Category Archives: Distance Learning

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

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

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

Student Perspective: Remote Learning and “Class Discussions”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director