to themes or add points or perks for different types of events. Is your learner working on trying a particular method or strategy several times before assessing whether it works or not? Try incorporating varying lengths of ropes in a mountain climbing visual. Maybe a student is working on shifting a plan when necessary? Try ants moving along underground tunnels as a theme.

Any of these ideas could be incorporated in a supported learning environment for studeings with executive functioning challenges. Oftentimes it is the process of game creation and brainstorming ways to gamify tasks that helps the most!

Are you an educator and enjoy creating games with your students? You might like these templates and organizers I have created.

Game on!



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