All posts by Bethany

Parent Perspective: I Wish Teachers Knew That Executive Function Isn’t Just Planning

In seventh grade, my daughter’s teacher gave everyone in the class a big paper planner calendar. Voilà, executive function problem solved.

Except, for my dyslexic daughter, it wasn’t. Luckily my daughter’s tutor suggested using a digital planner with voice recognition. This simple but essential change allowed my daughter to use her excellent planning skills without having to write quickly and neatly in tiny paper planner boxes.

I know that many students truly struggle with planning. But, without the right instruction and tools, many students will be labeled poor planners. Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but please don’t assume that “all students are…” simply because you have a proverbial hammer.

When teachers start using language such as “all students benefit from…” or “every student should…,” I know that my child will be excluded from learning and progressing, and sometimes subject to the public humiliation of being called out for being different from “all” the other students.  

Thanks to Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD), my daughter recently took an executive function assessment (MetaCOG Online) that identified her primary executive function strengths and challenges. The results showed that planning and organizing are strengths for her.

MetaCOG Online also identified what I’ve struggled to explain to tutors and teachers for years—that her biggest executive function struggle is with flexible thinking, which impacts so many aspects of school and learning. When my daughter is struggling with inflexibility, people assume she doesn’t understand some concept, she is disorganized, or something much worse.

Educators have been led to believe that executive function is just planning and organizing. What a shame. It hasn’t just been a waste of time and money for us. Being misunderstood and under-supported has caused my daughter endless frustration and distrust of the educational system overall.  

When my daughter started high school last year, we met with a learning specialist who said, “We focus heavily on planning and organizing to help all freshmen transition into high school….” I know my daughter has a lot of executive dysfunction, but please don’t assume that she’s a nail just because you have a hammer. 

–Parent of LD High School Student

Free MetaCOG Online Webinar

Interested in learning more about MetaCOG Online? Join us for our free MetaCOG Online webinar on January 13, 2022.

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Goal Setting with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Goal setting and reflection—two popular topics on the SMARTS blog—often come up around the New Year. How can you incorporate mindfulness practices when reflecting on the past year and setting goals for 2022?

Mindfulness and Goal Setting

When setting goals, it can help to define the what, why, and how of the goal to ensure that you know how to get started. There are a number of frameworks for goal setting (including CANDO goals in SMARTS, Unit 2) that help students set realistic goals that have built-in plans for reaching success.

We often fall short of the high expectations we set for our goals. Taking a mindful approach to goal setting can help us remain calm and not judge ourselves if we don’t reach our goals or if the process takes longer than expected. 

Self-Compassion and Fresh Starts

Self-compassion is another key component of successful goal setting. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we must be perfect when we start fresh and that our progress is ruined if we fall back into old habits. Self-compassion means adopting a compassionate view towards oneself in difficult times through self-kindness and mindfulness.

Evidence indicates that the effects of mindfulness and self-compassion positively impact adolescents’ cognitive and affective outcomes. Results from this study support the use of contemplative practices (e.g., yoga and mindfulness) as a strategy to boost adolescents’ emotional regulation processes. Reminding ourselves that mistakes or failures don’t ruin our goals is an important aspect of self-compassion. Students and teachers can use this self-compassion strategy to remind themselves that it is okay to start again anytime.

Make Room for Mindfulness in 2022

The challenges of 2021 have left no one in our global community untouched. How can you enter the New Year in a more mindful and self-compassionate way?

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Check Out Flexible Mindsets!

We are excited to share that our friends Julie Dunstan and Susannah Cole have recently released their book, Flexible Mindsets in Schools: Channelling Brain Power for Critical Thinking, Complex Problem-Solving & Creativity.

Developing Flexible Mindsets

Today’s students will face complex challenges and uncertainty in their futures. How can we prepare our students to become self-directed learners who know how to ask questions, solve problems, and unleash their creativity?

The key lies in helping students develop flexible mindsets, which arise from periods of trial and error over searching for one “right answer.” Drawing from research and practice, Flexible Mindsets in Schools offers educators a roadmap for creating educational environments that promote deep learning and resilience

Tools for the Classroom

Dunstan and Cole’s book is a how-to guide for teachers to help students develop the three C’s: critical thinking, complex problem solving, and creativity. By developing adaptive strategy use, students will be more prepared to shift flexibly as they navigate our ever-changing world. Flexible Mindsets in Schools offers practical tools for creating equitable learning environments and realizing that small, manageable changes can lead to an educational revolution. 

Books about executive function and cognitive flexibility make a great holiday gift for teachers. Consider giving Flexible Mindsets in Schools or a selection from ResearchILD’s publications to your favorite teacher.

About the Authors

Julie Dunstan is a developmental psychologist and founding director of reFLEXions®, an initiative designed to develop Flexible Mindsets for self-directed learning. Susannah Cole is an executive function coach and managing director of reFLEXions®.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Metacognition, Social-Emotional Learning, and Belonging

Developing metacognition was a common theme at ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference. Here are highlights from a few of our featured speakers.

Creating Strategic Learners

It is no secret that metacognition is an integral component of academic and lifelong success. When students think about their thinking and learn about their learning, they are better able to understand their strengths and challengesDr. Lynn Meltzer, director of the Institutes for Learning and Development (ResearchILD & ILD), described a number of ways that teachers can help their students become strategic learners and promote students’ self-awareness.

Social-Emotional Learning

Meaningful relationships are a key part of living a happy and fulfilled life. Promoting metacognition can help students develop the skills they need to create and maintain successful relationshipsDr. Maurice Elias, a professor in the Psychology Department at Rutgers University and director of the Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, works to develop schools of character, close achievement gaps, and increase student proficiency. Dr. Elias shared a skills-based framework for success in school and life that centers around metacognition. Metacognition is a critical element of developing the self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills that are essential for connecting with others. 

Identity and Belonging

Self-understanding is also at the heart of developing a sense of identity and belonging. David Flink, founder and chief empowerment officer of Eye to Eye, spoke about his personal experience with dyslexia and ADHD. Flink founded Eye to Eye, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people with learning differences through mentoring. Flink emphasized the importance of embracing students’ identities and promoting self-advocacy to build stronger and better learning experiences for all students.

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register here

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Thanksgiving Executive Function Toolkit

From all of us on the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum Team, we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving! We hope you find time for moments of tranquility and reflection while you connect with family and friends. For those of you who host Thanksgiving meals, here are some tips to ensure a successful celebration!

Prioritizing Time

The days leading up to Thanksgiving can be overwhelming. Between work, school, travel, and meal planning, it can feel like there isn’t enough time to get everything done.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, it can help to sit down with a blank weekly calendar to schedule when you will complete certain tasks. (If you are interested in learning more about the SMARTS approach to planning production time, you can sign up for the free lesson here). For example, if you’ve ordered a turkey or dessert, when and where is your scheduled pickup? For all the sides you’ll prepare at home, do you have a time blocked out when you can scan through the grocery store aisles for all the ingredients? Finally, plan time to gather the necessities for your Thanksgiving table including place settings for every guest, extra chairs, and dishes for all the sides. 

Shifting Flexibly

Expect the unexpected. Maintaining a flexible mindset and considering multiple solutions to a problem is essential for getting back on track after a setback. If you find that your turkey is taking too long to cook, consider carving it into smaller sections so that it cooks more quickly. You could also offer guests time to enjoy more appetizers, play a game such as charades, or tell some jokes or riddles!

Schedule Reflection Time

When it comes to teaching executive function strategies, strategy reflection helps students develop a deeper understanding of their strengths and areas of growth. The same concept applies to hosting Thanksgiving! Take some time after the holiday to debrief on what went well and where you could improve next year. Would you go food shopping earlier? Where did you need an extra set of hands? Would you swap out any of the sides you prepared? Write your ideas on a sticky note and add it to your planner to revisit next year.

What strategy is an essential part of your Thanksgiving celebration? We’d love to hear about it!

Build your Executive Function Toolkit

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register here

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Promoting Resilience and Equity for All Students

ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference brought together educators, researchers, and practitioners from across the globe to hear from speakers at the forefront of executive function research and implementation in schools. The focus of this year’s conference was on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

Connection and Relationships

To promote equity in schools, we must create learning systems and relationships that ensure all students experience a sense of belonging and feel supported in their own learning. Irvin Scott, Ed.D, senior lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, shared this statement:

“Bias happens all the time for our students. It happens in a way that sometimes we don’t necessarily see the immediate impact.” 

These experiences compound over time and can impact students’ identities. Therefore, educators must seek to deeply know their students and create space to understand students’ stories and identities.

Putting students first and honoring their identities is key to building the connections that enable change. At the same time, educators must examine the systems and structures that are preventing students from accessing certain opportunities.

Paradigm Shift

Pedro Noguera, Ph.D., Dean of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, also emphasized the importance of creating student-centered school cultures that are built upon strong relationships between students and the school.

In this student-centered model, Dr. Noguera emphasized that educators must devise strategies to break stereotypes and acknowledge the barriers that exist in schools and learning environments. Starting at the classroom level, we can support students in building self-awareness and self-management strategies, which can lead to more peaceful interactions between students and their peers. 

Dr. Noguera suggests that the pandemic has opened the door to an opportunity to shift our focus as we rebuild schools. Returning to “normal” is not an option: 

“The schools we have have been designed to get the results they obtain now…Schools reproduce inequality.”

As we create a new educational system, we must place equity, health, and social-emotional needs at the center of our work. This means recognizing that race and place matter when it comes to many issues, such as environmental impacts on children’s development. We know that environmental toxins and toxic stress impact students’ health and learning. Therefore, we cannot only focus on what is happening in schools. We must also consider the context of the communities in which schools are situated. 

Takeaways: Defining Equity

Equity means…

  • Acknowledging and addressing that different students have different needs. 
  • Giving students what they need to be successful both in school and in life.  
  • Examining implicit biases and how they impact day-to-day interactions. 
  • Addressing the barriers that exist in schools and classrooms and working to remove them.   

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as metacognition and motivation, strategies to support students with long-term projects and project-based learning, embedding EF in the general education curriculum, and the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning. Learn more and register here

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Quick Tip: SMARTS Curriculum Extensions

Struggling to make time to teach executive function? SMARTS Curriculum extensions are an easy way to embed executive function strategies in natural moments within instruction. 

Extensions require little to no preparation, and they can either stand on their own as a quick mini-lesson or serve as a way to review and reinforce a strategy taught in the full lesson.

You’ll find extensions located at the end of each SMARTS lesson plan.

  • SMARTS Secondary has over 400 extensions, which are organized into six categories: creating strategic learning communities, reflection/self-advocacy, test strategies, projects, math/science, and ELA/social science. These categories offer a way to easily align strategy instruction with your teaching setting and learning goals.
  • SMARTS Elementary, updated in August 2021, features extensions for every lesson. Teachers can also use the new lesson sorter for SMARTS Elementary to curate lessons by areas such as active reading, flexible thinking and problem solving, self-understanding, perspective-taking, and more.

With SMARTS Curriculum extensions, you can address executive function explicitly in small pockets of time during the school day to establish meaningful routines that set students up for success.

Join us this November for the 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, which will focus on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

36th Annual EF Conference Spotlight: SMARTS Strand Concurrent Speakers

This post is part of a series that highlights the events and speakers of this year’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, which will focus on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

At ResearchILD’s conference this November, you can learn practical strategies to bring into your classroom on Monday morning. SMARTS experts are offering three pre-recorded concurrent sessions that will be available starting on November 5. Conference attendees will have unlimited access to all concurrent sessions and the recordings of the live plenary sessions through January 31, 2022.

Concurrent Presentations: SMARTS Strand


Executive Function and Organization: Unlocking Students’ Ability to Stay Organized
Michael Greschler, Ed.M. and Shelly Levy, M.Ed., M.S.

Michael Greschler is the director of the SMARTS program for ResearchILD. Over the past 7 years, he has worked to develop and grow the SMARTS program, collaborating with teachers and administrators in schools and leading a nationwide pilot of SMARTS Online in its first year. Shelly Levy is the SMARTS curriculum coordinator, teacher trainer, and educational specialist at the Institutes of Learning and Development. She has over 25 years of experience in the field of Special Education. 

The session will emphasize practical classroom approaches that integrate strategy instruction and self-understanding into day-to-day classroom activities through the organization of materials and time management.

Flexible Thinking: Practical Strategies to Improve Academic Performance and Reduce Stress
Donna Kincaid, M.Ed.

Donna Kincaid, M.Ed., is the assistant director and director of outreach and training for ILD and ResearchILD. Donna holds certification in Elementary/Special Education K-9, a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and a Supervisor/Director Certification in the area of Special Needs.

In this session, participants will learn about the importance of cognitive flexibility, one of the cornerstones of executive function, and its critical role in school performance, growth mindsets, and reduced stress in school and life. This session will also focus on evidence-based strategies for promoting students’ cognitive flexibility so that they learn to shift and think flexibly in academic and social situations. 

Self-Monitoring and Self-Regulation: From School to Home and Back
Mindy Scirri, Ph.D.

Mindy Scirri, Ph.D., is a learning (dis)ability specialist and consultant in private practice and former chair and professor of education. Dr. Scirri also homeschools her daughter and is a content writer for homeschooling curriculum and resource websites.

In this workshop, Dr. Scirri will explore how expectations impact self-monitoring and self-regulation, how different contexts affect these expectations, and how various executive function components play a role. Participants will learn strategies from the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum, as well as other strength-based strategies, to help students build self-monitoring and self-regulation skills both at school and at home.

Learn More

You can learn more about the concurrent speakers and their work by attending ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 11th and 12th. 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

36th Annual EF Conference Spotlight: SMARTS Special Events

This is the tenth post in a series that highlights the events and speakers of this year’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, which will focus on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

At our conference this November, we are excited to offer a number of special SMARTS sessions. The evening before our conference begins, we will gather with SMARTS educators from around the world to explore how they are teaching executive function. We are also offering two optional lunchtime sessions, which will be recorded and available for viewing until January 31, 2022.

SMARTS Conversation

  • SMARTS Around the World
    Michael Greschler, M.Ed., Shelly Levy, M.Ed., M.S.
    November 10, 6-7 pm EST

Ever wonder how teachers in different countries teach executive function? The SMARTS Executive Function curriculum is currently being implemented by educators in 25 different countries. Michael Greschler, M.Ed., director of the SMARTS program, and Shelly Levy, M.Ed., M.S., SMARTS curriculum coordinator, will be joined by teachers from schools around the world for a panel on executive function with an international focus. Bring your questions, ideas, and whatever is on your mind. While SMARTS conversations are typically only open to SMARTS users, this special event is open to all. Register for SMARTS Around the World

Optional SMARTS Lunchtime Sessions

  • SMARTS and MTSS School-Wide: Administrator and School Leader Panel
    Michael Greschler, M.Ed., Rajneet Goomer, M.A., Kristina Mannino, M.Ed.
    November 12, 12:30-1:05 pm EST

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) provides a powerful framework for the development of levels of executive function intervention that can be used to support the success of all students and identify students who need more support. Michael Greschler, M.Ed., director of the SMARTS Program, will be joined by Rajneet Goomer, M.A., and Kristina Mannino, M.Ed., from the Robbinsville Public Schools, to explore how they have used SMARTS to create tiers of executive function support in their schools. Register for SMARTS and MTSS School-Wide

  • MetaCOG Online: A New Survey for Helping Teachers Understand Each Student’s EF Strengths and Challenges
    Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D., Kim Davis, M.Ed., and Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed.
    November 12, 12:30-1:05 pm EST

MetaCOG Online is an interactive executive function survey system that helps students develop an understanding of their learning profiles, including their executive function strengths and challenges. This self-understanding is the foundation for building students’ metacognitive awareness and their efficient and effective use of EF strategies. MetaCOG Online highlights students’ understanding of the strategies they use for planning, organizing, memorizing, shifting, and self-checking. This unique online survey enables students to understand and reflect on their personalized EF profiles. The tool also provides teachers with a class summary and action plan framework based on their students’ needs. Join us to explore the features of MetaCOG Online and how you can use this online survey tool to support your students. Register for MetaCOG Online

Learn More

You can learn more about our speakers and their work by attending ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 11 and 12. 

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development

Student Perspective: Multisensory Learning

What are the benefits of teaching with multisensory activities? This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

One of the best ways you can engage your students with learning differences is by using multisensory practices.

What is Multisensory Learning?

Multisensory learning occurs when a student uses multiple senses to learn information. The goal of multisensory learning is to allow your students to connect to the material being taught in many different ways. Students with and without learning differences can benefit from a multisensory approach since it allows students to make new connections and strengthen memories.

Engaging through Multisensory Activities

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that teachers use the same multisensory techniques from first grade through high school, but it is important for teachers to adapt their multisensory practices to better serve older students.  

For instance, watching videos in class is a multisensory activity. In biology class, dissecting an animal is multisensory because it allows the students to see and touch the parts of the animal that are being studied. Science is a great subject for multisensory teaching because many experiments are naturally multisensory — a great reason to increase the number of hands-on experiments in science. 

One multisensory activity for English and history classes is acting out scenes of a book or scenes from history. This allows students to immerse themselves in the time or book, helping them learn by interacting with the text in another way. 

Students will learn best if you try to integrate different multisensory activities, instead of relying only on traditional teaching practices like lecturing. There are many different ways that you can approach multisensory teaching. It can be helpful to experiment and think of new multisensory activities that fit with what you are teaching.

Join us this November for the 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, which will focus on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

  • C. Solomon, Student Contributor

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org