All posts by Bethany

36th Annual EF Conference Speaker Spotlight: David Flink on Identity, Advocacy, and Accommodations

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

This November, we are honored to feature David Flink, Ed.M., who will offer a session on “Identity, Advocacy, and Accommodations: Transitioning to a World After COVID.”

Building Stronger Classroom Experiences

How can educators work to rebuild stronger classroom experiences than the ones we left behind before COVID-19? At ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, David Flink will discuss the importance of embracing students’ identities, providing effective accommodations, and promoting self-advocacy to build stronger and better classroom experiences for all students. This session will focus on taking advantage of the opportunity we currently have to build a more equitable education system that meets the needs of all students.

David Flink is the Founder & Chief Empowerment Officer of Eye to Eye, an organization dedicated to improving the life of every young person with learning differences.

Through Eye to Eye’s mentoring program, high school and college students with learning differences are trained to mentor similarly-identified middle school students. Eye to Eye is the only national organization run for and by people with learning and attention issues, like dyslexia and ADHD. In March of 2021, David was named a CNN hero for helping to unlock greatness in the 1 in 5 students who learn differently.

Learn More

You can learn more about David Flink and his work:

Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program 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 Speaker Spotlight: Dr. Maurice Elias on Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development

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

This November, we are honored to feature Maurice Elias, Ph.D., who will offer a session on “Social-Emotional Learning and Character Development: The Foundations of Safe and Successful Schools.”

Social-Emotional Learning and Executive Function

The COVID-19 pandemic has reframed our collective understanding of how closely intertwined the cognitive and affective elements of learning truly are. It is so clear that schools are places where much more than just academic learning happens. While social-emotional learning curricula are often viewed as separate from academic curricula, all types of learning happen in real time in moments each day that shape students’ character and self-efficacy. As students return to in-person learning this fall, it is crucial that they feel safe and supported in their learning environments.

Dr. Maurice Elias is a professor in the Psychology Department at Rutgers University and Co-Director of the Academy for SEL in Schools. Dr. Elias is also the director of the Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab, which aims to develop schools of character, close achievement gaps, and increase student proficiency. Their research-based approach focuses on improving students’ capacity to recognize and manage emotions, solve problems effectively, view others’ perspectives, and establish positive, empathic relationships with others. 

At ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, Dr. Elias’ presentation will explain the link between SEL and executive function and how it connects to resilience and equity. Dr. Elias will offer examples of how to embed SEL into various aspects of the school day.

Learn More

You can learn more about Dr. Elias and his work:

Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Student Perspective: How to Make Summer Work Less Stressful

How can teachers make summer work less stressful for their students? This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

As the end of summer approaches, I have started to stress about my summer work. Therefore, I have three suggestions for teachers to make summer work more manageable for students.

Reconsider Assigning Work

My first suggestion is not to assign any work. I know many teachers will roll their eyes at this suggestion, but it’s valid. Once students get into high school, they have more on their plates, even in the summertime. Many students have jobs, work on preparing for college, take extra classes, or complete any number of other activities. Adding more academic work to their plate makes students feel as though they have no break at all. As a student with dyslexia and ADHD, it’s tough for me; it takes me double the time of my classmates to complete most assignments.

Avoid Testing on Summer Material

Another way to make work less stressful is to avoid testing on summer material. Summer academic work is assigned to prevent backslide, to teach students new things, or help them spark an interest in something. It should by no means feel like a punishment. 

Teachers also need to consider that students’ priorities change in the summer. They don’t have as much time, so many students have to pick and choose what to do first. So when they get to school, not all the material will be fresh in their minds. All of this is especially true when applied to students with learning differences. For example, I have a different experience reading a book than many of my classmates. It can be challenging when tested on a book, especially when I started reading it three months ago.

Be Clear About the Purpose of Summer Work

My final suggestion to mitigate summer stress is to tell your students ahead of time what the work will be used to accomplish. As I suggested, summer work should be just for the experience and not graded. But if you think it’s crucial to assign summer work, tell your students ahead of time what their end goal should be. For example, if you want your students to write a paper on a summer reading book, tell them ahead of time, so they can prioritize all of their work.

Will you be teaching SMARTS next year? Join us for the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 10th, August 12th, August 17th, and August 19th). If you are interested in hearing from equity-minded educators from across the country, join us for the 36th Annual Executive Function Conference. Learn more and register today.

  • 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

Lessons from ResearchILD’s 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows: Part III

All educators play a crucial role in counteracting systemic racism and developing equitable approaches that support the success of every student. Our Executive Function (EF) and Equity Fellowship brings together educators from across the US to explore how schools are addressing students’ executive function needs through an equity lens. This post, the last in a three-part series, highlights the lessons that emerged from conversations with our 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows and guest speakers. 

Draw on Your Community’s Shared Knowledge

During ResearchILD’s monthly EF and Equity gatherings, our Fellows and guest speakers shared their experiences honoring all students’ identities and teaching executive function strategies.

These gatherings and ensuing conversations underscored an important finding—our community contained a rich fund of knowledge and experiences from which we could all learn.

Here are three takeaways from our conversations:

  • Teach students to navigate the context of their school system. This can include teaching students how to access existing resources, determine what questions to ask, and understand their school’s culture.
  • Helping students develop greater self-understanding can enable them to develop their self-advocacy skills. Executive function strategy instruction begins with teaching students to understand themselves as learners and become aware of their strengths and challenges. 
  • Executive function strategies are for all students. Explicitly and systematically teaching executive function strategies can open up new pathways as students learn to successfully navigate novel situations in their classrooms, schools, and personal lives.

Conversations with our EF and Equity fellows reaffirmed that we don’t have to look far to find inspiration and ideas. Our colleagues and community members may offer ways to recognize and build upon students’ existing funds of knowledge to make the curriculum personally relevant for them. 

EF and Equity

Are you interested in becoming a 2021-2022 EF and Equity Fellow? Learn more about the fellowship and application process. If you would like to hear more from equity-minded educators, join us for the 36th Annual Executive Function Conference. Learn more and register today!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Student Perspective: A Helpful Way to Boost Your Students’ Reading Skills


Offering creative reading challenges can help students develop a love of reading. This student-authored post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

People often assume that students with learning differences, especially those with dyslexia, cannot understand high-level material; this is not true. I have found that reading above my grade level has helped build my vocabulary and expose me to ideas that I would not have otherwise encountered.  

Offer Students Choices

When reading at a high level, students should have a say in what they’re reading. When students are interested in what they’re reading, it gives them a reason to keep reading, even when it gets tricky. For me, assistive technology such as audiobooks was a big help, so it is important to remember that using those tools can benefit many students. 

Using upper-level reading material will be hard for some students, so it is important to keep in mind what students are currently reading. You can’t expect them to make too big a leap, like from reading The Cat in the Hat straight to Shakespeare. Also, remember not to put too much pressure on students when asking them to read high-level books. It’s an important exercise to have them do this, but it should be fun. 

Create a Relaxed Reading Environment

As a teacher, it’s essential to make sure that you’ve created a space where students feel comfortable coming to you if they have trouble with a passage or word. Parents can also help expose students to high-level reading by encouraging their children to read or listen to more books that might be a little bit out of their comfort range. By doing this, it will help them build up to more complex texts. 

The goal should be to boost students’ love of reading and expose them to higher-level material. It doesn’t necessarily have to be graded or be made unnecessarily complicated—no notes, no essays, no journaling, no book reports. Just let them read!

To read more student perspectives, check out the Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series. If you are interested in building your executive function toolkit, join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 27th, July 29th, August 3rd, and August 5th) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 10th, August 12th, August 17th, and August 19th).

  • 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

Student Perspective: Creating a Safe Environment for Students with Learning Differences

Creating a safe classroom environment for students with learning differences can have a lasting positive impact on their educational experiences. This post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

One critical aspect of every student’s learning experience is the classroom environment created by the teacher. Every teacher has a different classroom environment, and some may be a better fit for certain students. In my post, I will highlight the factors that I find critical in creating a positive and inclusive classroom environment for students with learning differences. 

Encourage Positive Self-Talk

Within a classroom, it is vital to encourage positivity. In many classrooms, teachers either encourage or don’t discourage people with executive function disorders to be demeaning to themselves. This can lead to other students in the class feeling that it is acceptable to be demeaning to these students as well.

There were many students in my English class with dyslexia and ADHD. My teacher created an environment where these students constantly called themselves ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid.’ Then students without learning differences in the class called someone ‘dumb’ because they could not perform a ‘normal’ English task like spelling words. Other students called a boy with ADHD highly disruptive because he forgot to take his medication. When I expressed to my teacher that I felt uncomfortable with my classmates calling each other ‘dumb’ because of their neurodiverse identities, she dismissed my claim and said it is just normal teenage behavior.

Discourage Negative Talk about Intelligence

As a teacher, if you want to foster a healthy classroom environment, you must try to discourage negative talk about students’ intelligence. It harms the students in the class who have learning differences for two reasons. First, it can make them think they are stupid for having a learning difference. Second, a negative classroom cannot foster learning.

Teachers need to help neurotypical students realize it’s not ok to make fun of the kids with learning differences. When you want to discourage this type of negative behavior, it isn’t effective to tell students to stop within the classroom. If you do, students with learning differences may have more negative thoughts about themselves. Instead, you should talk to the student one-on-one outside of class time to try to find out why they feel they are dumb and help them realize that they are just as intelligent as everyone else in their classes. 

To read more student perspectives, check out the Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series. If you are interested in building your executive function toolkit, join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 27th, July 29th, August 3rd, and August 5th).

  • 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

Student Perspective: The Need to Preview Material

Incorporating executive function strategies into your curriculum can make a big difference for students. This post is part of a series that highlights student perspectives around learning and executive function in the classroom. 

As a learner, it’s hard for me to finish assignments or do them correctly if I don’t know why I’m doing them. It is important for teachers to take time to preview material and explain the purpose behind assignments. Here are a couple of examples.

Preview Upcoming Topics

At the beginning of each trimester, it is beneficial to go over what the class will be studying. Many teachers try to do this, but in my experience, they don’t go in-depth enough. I would encourage teachers to give students more background information.

For instance, if you’re teaching about World War II in history class, tell students many aspects of what they will be studying instead of just telling them they will be covering World War II. Doing this helps students understand the scope of the material they will be covering in class and slowly eases them in, making them feel they have more control in the classroom. It’s also good for students to know what to expect once they get to the topic because it will seem less overwhelming than just jumping right in.

Preview Large Projects

It is also helpful to preview material before a large project. When introducing a new project to a class, it is essential to explain to students why the project is important. If students do not understand the reasoning behind the project, they may feel that the project is not relevant to them.

Another important step is to outline what the project should look like. While it may be difficult to present guidelines for more open-ended projects, it is vital for people who struggle with executive function.

Before you formally teach a topic or introduce new material, make sure your students have a brief understanding of what lies ahead so they won’t feel overwhelmed when they get to that topic. Previewing material can ensure that students are better prepared to complete their work and turn in higher-quality assignments.

To read more student perspectives, check out the Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series.

  • 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

Happy 4th of July from SMARTS

Happy 4th of July from all of us here on the SMARTS Executive Function team! We wish you a happy and safe holiday. After a challenging school year, we hope that your summer is full of rest and relaxation.

Summer is also a great time to reflect on the year and set meaningful goals for the future. Many of your students may also be tackling their summer reading lists; here are some strategies that can help.

As you contemplate the new school year, we hope you will find ways to incorporate executive function into your work. Get an early start with our Executive Function Summer Summit and SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop. 

  • Executive Function Summer Summit
    July 27, July 29, August 3, August 5
    The Executive Function Summer Summit will cover topics such as metacognition, organization, flexible problem solving, motivation, engagement, and even math and dyslexia. The four sessions of the Summer Summit (July 27th, July 29th, August 3rd, and August 5th) can be purchased as a bundle for a special price and will be recorded in case you cannot attend live.
  • SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop
    August 10, 12, 17, 19

    If you will be teaching SMARTS next year, join us for the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop on August 10th, 12th, 17th, and 19th. Come spend time with the SMARTS team to explore the curriculum, dig into SMARTS strategies, learn with your peers, and develop a customized implementation plan for a new year. As always, there are discounts for SMARTS users.

Wherever your summer plans take you, SMARTS is here to help. Here’s to a great summer!

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Lessons from ResearchILD’s 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows: Part 1

All educators play a crucial role in counteracting systemic racism and developing new and equitable approaches that support the success of every student. During the 2020-2021 school year, we launched our Executive Function (EF) and Equity Fellowship, bringing together six educators from across the US to explore how schools are addressing students’ executive function needs through an equity lens. This post, part one of a series, highlights the work of our 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows.

Meet Your Students Where They Are 

Considering the learning context in which students operate is vital for successful EF strategy instruction. Dr. Kayoung Kim, a 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellow and assistant professor of psychology at Tennessee State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), worked closely with her students of color to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of her students were motivated but not college-ready, and she was aware that intergenerational trauma was affecting students. While students were balancing school, families, and work, barriers prevented them from accessing supports, ranging from students not knowing how or where to access supports to a lack of time

To address these issues, Dr. Kim implemented a trauma-informed metacognitive skills training course for first-semester freshmen that focused on time management. Her students completed time-waster analyses to understand the breakdown of their days. They then took time to reflect on their analyses to develop weekly or semester-long study plans. Self-reflection, explained Dr. Kim, was a critical part of this process.

Dr. Kim’s work is an example of trauma-informed teaching with students’ identities in mind. Throughout the academic year, Dr. Kim maintained open channels of communication with her students and held space for them to express how they learn best.

Equity Through Executive Function 

ResearchILD’s mission, under the direction of Dr. Lynn Meltzer, is to empower ALL students to learn how to learn and to promote persistence and resilience through executive function strategies that build academic and life success.

At ResearchILD, we work closely with teachers and administrators to integrate executive function strategy instruction into project-based learning with an emphasis on student and community empowerment. Teaching executive function strategies systematically through the SMARTS curriculum is a tool for equity—it ensures that all students have strategies to draw upon when they face novel challenges in their academic and personal lives.

Are you interested in applying to be a 2021-2022 EF and Equity Fellow? Learn more about the fellowship and application process

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Modeling Persistence to Students

When it comes to students’ learning and growth, we know that persistence matters. When we think about persistence, we typically think about students’ internal motivational states. But what about external factors that impact students’ persistence? 

Research has shown that beginning in infancy, children make more attempts to achieve a goal (such as unlocking a keychain or making a toy sound) when they observe adults around them persisting. Infants who watched adults fail at a task and attempt the task multiple times were more likely to attempt a challenging task for a longer period of time. The infants were more likely to persist when the adults around them made eye contact and spoke directly to the infants. 

When it comes to the classroom, teacher influence and modeling really matter! Here are a few ways to encourage persistence among your students. 

Model Your Own Challenges to Students

When students see their teachers at the start of class, they do not see the time and detail that went into preparing for the day’s lesson. Many students may think that their teachers do not face any challenges simply because students are not witnessing them. When teachers model how they work to overcome a personal area of challenge, students may feel understood and encouraged. Depending on the context, teachers can model how they thought about a problem in a different way, or how they used a tool like a sticky note to help remember an idea. The next time students face an area of challenge, they may think back to the way you modeled your moment of persistence. 

Intervene Less

When adults intervene and take over tasks for students very quickly, students often feel less motivated to try again or try a different approach. At times, it may make sense for parents and teachers to step in and help. If time allows, it could help students in the long run to spend more time on a challenging task, to make more attempts to solve a problem, and to try a new approach. Teachers can also encourage their students to try a number of different strategies before asking for help. A strategy anchor chart for the classroom can be helpful as students learn to look to these resources as they persist. 

Praise Effort 

When it comes to praise, it is important to help students develop a growth mindsetand help them see that their effort and persistence matter. Having a growth mindset enables students to think more deeply about their areas of strength and challenge and go back into their toolbox to try another strategy when they need one.

Greater persistence has been linked to numerous positive outcomes for students, including higher graduation rates. When students see their teachers modeling persistence and they realize that their effort impacts their outcomes, they are more likely to persist.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org