Category Archives: Executive Function

36th Annual EF Conference Spotlight: Concurrent Presentations

This is the eighth 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 seven speakers who will offer recorded presentations addressing the close connections between executive function, stress, persistence, and school performance. Conference attendees can begin viewing these presentations on November 11, with unlimited access through January 31, 2022.

Hate or Hurt: Rethinking Social Exclusion, Isolation, and the Need-To-Belong in ASD Youth
Sucheta Kamath, M.A., M.A., CCC-SLP, BC-ANCDS

Sucheta Kamath is the founder/CEO of ExQ, LLC, a game-based online curriculum designed to systematically train fundamental cognitive skills. She is a speech-language pathologist, TEDx speaker, and entrepreneur in the Ed-Tech space.

Student Identity and Student Agency: Strategies for Engagement, Inclusion, and Equity
Kim Carter, M.Ed.

Kim Carter is the founder and executive director of the Q.E.D. Foundation, an organization of adults and youth working together to create and sustain student-centered learning communities. The Q.E.D Foundation centers students’ voices and works with adults who are deeply invested in their students’ success.

Mindfulness, Metacognition, and Stress Reduction
Christopher Willard, Psy.D.

Christopher Willard is a lecturer in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a psychologist and educational consultant specializing in mindfulness. Dr. Willard works with parents, educators, and counselors, teaching them to embody and teach mindfulness skills to promote resilience in students of any age.

The Role of Working Memory in Speaking and Written Language
Anthony S. Bashir, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Bonnie Singer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP

Anthony Bashir is a professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development and an educational consultant. Dr. Bashir was the director of the speech-language pathology department at Children’s Hospital in Boston for 25 years and is an honored fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Dr. Bonnie Singer is the founder and CEO of Vivido and Architects for Learning. Vivido offers professional development in language, literacy, and learning; Architects for Learning provides academic intervention, assessment, and consultation services.

Comprehension Strategy Instruction for Students with Executive Function Difficulties
Joan Sedita, M.Ed.

Joan Sedita is the founder of Keys to Literacy, a leading provider of literacy teacher training, curriculum, ongoing coaching, and materials to educators across the country. Since 1974, she has held the roles of teacher, school administrator, teacher trainer, and literacy consultant.

Transforming Trauma: Helping Schools Become Healing Places
David Melnick, LICSW

David Melnick is the co-director of Outpatient Services at the Northeastern Family Institute in Vermont and a fellow of the Child Trauma Academy. For 35 years, he has worked in many settings including outpatient, residential treatment, and public and day treatment schools. His expertise is in development trauma, family therapy, adolescence, attachment, and trauma-informed schools.

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.

Raffle for New Registrants! All new conference registrants will be entered into a special raffle through October 17. Choose one of many prize options, including a full year’s access to the SMARTS Executive Function program, a seat at the upcoming Executive Function Essentials Workshops, or your own library of executive function resources!

  • 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

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

Homeschooling: How to Build Executive Function Strategies, Part 1

Executive function is used everywhere! At home, school, the office — even on vacation — your executive function processes keep you moving along. Executive function demands and strategies, however, can vary across settings, especially at school and home. Here are some ways to integrate executive function strategies into academic tasks and everyday activities when homeschooling.

Executive Function at School and Home

An executive function process such as goal setting can look different in school and at home. Students set goals related to grades, projects, or extracurriculars at school, often using templates and scaffolds created by their teacher. At home, students set goals related to chores, extracurricular interests, and their unstructured time.

When executive function expectations and supports are different at home and school, executive function difficulties may arise. Students who receive direct executive function strategy instruction in school may find the connection to home gets lost. Students who have parents who support their executive function at home may not find those same levels of support at school. (Watch our free webinar “Executive Function: The Bridge Between Home and School” to learn how to understand and support your child’s executive function needs.)

Strategy instruction is most effective when children understand that strategies can be used across tasks, subject areas, and settings. Here are some ways you can connect executive function strategies between academic tasks and activities at home.

Promote Metacognition about Executive Function

As a homeschool teacher, you are constantly observing your child’s executive function strengths and challenges. When helping your child understand their strengths and challenges, focus on the positives and assure your child that there are strategies to help with the challenges. This sets the stage for strategy instruction as your child is aware of strengths but also knows that there is a reason for learning strategies that will help with challenges.

Teach Executive Function Strategies within Academic Tasks

Armed with the knowledge of your child’s executive function strengths and challenges, you can integrate strategy instruction into academic subjects as needed. For example, if your child struggles to manage time to get homeschool work done, teach your child to categorize activities into “have-to’s, want-to’s, and hope-to’s” to organize that day’s tasks. Integrating executive function strategies into projects or tests can also help set up your child for success. 

Introduce Executive Function Strategies in the Home

As a homeschooler, you know that learning is no longer limited to school hours and tidy school subjects. You have the flexibility to create teachable moments throughout your day. These are perfect opportunities for you to introduce executive function strategies within real-world applications. For example, if your child is struggling to keep a closet neat, bring in an organizational strategy—like the SMARTS 4C’s strategy—at that moment.

These are just a few ways to incorporate executive function into a successful homeschool. Check out Part 2 for more strategies you can try.

  • Mindy Scirri, Ph.D., Educational Consultant and SMARTS Trainer and Consultant

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Executive Function and Universal Design for Learning

Executive function is an essential part of integrating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) into the curriculum. By using executive function strategies within the UDL framework, you can foster the development of expert, goal-directed learners.

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) aims to remove barriers to learning and build a flexible framework that is calibrated to each learner’s profile. A universally designed classroom welcomes learners to school just as they are. UDL recognizes that barriers lie in the learning context, not the learners. By offering multiple ways for learners to engage with, represent, and express ideas, UDL celebrates neurodiversity and learner variability.

While it is often assumed that UDL is only for students with learning differences, a universally designed classroom provides options for all learners to learn how they learn best.

UDL and Executive Function

One of the core goals of UDL is to develop expert, goal-directed learners. Unsurprisingly, executive function is key here! Just as the SMARTS curriculum teaches executive function strategies explicitly and prepares students to navigate the learning process, the UDL framework creates a context in which the teaching and modeling of executive function strategies is a priority.

One of the critical elements of UDL is starting with clear learning goals that learners can meet through a variety of means. In parallel, UDL emphasizes that learners should begin by setting their own personal goals (UDL checkpoint 6.1) and determining what they will need to reach those goals (UDL checkpoints 6.2 and 6.3).Self-monitoring one’s progress is an important step that enables learners to reach their goals (UDL checkpoints 6.3 and 6.4).

Finally, self-reflection is critical. After seeing teachers model strategy use and using the strategies independently, students must engage in self-reflection to determine if the strategy was successful or useful. If not, students can plan better for the next time they need to pull from their toolbox of strategies.

To learn more about UDL and executive function, view the UDL Principle of Action and Expression video that includes providing options for executive function. For more information about UDL, check out the UDL guidelines.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Learning Recovery: Re-Engage Students with Executive Function

This spring, many students will return to school and in-person learning. Executive function strategies will be key to helping students re-engage and recover from the chaos of hybrid and remote learning.

Remote and hybrid learning has been challenging, from constantly changing schedules and the challenge of supporting students to just not being very fun. As a result, many students have gaps in the fundamental academic skills they need to be successful.

Now is the perfect time to bring the transformative power of executive function programs, such as SMARTS, into every elementary school, middle and high school classroom. By infusing executive function strategies into your curriculum, you can help students tackle challenging academic tasks, restore metacognitive awareness, and bolster their ability to get back on track.  

Build Academic Strength

Everyone is excited to get back to business as usual; however, gaps in fundamental academic skills are sure to haunt students for years to come. But don’t despair! Remember that executive function is the key to successful learning. To boost literacy skills and reading comprehension, use strategies such as the SMARTS Skim and Scoop, that help students identify the main idea and supporting details of what they are reading. The SMARTS Triple Note Tote strategy is a versatile strategy for organizing information, perfect for note-taking, studying for tests, and more. By teaching explicit executive function strategies, students will not only be able to cope with the demands of their schoolwork, but they will also learn HOW to learn, which promotes self-understanding and perseverance.

Promote Metacognition

The isolation and uncertainty of remote and hybrid learning have damaged many students’ beliefs in their ability to succeed. Even as we begin the transition back to in-person learning, these students are at risk of feeling hopeless and giving up when challenged. To recover their motivation, they need to develop a greater understanding of their academic strengths and challenges as well as the ability to face academic tasks flexibly.

Self-understanding is at the heart of the SMARTS program. Strategies such as Know Yourself Venn Diagrams, the Executive Function Wheel, and CANDO Goals help students identify their personal strengths and challenges and use this knowledge to set personally meaningful goals. In fact, every SMARTS lesson includes a reflection component, boosting student’s metacognition, their belief in their ability to succeed, and their willingness to use strategies.

Help Students Learn to Focus

Remote and hybrid learning have undermined students’ ability to focus on their work. Working all day on a screen, with limited face-to-face interaction and access to every distraction the internet has to offer, is enough to take anyone off-task. (Looking for strategies to engage students online?) As we return to in-person instruction, use strategies to model what it means to focus and how to organize time and belongings to minimize distraction. Teaching students strategies for setting goals and self-monitoring will help boost their ability to pay attention, track their progress, check their work, and stay engaged in learning.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Executive Function and Online Learning

In a typical school year, teachers may feel that by spring their students will fully understand the class expectations and be settled into their routines. This school year, however, has been anything but typical! It is important to remember that context matters for executive function, and the radically different expectations and systems of online learning context presents different challenges (and opportunities).

To help students succeed in an online learning environment, executive function demands must be consistent and transparent.

Where is my homework again?

Do not assume that students know how to find important information on their class websites or their school’s learning management system. While some students may seamlessly navigate these websites, even teaching you a few tricky, other students may run find seeming simple tasks quite challenging, giving up when they feel overloaded by information. Provide explicit modeling to ensure that all students can find their homework, participate in discussion, turn in their work, and check their grades. Some students may require more coordination and executive function support. Keep your communication systems simple and consistent; it makes a big difference. Teacher announcements should be in one designated spot, instead of mixing email announcements, discussion board posts, and in-person announcements.

I need help!

When teaching online, it can be difficult to determine when a student needs extra support and which aspects of the learning environment are posing challenges. Students are more isolated from their teacher and peers, making them reluctant to ask for help. Some students may not even know where to begin asking for help. By conducting brief check-ins (via a Zoom poll, Google form, etc.), you can discover how comfortable students are navigating the online resources for their classes or if they are still experiencing information overload. It is never too late to open up channels of communication and allow students to share their perspectives; this can ensure all learners feel heard and supported.

Our latest webinar, “Executive Function Challenges and Solutions: Shifting Between Remote to In-Person Instruction,” offers a number of tips and tools for teachers to support their students’ EF in the current learning context.

For more information about supporting students during remote learning, take a look at some of these posts.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Reader’s Theater and Executive Function Strategies

When it comes to reading, working in groups can be problematic, especially for students with dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning differences. Reader’s theater is a fun way to let all students collaboratively engage with texts as they strengthen executive function strategies.

Reader’s Theater & Executive Function

Reader’s theater is a multisensory instructional strategy designed to help students develop fluency and comprehension by reading scripts based on grade-level texts. Reader’s theater is not only limited to language arts—it can be a useful instructional strategy for science, social studies, and second language classes.

Executive function is often overlooked when it comes to reading instruction. The informal performances of reader’s theater allow students to work collaboratively, craft a character or tone, and use their executive function strategies.

Let’s break down how reader’s theater can provide opportunities to teach strategies that will help students overcome executive functioning challenges. 

Working memory

Reader’s theater asks students to use their strategies for working memory. Students will need to maintain their spot in their script and keep track of their peers’ lines as they progress through their performance. Reader’s theater offers a natural opportunity for repeated reading, and students can practice their lines multiple times as a group. This provides students with many chances to employ their strategies for remembering when it is their turn to read.  

Cognitive flexibility

Once students are assigned their character or role, they must craft certain voices or gestures to match their lines. While performing, students will have to shift between their own perspective and their character’s perspective. Playing a different character provides a concrete opportunity to understand how to shift in real or imagined scenarios. They will also have to shift between listening to their peers’ lines and reading out their own.  

Self-monitoring and self-checking

As students embody the characters they are portraying, they must use their self-monitoring strategies to ensure that their gestures and voices match the text. They might ask themselves: How is the character feeling here? How might I communicate this character’s emotions? Are there words I don’t know? Encourage students to prompt each other to ask themselves these questions; this will help keep everyone on track.

Reader’s theater is a fun way for all students to participate in activities that promote literacy, reading comprehension, and executive function strategies. For more resources about theater-related activities, check out this post about theater games that help build flexible thinking.  

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Executive Function Essentials: A toolkit for remote and in-class learning

We’re excited to announce Executive Function Essentials 2021, our newest training series that focuses on teaching executive function strategies for remote and in-person classroom settings. Presented by Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D., and the staff of the Institutes for Learning and Development, this four-session series will help you build your executive function toolkit by:

  • Deepening your understanding of metacognition, organization, flexible problem solving, motivation, engagement
  • Developing a practical appreciation of the latest research
  • Gaining strategies and activities to use when teaching remotely and in-person

Session Overviews

Depending on your teaching goals, choose the sessions that are right for you. All presentations will be recorded if you cannot attend live.

  • In addition, we will offer two application-based presentations on the subjects of dyslexia on March 4 and math on April 1, 2021.

Start your 2021 with the resolution to teach essential executive function strategies across all teaching and learning formats. Learn more and register today!

We look forward to having you join us. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments.

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

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Executive Function Strategies Vs. Skills: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to supporting students’ executive function needs, the terms “skill” and “strategy” are often used interchangeably. In the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum, we believe it is important to underscore the difference between such seemingly similar terms.

Skills refer to abilities that may be enacted without much thought from the individual. Strategies, on the other hand, are intentionally employed by an individual to accomplish a specific task, such as reading a book or studying for an exam.

When it comes to teaching executive function, it is important to promote a strategic approach for many reasons.

  1. Strategy instruction is a strengths-based approach, that focuses on students achieving personally meaningful goals, supported by teachers’ explicit teaching and modeling of strategy use. Students who struggle may internalize their failures and come to believe that their efforts will not lead to success. However, when armed with strategies, students have options for how they can respond to an academic or organizational challenge.
  2. Strategy instruction promotes self-understanding. Using strategies is an intentional and deliberate process; students become active learners who engage in self-reflection about which strategies were most successful in specific situations. This metacognitive process is an important part of teaching students to understand how they learn most effectively. When students feel valued and involved in their learning, they are more likely to be motivated.
  3. Strategy instruction is beneficial for all learners. Every student can benefit from having a larger set of strategies to pull from when they face challenges in academics and in their everyday lives.

The SMARTS Executive Function curriculum helps students understand their areas of strength and challenge and explicitly teaches executive function strategies. Learn more about the three key tenets at the heart of the SMARTS program.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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