3 Zoom Features that Promote Executive Function

Are you using Zoom to video conference with your students? Here are 3 ways you can address best practices for executive function strategies to support all students, especially those with learning differences such as ADHD or dyslexia.

1. Share your screen

Zoom makes it easy to share a window on your computer with your class. Use this feature to display an agenda at the start of class to help students envision the layout of the lesson. In order to engage executive function, students must be able to envision the end product of what they are working on, as well as the steps to get there. By sharing your agenda, students can keep the scope of the lesson in mind, helping them stay on track and use effective strategies.

2. Use the whiteboard

Zoom has a whiteboard feature that you can use to sketch and take notes. Executive function strategy instruction is most successful if students have been explicitly taught how to use it. This means modeling the strategy yourself. Use the whiteboard to model how you want students to break down an assignment, and they will be more successful with it.

3. Poll your students

The polls feature of Zoom is ideal for reflection. Use a poll at the beginning or end of a Zoom session to help students reflect on their approach to learning. Are their strategies working for them? What goals might they set for themselves moving forward? There are many different ways to engage in strategy reflectionBe sure to ask questions that build on students’ awareness of their strengths and challenges and encourage reflection and planning for next time. 

Remote learning poses big changes for teachers and their students (and parents!). By knowing how to integrate best practices for executive function strategies into technology, you’ll make online learning easier, and more impactful, for everyone.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Student Perspective: Are We Going to Learn Anything New?

When adapting your curriculum for remote learning, technological solutions (programs or apps) are sure to play a major role. For greater student success, make sure that the technology is not driving the lesson, and that all students understand how to use the technology and why it matters.

Here’s another look at remote learning from a student’s perspective. This is from an eighth-grader with dyslexia who is in her first week of remote learning.

For math, we got an assignment on Google Classroom. The assignment really didn’t have anything to do with math and more had to do with learning about how to use the graphing calculator app Desmos. I really don’t think we’re going to learn anything new in math over the next couple of weeks.

Overall, the assignment – although it was pretty easy – was pretty stressful because it had to be done in an hour without any guidance. One kid in my class asked for guidance but didn’t get it until the last 10 minutes of class. Now it’s our homework as well. Although I’m not sure. I think it is. I wish that my teacher told us that before and it would have been less stressful.

After lunch, I went back online where there were instructions saying that they would post more instructions soon. But they never did, so I had to text one of the kids in my class to figure out what was going on. She seemed to know, but I’m not sure if I misread something or missed something – it turns out an email was sent. The email was sent by my science teacher for an assignment. This assignment was similar to the homework he usually sends us. It was ok but I wasn’t really getting a lesson and the teacher was also not online, as in my English class. At this point I felt that I can’t live like this! I have no one to talk to! I’m a social creature! it’s not good for me!!!! Anyway, I figured out what I needed to do, but it would have been nice to be able to ask questions.

While apps like Desmos and Google Calendar can be very helpful, they may create more problems than they solve. Make sure students have the support they need to navigate these sophisticated tools, which likely were designed with adults in mind. Model how to use the technology explicitly and make sure students have access to support as needed.

Stay tuned for more insight into the trials and tribulations of remote learning.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Student Perspective: Remote Learning and “Class Discussions”

As schools turn to distance learning, how will students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences fare? Learning remotely can exacerbate the challenges that students with learning differences face, leaving them frustrated and at risk of falling behind.

What follows is a first-hand account of a day of distance learning from an eighth-grader with dyslexia. While her day was less than stellar, I hope we as educators can learn from her and make sure our teaching reflects the strengths and challenges faced by all of our students.

I started the day off by watching a video in English class and then “discussing” it with the class. The discussion was just hard because instead of FaceTiming, we had to use the comments below a post on Google Classroom. This meant the only option to communicate in the conversation was to type your answer as a comment. Since everyone was typing comments all at the same time, it felt like there was no real flow of conversation or ideas. 

It was hard to follow the conversation AND type really fast AND keep my comments relevant. I use voice dictation, which is not enabled in Google Classroom comments, so there’s a lag while I bring up the microphone with several extra clicks. By the time I was finished typing my comments, the conversation had moved on to a different topic.

To make this experience even more stressful, the teacher made a passive aggressive comment saying that we need to make sure our comments were in full sentences, had no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.

 The second half of our English class, we broke into groups and started working on a new group project. My group was able to use Google Hangouts so we could talk face to face. This part of the class went relatively smoothly except for the beginning because there was a lot of uncertainty about what we were supposed to be doing. The instructions were written unclearly and there was a lot of debate within my group about what we were supposed to do.  And, we weren’t able to clarify with a teacher since they weren’t online.

Clearly, this experience was frustrating, and not just for a student with dyslexia. After all, having a discussion is about speaking and listening. By having all the students contribute willy-nilly, it sounds like no one was being listened to. By choosing a format that discourages the use of assistive technology and is biased in favor of students who can spell quickly, the essence of the discussion is quickly lost.

As teachers learn how to adapt their lessons for remote learning, it will be important to reimagine routines like discussion or explaining directions to take into account the perspective and experience of all students in the class. Try to incorporate essentials for distance learning and help all students access the material and strategies they need to be successful. Stay tuned for more from our student correspondent!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

4 Essentials for Distance Learning

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold, schools across the country and around the world are turning to distance learning as a way to keep teachers and students connected.

Technology can be a double-edged sword; for every benefit there are unexpected glitches and headaches. Like most classroom teachers, you may have minimal experience teaching remotely, which makes distance learning seem daunting.

To all you teachers out there, you’ve got this. And we’re here to help! Here at SMARTS we’ll be hard at work to provide advice on best practices for distance learning, teaching resources, and tips from the student perspective.

Let’s kick things off with 4 essentials for successful distance learning.

1. Maintain Relationships

Trusting relationships between teachers and students are the bedrock of successful learning. One of the biggest risks of online learning is the loss of a sense of human connection. Motivating relationships, like friendships and peer support, are essential to supporting students’ executive function. Find ways to keep those relationships alive.

  • Use video chats to make sure students see your face, and the faces of their peers
  • Incorporate ice breakers and other engaging activators at the start of a lesson
  • Find ways for students to express and acknowledge the anxiety and fear of the unknown to keep your virtual classroom feeling relevant and important to your students

2. Keep Learning Active

Online learning can easily lend itself to more passive forms of learning like watching videos and listening to lectures. However, not only is passive learning less interesting, students will retain less information, and you, as their teacher, won’t be able to gauge student understanding. Find opportunities throughout your lesson to actively engage students.

  • Call on specific students to share their thoughts
  • Use a survey to test students’ understanding of a topic
  • Have students share their notes with you

3. Use Tech Wisely

Technology should serve the learning outcomes. Identify what you want to achieve, then select the technology best suited to help students reach the outcomes. There are plethora of online learning apps, sites, and programs (here are some of our favorites). Before students begin, help them understand how or why they are using a given program.

  • Demonstrate how to use the technology successfully
  • Check that all students understand the directions

4. Reflect

Here at the SMARTS program, we are big fans of self-reflection and not just for the students. Take time to reflect on how your distance learning teaching is going and adjust accordingly.

  • Keep a journal and jot down notes at the end of each online session. What worked well? Any surprises? What might you do differently next time?
  • Schedule a meeting with a colleague to share ideas and brainstorm
  • Don’t forget your growth mindset. Expect mistakes, analyze them, and learn! The more you reflect, the more you will be able to accurately identify the parts that are going well and areas you can improve.

Thank you for checking out our 4 essential tips for distance learning. Stay tuned for more information and resources you can use.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Another Theory of Procrastination

In the executive function field, we think of organizing, planning, and prioritizing as the solutions to procrastination. However, in “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control),” Charlotte Lieberman (New York Times, 3/25/19) suggests that there are deeper reasons for these habits. She describes procrastination as the seemingly irrational choice that people make to think of the present, rather than the future, in order to avoid tasks that might expose our insecurities, provoke anxiety, or simply bore or frustrate us.

Basically, when we procrastinate, our inner six-year-old takes over. Some of this ‘now-oriented’ behavior is hard-wired; humans are programmed to think of their present needs and tend to see their future self as an abstraction. After all, we are often told ‘to live in the present.’ When viewed in this light, the choice to procrastinate makes a lot of sense.

The flaw in this logic is that it robs us of the joy of a job well done. The satisfaction of having completed a task lives in the future, but without this feeling of accomplishment, work becomes associated with negative feelings of self-blame, stress, and low self-esteem. Any short-term positive feelings we get from procrastinating are outweighed by these toxic emotions, which may cause us to procrastinate more to escape them, contributing to a cycle of chronic procrastination.

Lieberman offers several suggestions to overcome the desire to procrastinate:

  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself! Accepting where you are instead of berating yourself helps break the negative loop.
  2. Think of the first step, not the entire task, and take that action. Sometimes planning out each step can make a task appear overwhelming, so considering only the next thing to do may make it seem more possible.
  3. Hide your temptations (or make them less convenient). Turn off or delete distracting apps, or give yourself a difficult password. Go someplace that’s free of distractions. Put a “Do Not Disturb” note on your door.
  4. Open up the path for what you want to get done. Set out needed materials, open the document, and clear a workspace ahead of time.

Overall, don’t blame yourself for being lazy. Executive function strategies, including time management and prioritizing, won’t help if you become trapped in a cycle of feeling bad about your procrastination.

We all procrastinate, that’s not going to change, so accept it, pick your motivational strategy, and get going! Who knows, maybe you were doing something useful while you were procrastinating. So enjoy that clean refrigerator, and take the first step to starting the task you meant to complete. Your future self will thank you!

  • Nancy Trautman, M.A.T., Learning and Educational Specialist

Why Do You Attend ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference?

“Presenters have deep knowledge of their subjects … and give you strategies that you can use immediately.”
— Stephan Stuntz, Assistant Director of Instructional Support, Woodstock Vermont Area Schools

Teachers, researchers, and administrators return year after year to ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference. Why? Stephan Stuntz, an attendee from last year, shares why he loves the conference:

We have an exciting lineup of speakers and content to share at our 35th Learning Differences Conference on March 20–21, 2020, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA.

This year we’re focusing on executive function strategies as the antidote to stress in school.

You’ll learn about:

  • The importance of executive function strategies in mediating stress and fostering persistence and resilience
  • Innovative research and the implications for effective clinical practice and classroom teaching
  • Executive function strategies that benefit all students from kindergarten through college and span reading, writing, math, and other content areas

Learn more about the conference and register today!

If you would like to know more about why teachers love ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference, check out this blog post.

Hope to see you there!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

Amishi Jha: How Can We Pay Better Attention to Our Attention?

At ILD, we believe that metacognition — thinking about one’s own thinking — is an essential component of teaching executive function strategies.

The link between metacognition, mindfulness practices, attention, and meditation has been getting a lot of publicity lately, but it can be hard to figure out what ideas are supported by science.

Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on attention, working memory, and mindfulness, sheds some light on the scientific research about what attention is, how it can be studied, and what mindfulness practices can be used to improve it.

Jha explores the role of attention as “the brain’s boss.” How does attention control us? What can we do when attention is not helping us get our work done efficiently? Jha uses the experiences of a former Marine experiencing the symptoms of PTSD to explore how our emotions and thoughts affect our attention, and the power of mindfulness training to help us regulate our attention.

What did you think of Dr. Jha’s talk? Have you used mindfulness practices and meditation to help improve attention and metacognition? Looking for other ways to integrate opportunities to build metacognition into your teaching? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

Executive Function and Junk Food

There’s no question that what we eat has a major influence on our day to day behavior and our long term health. But how does what we eat affect our executive function processes?

Unsurprisingly, research has found that healthy foods are correlated to boosted executive function performance, and unhealthy foods are not. Personally, I was very happy to hear that blueberries and smoothies high in antioxidants appear to boost performance on executive function tasks.

The bad news, especially after an indulgent holiday season, is that sugar is not good for executive function. In the short term, eating sugar sends a pleasurable rush to the brain. As the brain seeks out this reward, it undercuts our inhibition to say no to sugary treats, undermining the executive function processes that allow us to delay gratification. Check out this great TedTalk for more on the neuroscience of sugar.

Even worse, unhealthy eating appears to have negative consequences  for our long-term brain health. A study done by Fania Dasseen and Katrijn Houben at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, found a link between obesity and lower reported levels of executive function performance, implying that individuals who struggle to maintain their weight also struggle with executive function tasks.

It is important to note that the study did not find a causal link; it is possible that being obese impedes executive function development, having executive function difficulties predicts the risk of being obese, or a third factor, such as genetics, could explain both.  Regardless, the risk to brain development is real. Another study by Amy Reichelt, at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, found that a diet high in fat and sugar impeded the neuroplasticity of adolescent rats.

The good news is that, by pairing executive function strategies with healthy eating programs, both diet and executive function abilities may be improved. A study by researchers  at Curtin University in Australia taught strategies for cognitive flexibility and improved metacognition and found that participants improved both their eating habits and their performance on executive function related measures

As more research is done to explore the role that food has on our application and development of executive function processes, and the influence executive function strengths and challenges have on diet, educators should be aware and look for opportunities to explore the relationship between diet and executive function in their students’ lives. When discussing healthy eating habits, find ways to teach strategies for eating healthy systematically and explicitly, providing opportunities for students to develop greater self-awareness. When teaching executive function strategies, ask students to reflect on how their diet influences their food choices.

Personally, now that the Christmas cookie season is safely behind us, I’ll be taking some time this January to reflect on the role of junk food in my own diet.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed.

Where Are All the Characters with ADHD? Here!

When kids read or watch a TV show or movie, they are looking for stories that in some way reflect or validate their own experience. That’s why it is so important to provide students with media that reflect the real-world diversity found in the classroom.

We have compiled a list of characters with ADHD diagnoses (or who probably should have a diagnosis). Some of these characters are more appropriate for adults (you may regret showing your kids The Hangover), but there are options for just about any age!

We’d like to say that this is THE comprehensive list of characters with ADHD, but we are really only scratching the surface. By sharing a book, show, or movie where a main character has ADHD, you are showing your students that not only is having ADHD perfectly normal, but oftentimes the traits of ADHD can come in handy as the characters navigate the challenges they face.

Characters with an official ADHD diagnosis

Characters that have many ADHD traits but no diagnosis (perhaps because the term ADHD did not exist)

So, what do you think? Did we miss any of your favorites?

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

h/t:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/10-movie-and-tv-characters-with-dyslexia?view=slideview

http://www.lyndamullalyhunt.com/books/fish-in-a-tree/ADHD

https://actuallyadhd.tumblr.com/representation

Top 10 Fictional Dyslexic Characters

Why Do Teachers Love ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference?

Looking for a conference where you can learn more about executive function, ADHD, social-emotional outcomes, and how to support the success of all students? We are excited to announce that registration is now open for the 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference!

This year’s Learning Differences Conference will be held on March 20–21, 2020, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA. The conference theme focuses on executive function strategies as the antidote to stress in school.

Participants will explore current work on the importance of executive function strategies in mediating stress and fostering persistence and resilience in students as they navigate the many school challenges. You’ll hear about innovative research and the implications for effective clinical practice and classroom teaching. There will be an emphasis on executive function strategies that benefit all students from kindergarten through the college years and span reading, writing, math, and other content area subjects.

Is this conference for you? Why should you attend? What do other teachers get out of the conference? Samara Gupta, an attendee from last year, shares what she loved about the conference in the video below:

For more detailed information, view the conference brochure and register today.

Hope to see you there!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager