Master Your Mind: The SMARTS Way

Do you know a student who would benefit from executive function strategy instruction this summer? We are now offering our Master Your Mind executive function courses for students online!

In these small online classes, middle and high school students will learn the necessary executive function strategies and tools that will enable them to be successful in school and in life.

Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way courses offer developmentally appropriate and interactive, hands-on instruction for students in the following executive function areas:

  • Flexible thinking
  • Organization and planning
  • Active reading and note-taking
  • Studying and test-taking
  • Self-understanding
  • Goal setting
  • Time management
  • Remembering

Students will have opportunities for modeled instruction, guided practice, and independent practice. They will leave the course with personalized executive function strategies that they can use as a resource in school.

Each six-hour course is taught over two weeks.

Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way: High School

  • August 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21
  • Entering Freshmen/Sophomores: 2:00-3:00 PM
  • Entering Juniors/Seniors: 4:00-5:00 PM
  • Class size: 8 students

Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way: Middle School

  • August 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21,
  • M-W-F 10:00-11:00 AM
  • Class size: 6 students

Fee: $350 (includes materials)

Learn more about Master Your Mind the SMARTS Way and register through our online form or by contacting Donna Kincaid at [email protected].

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

20 Icebreaker Questions to Launch Online Lessons

Engaging students at the start of an online lesson can be challenging. How do you quickly connect with students and get them excited and ready for learning online?

We have found that the simplest way to kick-start an online lesson is to ask a fun icebreaker question.

Icebreaker questions are easy to use (no additional technology or extensive preparation required) and students can respond in different ways. You can offer students the option to answer orally or write their response in the Zoom chat. Another great way to encourage low-stakes engagement is to have students use the “thumb up” Zoom reaction to show their agreement with their peers’ answers.

While there are many icebreaker questions available online, most are aimed at adults in remote meetings. I culled these lists for questions that work well with students and provide a fun beginning to any online class. Here are some of my favorites:

Would you rather be reincarnated as a cat or a dog?

If you could try any food, what would it be?

You can only eat one food again for the rest of your life. What is it?

Who’s your favorite Disney character?

What superpower would you most want?

What dog breed would you be?

What’s your favorite holiday?

What’s your favorite magical or mythical creature?

What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

What’s your favorite dessert?

Would you rather go back in time or visit the future?

Would you rather be able to teleport or fly?

Would you rather have a pet lion, pet elephant, or pet whale?

Would you rather live under the sea or on the moon?

What’s the strangest food you ever tried?

If you could have any unlimited supply of one thing for the rest of your life, what would you pick?

If you could be any supernatural creature, which would you pick?

Which movie made you laugh the most?

What is the origin of your name?

Would you rather be the funniest or smartest person in the room?

Do you use icebreakers to engage students during online lessons? Let us know your favorites in the comments!

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

To find more icebreaker questions, check out these links:
The Only List of Icebreaker Questions You’ll Ever Need
Icebreakers, do’s and don’ts, and some that don’t suck
25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting

Frameworks for Goal Setting

It’s summer break for many students, which means it’s time for summer goals! As camps are canceled and pools stay closed, many teenagers are facing the challenge of wide-open summers. This is especially difficult for students with ADHD who may do poorly with unstructured time.

Time for Exploration

Students may tell you that their favorite part of summer is “no homework” or “no tests,” but the truth is that summer is an important time in their development. Summer is when students explore who they want to be beyond school. This could take the form of building leadership skills in a summer job or developing social identity at sleepaway camp.

When students feel they have nothing to do, cut off from the chance to explore, they are prone to feeling depressed and isolated. The “fresh start” of summer is an ideal time to set some goals and salvage their summer.

Use Goal-Setting Frameworks

This goal-setting framework, from Maurice Elias, director of Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, is a great place to start.

Dr. Elias proposes pushing students to think about the many dimensions of their lives and to set goals in eight areas.

  1. Academics
  2. Social life
  3. Sports and exercise
  4. Healthy eating
  5. Family and community
  6. Hobbies and interests
  7. Screen time
  8. Long-term plans

Each of these areas represents an important part of a student’s identity. Too often, students may only focus on a few of these priorities, perhaps only thinking about areas of strength or weakness. With the slower tempo of summer, students can pay attention to often neglected areas like healthy eating and long-term plans.

Set Realistic Goals

Watch out for vague or idealized goals; instead, encourage students to use CANDO goals (Unit 2 in SMARTS) to set a realistic goal in each area. By using the CANDO goal-setting acronym, students’ goals will be more realistic and have a built-in plan for reaching success.

In the words of Dr. Elias, “goals provide anchors, especially valuable in high winds and rough seas.” Take the time to help students create meaningful goals, and they will find the motivation and direction they need during these turbulent times.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Strategies Matter: Harnessing Best Practices from the Neuroscience of Learning to Improve Post-Pandemic Teaching

Recently Dr. Lynn Meltzer, president of our sister organization ResearchILD,  participated with Sucheta Kamath, CEO and Founder of ExQ, in a webinar about executive function.

They shared their insights from the science of learning how to learn that can empower learners to connect with strategies that matter to them.

“The brain’s Executive Function skills provide tools for effective self-assessment and intentional capacity for self-redirection. Considering that every child and educator is going through unprecedented times with looming unknowns, it has become even more critical that we highlight the process of intentional learning and strategic thinking so that educational experiences for our children become more meaningful.”

We invite you to watch the webinar recording to learn how to:

  • Help learners assess their self-efficacy
  • Apply the science of metacognition to develop strategies based on self-understanding and self-assessment
  • Cultivate a community of learners who can adapt their learning approaches and subsequently enhance their learning experiences

We hope you find this webinar useful and look forward to hearing your comments. And be sure to check out EQ, a research-informed system designed to enhance the brain’s executive function through game-based personalized training.

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

Free Webinar: Executive Function in Schools

No matter which definition of executive function you use, it’s clear that executive function and teaching executive function strategies are key to successful learning. What is harder to pinpoint is this: whose job is it to teach executive function strategies?

In some schools, executive function is the domain of Student Services teachers. These teachers (including special education, ELL teachers, Speech and Language Pathologists, and social workers) often work with students who have been identified as being at-risk of school failure. These students can have unique executive function challenges and may have IEPs or 504 Plans that mandate executive function support.

Student Services teachers are often experts at differentiation and meeting students where they are. However, if executive function strategies are taught exclusively in these settings, how will students learn how to generalize executive function strategies to their other classes?

Another approach is for schools to integrate executive function into academic contexts that put a high executive function demand on all students. Certain assignments (such as Project Based Learning or standardized testing) or certain times of year (such as transition years like sixth grade or ninth grade) can easily overload students’ and teachers’ executive function capacity. Integrating executive function strategies, taught by student support teachers or general education content teachers, can address executive function needs proactively for entire classrooms or grade levels.

However, will general education teachers, often strapped for time and concerned with curriculum standards, be able to find the time to teach executive function strategies? And how can these teachers differentiate to meet the needs of diverse learners?

As administrators and teachers grapple with these questions, some schools are looking at ways to integrate executive function into the broader systems and structures of the school district. While there are no federal or state standards for executive function, schools can develop their own frameworks that identify executive function expectations and strategies across grade levels and content areas. This approach, though complicated, embeds executive function across the district, making everyone responsible for supporting students’ executive function development.

Each of these approaches to integrating executive function into schools has advantages and disadvantages. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, we are committed to helping educators find their unique path to developing executive function supports that engage and empower their students.

Want to learn more? Join us for two free webinars this July.

Join  me, Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director, and Shelly Levy, M.Ed., SMARTS Curriculum Coordinator, to learn about executive function, best practices for integrating executive function into schools, and the content and structure of the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum.

Hope to see you there!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Tips & Tricks to Make Your Online Classroom More Engaging

One of the most difficult things about distance learning is keeping students engaged and creating a warm, inviting atmosphere for online classes.

Edutopia.com recently outlined tips for engaging students when teaching online. Here are a few of my favorites.

Show Yourself

  • Your physical presence, warmly represented, provides key support to your students, so maintain eye contact and talk in a relaxed, friendly tone.
  • Set up your physical space so that your face is easily visible and warmly lit.

Relationships are the foundation of learning, and humans naturally look at each other’s faces in order to understand what is happening. Make sure your students can see your face to foster connection and engagement.

Ask Questions

  • Survey your students often on what they need to feel engaged and connected. Provide ways for them to give anonymous feedback and to be heard.
  • Build in frequent opportunities for engagement during your lesson by asking for thumbs up, thumbs down, or one-word answers in your meeting’s chat window, for example. Pause and ask students to check in with how they are feeling, and let them provide a silent gesture or signal that reflects how they are doing. Check-ins do not need to be long to be effective.

The more we ask students to share their opinions or provide feedback, the more engaged they will be. Zoom has a number of features that promote active learning, including polls, reaction icons, and the whiteboard. You can also use timers and encourage fidgeting to keep students engaged.

Stay Organized

  • If you’re distracted during your lesson, students will pick up on that, so have everything you need ready. Struggling to find files, links, or browser tabs can cause your stress level to rise, which students will feel and mirror.

Staying organized is a common challenge when teaching, whether in your classroom or online. Your students will benefit from clearly defined organizational strategies that keep the lesson moving fluidly.

If something goes wrong, own it. Students often do not understand how adults create and maintain organizational strategies. Share how your systems for organizing time and materials are evolving. Ask students how they are adapting their own organizational strategies.

Have you found it difficult to engage students online? What strategies have helped you create a more inviting online classroom? Let us know in the comments!

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

The Fresh Start Effect and Executive Function

The seemingly never-ending Zoom sessions that make up remote learning have made the concept of a “fresh start,” or new beginning, more important than ever for our students.

Many of our students are experiencing slumps, times when staying in bed or watching endless YouTube videos seems like the most viable option. Nevertheless, they seem always ready to readopt their goals and make a fresh start with some guidance and strategies.

New research on the “fresh start effect” offers implications for making the “fresh-start” most effective. We all know about New Year’s resolutions, which can trigger changes lasting for varying amounts of time. According to the fresh start effect, people are more likely to adopt positive changes when they are attached to an important temporal landmark.

These landmarks can be as significant as a birthday, a new school year, or New Years’ Day. They can also be as simple as a new day, a new week, or a new month. The “fresh start” allows the person to leave mistakes in the past, wipe the slate clean, and open a path toward the future. The goal is to extend the “fresh start” longer and longer and eventually to make the new strategies into a new habit.

In our executive function coaching with students, we have developed some easy strategies you can use to provide that “fresh start effect” for your students:

  • Listen without judgment. Put the learner in the center and give them time to talk about their frustrations to help them become open to new ideas.
  • Identify a temporal marker for change (e.g., a new day, new week, birthday, weekend to catch-up).
  • Help students to create a goal or goals—just for the day, if necessary. For example, read Lord of the Flies Ch. 7, collect four sources for the paper, attend yoga class, or walk for a half hour.
  • Expand to the week: what are your daily goals within the week? Use as simple a template as possible since many students are overwhelmed by a lot of text.
  • Reflect on your day or week. Keep it simple (very productive, productive, OK, squeezed by).
  • Start again with the next morning or the next Monday (or your birthday, the beginning of the month, the beginning of the school year, January 1).
  • Appreciate and acknowledge the small steps on the way to sustained change.

Our experience at ILD has shown that fresh starts are always possible. And with the right strategy, new habits can form.

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