New Online Workshop! Executive Function, Metacognition & Stress Reduction during Distance Learning

As distance learning continues to be the new norm, educators are turning to executive function strategies to lower student stress and help students master reading, writing, and completing independent assignments online.

Here at The Institute for Learning and Development, and our partner company ResearchILD, we are excited to announce our next professional development workshop for elementary and secondary educators: Executive Function, Metacognition, and Stress Reduction during Distance Learning.

This two-hour training, hosted by Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D., ResearchILD’s President and Co-Founder, and Donna Kincaid, M.Ed., Director of Outreach & Training, offers:

  • Hands-on strategies for promoting metacognitive awareness so that students across the grades develop an understanding of their profiles of strengths and weaknesses and are empowered to learn HOW to learn. These strategies will help students to master remote learning as they read, write, complete independent assignments, and work on projects, and will also reduce their stress and anxiety.
  • Two comprehensive lessons from the SMARTS Online EF curriculum that you can use to teach metacognitive awareness. Includes access to lesson plans, activities, worksheets, reflection sheets, and PowerPoint presentations.
  • Certificate of completion for a total of 2 hours of instruction.

We look forward to having you join us!

Executive Function, Metacognition, and Stress Reduction during Distance Learning

Date: June 11, 2020
Time: 3:00-5:00 pm EST (with an optional Q & A from 5:00-5:15 pm)
Cost: $129

Learn more and register today!

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

Remote Learning – Parent Perspective: Changing Schedules and Changing Them Again

Distance learning is forcing everyone to adjust. Teachers, parents, and students are adjusting to new schedules. Many students have no ‘live’ classes to attend, spending their day completing asynchronous assignments. Some classes meet once or twice a week, with students working on assignments independently between classes.

Learning a new schedule is hard for all students (and all teachers, for that matter), but the negative impact doesn’t affect all student equally. It’s especially hard on students with learning differences, such as ADHD or dyslexia. Without transition times and clear expectations of how the day will unfold, students with learning differences may struggle to stay engaged.

In this installment of the SMARTS Online Remote Learning stories, a parent of a middle schooler describes the chaos and stress caused by rapidly shifting schedules.

Just when I thought things were calming down a little bit with some routine and schedule in place, the school decided to change the whole schedule around.  Change for change’s sake? Now we have a whole new set of stress around figuring out what’s changing and what’s not, new uncertainties around what seems to be a much more complicated schedule, with more “fun” electives and book clubs (dyslexic torture, if they’re “good old-fashioned” book clubs). The email from our teacher says, “This school-wide schedule change was created to improve the functioning of the remote schooling experience for as many constituents across the whole school as possible.”  As usual, the goal is to make school work for the majority, with no concern for individualization or the needs of the minority. 

No one likes to feel out of control. Given how unexpected the shift to remote learning has been, a sense of chaos was probably inevitable. However, as schools shift and adjust their schedules, it will be important to communicate the rationale and to reaffirm the commitment to meeting the needs of all students, especially those with learning and attention differences.

There’s so much talk about this time of crisis as an “opportunity” to slow down and simplify and limit screen time — to do things in a more old-fashioned way.  But, that doesn’t work for everyone. My student needs technology and lots of activities that are dyslexic-friendly. Right now, it seems like there’s a good excuse for this teaching-for-most approach. But really, this is business as usual. As educators, how can we help our students, who may be used to feeling like school is not for them, feel connected and valued? We can begin by:

Schedules and teaching practices have to change, but if we can build in opportunities to differentiate assignments, leverage technology, and build in transition times, we can help our students, and their parents, feel supported.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Free SMARTS Webinars on YouTube!

During this time of distance learning, executive function learning strategies are more important than ever. We’ve heard from many teachers (and parents and students) that their executive function is on overload! Never fear, our sister site, SMARTS Online, is here with strategies you can use whether via remote learning or in a classroom.

You can now access all of the free executive function webinars on the SMARTS Webinars playlist. These in-depth webinars cover the basics to understanding executive function, specific strategies for organizing and goal setting, as well as how executive function relates to important skills like reading (shown below) and math.

More webinars will be added to this playlist, so check back for new resources in the future!If you’ve watched these webinars, did you find them useful? Which webinar was your favorite? Let us know the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., Media Manager

Remote Learning: Keeping Kids Engaged

Teachers, parents, and students, with or without learning differences such as ADHD or dyslexia, have all learned a hard lesson during the past weeks: remote learning can be boring.

Keeping students engaged is essential for successful learning. Here are some practical strategies you can use to keep your students’ engaged and active during remote teaching.

Encourage fidgeting

Keeping your hands active is great for paying attention (one of the many reasons note taking is so valuable). Students with ADHD especially benefit from being able to fidget. Ask students to keep some fidgets on hand. From fidget spinners to a Rubik’s Cube to paper clips, the range of fidget toys is endless.

Make time visible

Students are still developing an accurate sense of time, and the dramatic shift to remote learning has completely upended their sense of the passage of time. Typical transitions that would normally structure their day, such as walking to a new class, have all but disappeared. Start your classes with an agenda and use timers to help students gain a more concrete sense of time passing. Give students time to plan and prioritize their tasks. Discuss ways they can use timers to structure their homework (my students like to use playlists with defined amounts of time as planners).

Promote active learning

Watching a video by yourself and then filling out a worksheet is not as engaging as learning with your classmates. Students learn best when they can actively contribute and learn from multiple perspectives. When possible, structure time for students to contribute actively to the instruction. Well-placed activators, discussion questions, and group discussions using breakout rooms are all great ways to encourage active learning.

Remember to reflect

One of the biggest challenges of remote learning is we can’t see our students face to face! Teachers are experts at noticing when something isn’t working and thinking on the fly about how to differentiate. Now, however, we are teaching blind. We can’t see our students, only the assignments that they do or do not turn in. Use weekly reflections to get your students’ perspectives on how their learning is going (ask parents to fill out a reflection, too). Student reflections will give you valuable information to help make your teaching more equitable. It will also help students feel more engaged with learning as they reflect on what’s working for them, what’s not, and what they would like to do differently moving forward.

This is far from an exhaustive list of strategies to engage students during remote learning. What are we missing? We’d love to hear from you.

You can also find some great strategies in this blog by Carey Heller, Psy.D., “Keeping Kids Engaged in Online Therapy/Coaching and Other Remote Sessions.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., ResearchILD SMARTS Director

Free Webinar: Executive Function and Math

Why is math so hard for some students? If you ask them, you might hear answers such as, “It’s too complicated” or “It’s boring.” However, many students struggle with math because of weaknesses in executive function processes.

To help all students succeed in math, educators must understand the role executive function plays in successful math learning as well as strategies they can use to make math learning a more joyful process for students who struggle. This important topic will be the focus of our free webinar, “Executive Function and Math on May 14th at 3:30 EST.

Complex calculations and problem solving in math are challenging for many typically developing learners, and even more so for students with attentional weaknesses, executive function weaknesses, and/or learning disabilities. In addition, the Common Core math standards are placing higher demands on our students than ever before, adding stress and reducing the joy of learning.

Part of the problem may be the current trend towards emphasizing a constructivist approach to learning math. Students are expected to notice patterns and deduce mathematical rules from their observations. This can be extremely challenging for students with learning differences, who may struggle to sequence information or focus for extended periods. Without differentiated instruction, these students may fall further behind and lose confidence in their ability to succeed.

By understanding best practices for supporting student’s executive function needs, especially as they pertain to math, teachers can integrate strategy instruction into the curriculum and establish regular teaching practices to support their students’ executive skills (self-regulation, working memory, planning and sequencing, organization, flexible thinking, and self-monitoring). Using these approaches will increase student motivation, build confidence, and create more enthusiastic math learners.

We will be exploring important executive function processes as they pertain to math in our free webinar, “Executive Function and Math on May 14th at 3:30 EST. We hope you can join us!

  • Joan Steinberg, M.Ed., Director of Educational Services, Institute for Learning and Development

Remote Learning – Parent Perspective: A Moment of Gratitude

The challenge of remote learning can take its toll on students, parents, and teachers alike. From confusing directions, mounting frustration, or even a sense of despair, it can be easy to feel hopeless. Change, however, also brings opportunities.

In this installment of SMARTS Online  Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning, a parent shares some moments of gratitude for unexpected moments of growth that remote learning has offered her daughter.

Because of the low self-esteem that often goes along with learning differences, my child will not always try new things, especially at school where teachers and students are not supportive and do not understand the struggle. In the safety of home, my child tried something new this week! It was just a quick musical project, but was a meaningful little victory. 

Isn’t that great! For this student, like many others, home is a place of safety. Students with learning differences might be anxious at school, nervous to try new things in front of their peers. Learning at home offers more freedom to explore things they might avoid in school. 

Also, after years of trying to get her interested in yoga, which could help her stress level, finally she has become interested. The remote yoga sessions that her school is offering have somehow sparked an interest. Now, she is doing yoga all the time, which may be reducing the stress of today’s various challenges. 

Many students, and their parents, are struggling with the monotony of being stuck at home. Why not try to adopt some new, healthy habits? Yoga, meditation, and arts and crafts are just some of the habits that students might have rejected before but would provide welcome entertainment and relief now that they are stuck inside.


I hope everyone out there is finding moments to smile and even be grateful during this very trying time.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

This post is part of SMARTS Online’s Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series.

Remote Learning and Equity

The stress and chaos of the rapid shift to remote learning is hard on everyone: teachers, students, and parents. However, the impact doesn’t affect all students equally.

Students are now expected to do their learning at home, self-regulating their schedule and their productivity, while navigating new tech platforms and learning to engage in an entirely new way.

Students with learning and attention differences, those exposed to trauma, or students living in poverty all have unique risk factors that may be amplified by the demands of remote learning. (Check out SMARTS’ Remote Learning series for students’ perspectives on remote learning.)

Tracey A. Benson, professor, activist, and consultant, hosted a webinar entitled, “Developing Virtual Learning Plans with an Eye on Equity”. He laid out a number of tips for designing remote learning lesson plans that can support all students. The following three strategies are especially relevant when we consider the executive function demands of remote learning.

Weekly Surveys

Benson recommends sending a weekly survey to all parents to collect data. Parents will have unique insight into how well their student is able to handle the time management and homework demands of remote learning. This is also a great way to make sure parents are aware of the executive function expectations and the strategies students are learning. I love this idea, and why not also have a weekly student survey? Ongoing reflection is key to promoting self-understanding (for students and adults) and surveys will give students a voice during a challenging and chaotic time.

Minimize Independent Work

When students are assigned independent work, there is a lot that can go wrong. With asynchronous learning becoming an increasingly popular option, many students are struggling alone as they attempt to break down the directions, manage their time efficiently, overcome tech problems, and persevere when they are feeling stuck. By minimizing the amount of work students have to do on their own, and making sure students feel supported, we can reduce the risk that students will get stuck.

Aim for a 0% Failure Rate

A big part of equity is maintaining high expectations for all students and helping them achieve those expectations. While many schools are turning to pass/fail grading during distance learning (which is fine), we need to make sure we do not adopt a pass/fail approach to supporting our students. This means finding ways to differentiate our support and help every student to engage with remote learning materials and develop the strategies they need to be successful.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Parent Perspective: How to Support Remote Learning

As schools move to remote learning, parents are being asked to support students at home. Support can range from time management and academic help to regulating emotions and organizing materials. But how do you know when to help and how much to offer?

Many parents, especially those students with learning differences such as ADHD or dyslexia, are unsure of how much help to give. After all, school is a place for students to begin to develop their independence from parents. At the same time, no parent likes to watch their student struggle or give up.

Here are observations from a parent of an eighth-grade student during the first few days of remote learning (read some of her students’ blogs here).

After about an hour of school, I hear her chatting with her friends, cracking jokes, and being by far the loudest voice on the video conference. My blood pressure is going up, but I tell myself not to interfere. I’m actually sort of glad she is socializing as she was feeling so isolated after day one.

Later in the day, I hear sounds of extreme frustration. This can halt all progress, so I tried to help and we got into a big fight! When the storm calms, she says thanks, actually that was helpful, and she dives back into her schoolwork. In our house, there’s no point in holding a grudge.

As is typical, sometimes my daughter just needs a tiny push to get her over the hump of hyperactive inaction. Then she can work independently for hours. I see now that my “helpfulness” is interpreted by my daughter as if I said she’s “wrong”!  Note to self: find a better way to help.

Remote learning is challenging for everyone, including parents. Keep in mind that relationships are more important than any homework assignment. This mom knows her daughter and knows how to support her, and that is the most important thing.

Parents can also help by reminding their student to do the things that they enjoy.

Although the hands-on project was just arts and crafts, my daughter started listening to an audiobook while she was doing the project. Since we don’t want to go to the movies right now, she found and started listening to Emma. This was awesome as she’s been so busy and stressed lately that she has not had time to just relax and read (ear reading).  

Students may be too caught up in their online schooling to make time for things like reading, listening to music, and exercise. Helping students take time to relieve stress and anxiety can help them better understand the role that anxiety plays in their lives and how to manage it.

Finally, parents can help by reminding students to take advantage of available supports.

After the school day ended, my daughter did not want to “meet” with her Executive Function coach! However, after doing some note-taking practice, they discussed the challenges of remote schooling. From that, her EF coach put together a summary table of four challenge areas and solutions for each. For instance:

  • Problem: Reading the assignments is difficult
  • Solution: Reach out to the teacher via email or Google Classroom, keeping in mind that teachers are not always immediately available

Her coach also offered to do a quick review of the reading via Skype, but, timing may not work out. One key solution is to acknowledge that remote schooling is hard – for teachers, too – and it’s only Day 2, so try to give it a little more time.  Good advice for me, too.

Many remote learning models rely on the student to reach out to the teacher when they need help. This may be a challenge, especially for students who struggle with motivation or who have experienced academic failure.

If your student was seeing an executive function coach, educational therapist, or a tutor, try to see if they can maintain that connection. These professionals can help students develop concrete strategies for adapting to online learning. They also provide one more supportive relationship that students can rely on as they adapt to their new remote learning lifestyle.

Looking for more resources? Check out these free executive function resources for parents.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

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