Category Archives: Executive Function

Image comparing equality (same ladder for all people to reach tree) and equity (each person receives the ladder they need to reach the tree)

Promoting Equity through Executive Function

How can executive function curricula help level the playing field in education? Our mission at ResearchILD 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. 

Executive function (EF) processes—goal setting, cognitive flexibility, organizing and prioritizing, memorizing, self-checking and monitoring—are critically important for learning and social behavior.

Research has shown that executive function mediates socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in school achievement; therefore, interventions targeting executive function could help to close the SES-related achievement gap. Executive function represents a powerful tool for developing equitable and anti-racist educational systems. 

From the earliest grades, academic tasks require the coordination and integration of numerous processes as well as the ability to think flexibly and self-check. Consider common academic tasks like reading for meaning, solving math problems, elaborating in writing, summarizing, note-taking, and studying. Each of these requires students to set goals, organize and prioritize information, shift perspectives, think and problem-solve flexibly, memorize, and self-monitor. These executive function processes impact the accuracy and efficiency of students’ performance in academic and social situations.

Executive function strategies are for all students. When EF strategies are systematically taught, new pathways are opened as students learn to successfully navigate novel situations in their classrooms, schools, and personal lives. You can read ResearchILD’s complete white paper on executive function and equity 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

A clock, mug, and keyboard

Quick Tip: End-of-Year EF Lessons

When is the best time to introduce or reinforce an executive function strategy? Any time — even at the end of the school year. Our SMARTS Curriculum Extensions require little preparation and are flexible enough to fit into what you’re already teaching. 

What Are Extensions?

SMARTS Curriculum extensions (found at the end of each SMARTS lesson plan) are easy and efficient ways to teach executive function strategies. SMARTS extensions allow you to weave bits of executive function instruction into existing content. Small but mighty, SMARTS extensions:

  • Stand on their own as quick mini-lessons or serve as a way to review and reinforce a strategy taught in the full lesson
  • Require little to no preparation
  • Offer various options to embed executive function strategies in natural moments within instruction and to extend the learning from a single lesson over time

SMARTS Secondary Extensions

SMARTS Secondary offers over 400 extensions, which are organized into six categories:

  1. Creating strategic learning communities
  2. Reflection/self-advocacy
  3. Test strategies
  4. Projects
  5. Math/science
  6. ELA/social science

These categories offer a way to easily align strategy instruction with your unique teaching setting and learning goals.

SMARTS Elementary Extensions

SMARTS Elementary features extensions for every lesson. You can also use our new lesson sorter to curate lessons by areas such as active reading, flexible thinking and problem solving, self-understanding, perspective-taking, and more.

Got Time? Run a Full Lesson

If your end-of-year schedule allows for full lessons, there are a number of strategies that students can use to set themselves up for summer success. Goal setting is an appropriate strategy to help students think about how they can make the most of their summer break. Purposeful highlighting is useful for test taking and summer reading. 

  • 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

Motivation Monday: Behaviorism

Behaviorism is a theory of learning that focuses on students’ interactions with their environment; learning occurs when there is a response to the right stimulus. Students’ behaviors change because of interactions with stimuli in their environment.

Behaviorism is not concerned with internal changes; instead, it focuses on observable changes in students’ actions. For example, rewarding students for meeting the class goal of handing in their assignments on time is an example of positive reinforcement — adding in a desired stimulus. Removing weekend homework as a result of improved class behavior is an example of negative reinforcement — removing an undesired stimulus.

Why it matters for education

Learning does not happen in a vacuum — we have to consider the context and environment, especially for executive function strategy instruction. Are the EF demands appropriate for students? Do they have the strategies they need to meet expectations? By creating a classroom environment that fosters executive function strategy use and positive student behaviors, we can bring about change in students’ actions.

Behaviorism also underlies patterns of positive reinforcement. For example, if a student has difficulty completing tasks independently, subtle praise when the student meets their goal can encourage this behavior. Scheduling fun (yet educational) activities can also help students associate school with positive feelings.

Takeaways

  • Consider external rewards (e.g., praise, free choice activities, rewards) when tasks are new or difficult.
  • Extrinsic reinforcement can also be helpful when students are completing non-fulfilling activities (e.g., drill-and-practice tasks to gain mastery in foundational skills such as math facts).
  • As students gain mastery, switch the focus from external rewards to intrinsic rewards (e.g., deemphasize grades by acknowledging progress made in the learning process, encourage pride in one’s work).   
  • Be clear about which behaviors lead to which consequences, both positive and negative.

We are launching a “Motivation Monday” series here on the SMARTS blog to explore various theories of learning and motivation. Look for the second post which will cover goal orientation theory and growth mindset.

  • 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

Quick Tip: The Power of Common Language

What’s in a name? When it comes to addressing students’ executive function challenges and helping them understand their learning profiles, a structured, systematic, and explicit approach is key. By clearly naming executive function strategies, students can develop an understanding of what strategies are, why they matter, and how they can be applied. 

For Students

When we name and model a strategy, students can begin to think about the strategy’s value and applications in their lives. Take, for example, an organizational strategy like the SMARTS 4C’s strategy (Unit 4 in SMARTS). This strategy helps students organize their materials using the 4C’s (C, C, C, and C). Developing clear and consistent language in the classroom around organization can increase strategy use and ensure that students can refer to the strategy by name later on.

Strategy instruction promotes self-understanding as students are required to think about what strategies they can use, why they will help, and when they can use them. 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. When armed with strategies that they can name and understand, students have options for how they can respond to challenges.

For Educators and Administrators

Naming executive function strategies is also beneficial for educators and administrators. If everyone in a school or learning center is using the same executive function strategies and terms, this shared common language could ultimately lead to a culture shift. Repeated exposure to the same strategies can also help students see that all their teachers are on the same page and that strategies can be applied across classes

  • 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

Executive Branch: Executive Function Strengths

What does it take to be a successful president? Many historians have studied the presidents of the United States to determine what qualities and characteristics lead to a prosperous tenure in office. Unsurprisingly, a well-developed sense of self-understanding and executive function strengths are key! 

A Vision for the Future

While successful presidents must understand the past and remain grounded in the present, they must also look forward to the future. What will they accomplish while in office? What will their legacy be? When campaigning, presidential candidates set many goals that they promise to carry through if elected. While many of these promises are long-term goals, they are made up of short-term goals along the way. To get students thinking about setting their own goals, check out these frameworks for goal setting. These frameworks (including CANDO goals in SMARTS, Unit 2) help students set realistic goals with built-in plans for reaching success. 

Balancing Multiple Opinions and Perspectives

A successful presidency relies on the ability to see situations from multiple perspectives. When balancing many different opinions, it can be easy to get stuck. It is inevitable that all presidents will face opposition to their initiatives, whether from other politicians or from citizens across the country. It is critical that presidents think flexibly and shift perspectives to understand the perspectives of their constituents and gain bipartisan support. 

MetaCOG Online

Are you looking for a way to help students understand their executive function strengths and challenges? MetaCOG Online, an interactive executive function survey system, helps students develop an understanding of their learning profiles (including their EF strength, EF challenge, strategy suggestions, and SMARTS lesson recommendations). MetaCOG Online also provides tools for teachers to collect data about students’ EF strategy use at multiple points throughout the school year. 

  • 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

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

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