Category Archives: Posts

Amishi Jha: How Can We Pay Better Attention to Our Attention?

At ILD, we believe that metacognition — thinking about one’s own thinking — is an essential component of teaching executive function strategies.

The link between metacognition, mindfulness practices, attention, and meditation has been getting a lot of publicity lately, but it can be hard to figure out what ideas are supported by science.

Amishi Jha, a neuroscientist whose research focuses on attention, working memory, and mindfulness, sheds some light on the scientific research about what attention is, how it can be studied, and what mindfulness practices can be used to improve it.

Jha explores the role of attention as “the brain’s boss.” How does attention control us? What can we do when attention is not helping us get our work done efficiently? Jha uses the experiences of a former Marine experiencing the symptoms of PTSD to explore how our emotions and thoughts affect our attention, and the power of mindfulness training to help us regulate our attention.

What did you think of Dr. Jha’s talk? Have you used mindfulness practices and meditation to help improve attention and metacognition? Looking for other ways to integrate opportunities to build metacognition into your teaching? Let us know in the comments!

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

Executive Function and Junk Food

There’s no question that what we eat has a major influence on our day to day behavior and our long term health. But how does what we eat affect our executive function processes?

Unsurprisingly, research has found that healthy foods are correlated to boosted executive function performance, and unhealthy foods are not. Personally, I was very happy to hear that blueberries and smoothies high in antioxidants appear to boost performance on executive function tasks.

The bad news, especially after an indulgent holiday season, is that sugar is not good for executive function. In the short term, eating sugar sends a pleasurable rush to the brain. As the brain seeks out this reward, it undercuts our inhibition to say no to sugary treats, undermining the executive function processes that allow us to delay gratification. Check out this great TedTalk for more on the neuroscience of sugar.

Even worse, unhealthy eating appears to have negative consequences  for our long-term brain health. A study done by Fania Dasseen and Katrijn Houben at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, found a link between obesity and lower reported levels of executive function performance, implying that individuals who struggle to maintain their weight also struggle with executive function tasks.

It is important to note that the study did not find a causal link; it is possible that being obese impedes executive function development, having executive function difficulties predicts the risk of being obese, or a third factor, such as genetics, could explain both.  Regardless, the risk to brain development is real. Another study by Amy Reichelt, at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, found that a diet high in fat and sugar impeded the neuroplasticity of adolescent rats.

The good news is that, by pairing executive function strategies with healthy eating programs, both diet and executive function abilities may be improved. A study by researchers  at Curtin University in Australia taught strategies for cognitive flexibility and improved metacognition and found that participants improved both their eating habits and their performance on executive function related measures

As more research is done to explore the role that food has on our application and development of executive function processes, and the influence executive function strengths and challenges have on diet, educators should be aware and look for opportunities to explore the relationship between diet and executive function in their students’ lives. When discussing healthy eating habits, find ways to teach strategies for eating healthy systematically and explicitly, providing opportunities for students to develop greater self-awareness. When teaching executive function strategies, ask students to reflect on how their diet influences their food choices.

Personally, now that the Christmas cookie season is safely behind us, I’ll be taking some time this January to reflect on the role of junk food in my own diet.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed.

Where Are All the Characters with ADHD? Here!

When kids read or watch a TV show or movie, they are looking for stories that in some way reflect or validate their own experience. That’s why it is so important to provide students with media that reflect the real-world diversity found in the classroom.

We have compiled a list of characters with ADHD diagnoses (or who probably should have a diagnosis). Some of these characters are more appropriate for adults (you may regret showing your kids The Hangover), but there are options for just about any age!

We’d like to say that this is THE comprehensive list of characters with ADHD, but we are really only scratching the surface. By sharing a book, show, or movie where a main character has ADHD, you are showing your students that not only is having ADHD perfectly normal, but oftentimes the traits of ADHD can come in handy as the characters navigate the challenges they face.

Characters with an official ADHD diagnosis

Characters that have many ADHD traits but no diagnosis (perhaps because the term ADHD did not exist)

So, what do you think? Did we miss any of your favorites?

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

h/t:

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/10-movie-and-tv-characters-with-dyslexia?view=slideview

http://www.lyndamullalyhunt.com/books/fish-in-a-tree/ADHD

https://actuallyadhd.tumblr.com/representation

Top 10 Fictional Dyslexic Characters

Why Do Teachers Love ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference?

Looking for a conference where you can learn more about executive function, ADHD, social-emotional outcomes, and how to support the success of all students? We are excited to announce that registration is now open for the 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference!

This year’s Learning Differences Conference will be held on March 20–21, 2020, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA. The conference theme focuses on executive function strategies as the antidote to stress in school.

Participants will explore current work on the importance of executive function strategies in mediating stress and fostering persistence and resilience in students as they navigate the many school challenges. You’ll hear about innovative research and the implications for effective clinical practice and classroom teaching. There will be an emphasis on executive function strategies that benefit all students from kindergarten through the college years and span reading, writing, math, and other content area subjects.

Is this conference for you? Why should you attend? What do other teachers get out of the conference? Samara Gupta, an attendee from last year, shares what she loved about the conference in the video below:

For more detailed information, view the conference brochure and register today.

Hope to see you there!

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

ADHD: Ready or Not! Launching into Young Adulthood – CHADD Conference 2019

Recently we had the privilege of attending the 30th Annual CHADD Conference on November 8, 2019, in Philadelphia, PA. We heard so many terrific talks, some of which we will be discussing on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

One excellent session – ADHD: Ready or Not! Launching into Young Adulthood – featured Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS and Ruth H. Hughes, PhD who shared important insights into why students with ADHD have such difficulty as they enter into their college and adult years.  Parent surveys indicated that:

  • College was challenging – high rate of dropping out
  • Many students had co-occurring disorders
  • Difficulties with relationships, financial management
  • Shorter job tenures than normal
  • Both anxiety and depression appeared to be major factors in adult life.

On the positive side:

  • Job terminations were not more frequent than non-ADHD peers.
  • Given enough time and continued support – many ADHD young adults found successful careers.

Many students had a tough transition to adulthood but found their way to success.

Data presented on college and career paths indicated that:

  • 33% of all students drop out of college but 70-80% of those with ADHD drop out
  • College often a “revolving door” for ADHD
  • Only 3 in 10 parents guide child toward specialized or vocational training.
  • Only 10% of teens seek vocational training, yet there’s a great need for specialized professionals

Why do students have such difficulty?

  • Delayed brain maturity
  • Deficits in executive functions
  • Un-diagnosed/untreated learning challenges
  • Coexisting conditions: Anxiety, depression n Lack confidence b/c previous failures
  • Lack skills for management of independent living and completion of school work.

What can we do to help students have a better transition to adulthood?

  1. Teach them EF skills needed for school and for real life
  2. Provide them with education about alternative pathways
  3. Reframe students and parents thinking about careers – and start early!!!

The 6 Job Skills in High Demand right now:

  • Technology computer skills: CAD (computer aided design)
  • Digital Skills: skills utilizing data and working with AI (Artificial Intelligence).
  • Programming skills for robots/ automation:
  • Working with tools and technology:
  • Analytical problem-solving skills:
  • Ability to adapt to new technology:

Check out more of Chris Dendy’s work at www.chrisdendy.com or follow them on Facebook at @chrisdendyadhd for news updates.

There are many ways for students to launch into successful adults!  Let us help them find their pathway to success. Check out our main ILD site and our sister sites ResearchILD and SMARTS Online

Making Time to Teach Executive Function

No time to teach executive function? It takes less time than you may think. In fact, weaving small bits of executive function strategy instruction into content can have a big impact.

Executive function is becoming recognized as an essential component of successful learning for all students, from reading and setting goals to leading a Fortune 500 company. Despite the mounting research on the importance of strong executive function strategies, instruction has not become widespread.

Why? Part of the problem is teachers’ age-old enemy, time. Teachers are already juggling multiple responsibilities. Executive function, as with other non-academic topics like mindfulness and social and emotional learning (SEL), can feel like just one more thing.

The truth is that it doesn’t have to take a lot of time to teach executive function strategies. While there are executive function strategy curriculums, such as SMARTS, that can fill an entire semester, integrating small bits of executive function instruction into existing content can save time and be extremely effective.

This idea of teaching small bits of executive function, or other non-academic and ‘brain-based’ skills such as empathy or self-control, is a powerful one. A study funded by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative and led by Dr. Stephanie Jones of the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that teachers were not often addressing SEL explicitly in their teaching due to time constraints. In response, Dr. Jones “… began to think about the problem of implementation by brainstorming ways to do SEL in little bites, in small, routine, structure-based ways that you could imbed in a school in a way that is harder to do with a curriculum.”

Dr. Jones and her team developed what they call “kernels,” 10- to 20-minute activities aligned with the day-to-day routine of a classroom but addressing SEL outcomes explicitly.

For example, a teacher might play an icebreaker game or ask a thought-provoking discussion question, then take time to explicitly address the importance of making your thinking visible and being able to shift perspectives.

In SMARTS, we work with teachers to develop “extensions” to executive function, finding natural moments within instruction to introduce an executive function strategy. When introducing a new project, for example, a teacher might model a strategy for breaking down the directions and creating a checklist.

By finding time to share this strategy, the teacher is helping students navigate a challenging aspect of the assignment. What’s more, teaching the strategy in the context of a content assignment helps students to understand how and why to apply it.

Making time to address non-content outcomes can make a difference. Dr. Jones’ study showed that schools that adopted “kernels” for addressing SEL noted a significant reduction in suspension and discipline rates. In SMARTS, our extensions have been an effective way to help all teachers, whether general education or special education, take responsibility for addressing the executive function needs of their students.

So, no matter what subject or age you teach, take some time to reflect. Can you find 20 minutes to teach an executive function strategy your students could use? You won’t regret it if you do.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

3 Tips for Teaching Executive Function and Goal Setting in Schools

As the first quarter of the school year comes into sight, it’s a great time for teaching goal-setting strategies.

Promoting Growth Mindset

By now, students have received their first set of grades and progress reports, giving them some idea of their level of academic performance. By linking grades and progress reports to goal setting and self-reflection, teachers can promote a growth mindset in their students.

Those students whose grades are low are at risk for internalizing a sense of hopelessness; goal setting can help them create a proactive plan to do better. Students whose grades are high are at risk as well; if they are not engaged in reflection, they could easily fall into a fixed mindset, seeing their good grades as a result of being ‘smart’ rather than due to their effort and persistence.

Teaching goal-setting strategies using report cards and progress reports will engage students in the process of reflecting on their strengths and challenges, while creating a plan for how to improve in a way that is meaningful to them.

3 Tips for Goal-Setting Strategies

  • Make sure that students’ goals are appropriately challenging. No matter how successful a student has or hasn’t been, they should select a goal that is hard but not too hard. Encourage students to use “at least” language when they define goals. For example, a student could aim to get “at least a B- on all of my math tests” instead of aiming for “all A’s.” This leads to increased confidence and success.
  • Ensure that students’ goals are connected to their day-to-day lives. While being famous or rich are fine daydreams, they make poor, even dangerous, goals because they do not motivate students in their daily activities. Even if the goal relates to success as an actor, musician, or athlete, make sure that the student has developed ways to work on this goal now, and not in some distant future.
  • When teaching goal setting, address students’ fears directlyToo often students will say that they “don’t have any goals.” To me, this is a sign that the fear of failure prevents them from even naming their goals. Whether you use students’ fears to help set the goals or not, by normalizing this fear, you can help your students begin to create detailed goals and cope with strong feelings such as fear and worry.

Learn More

Follow these three tips and your students will be on the way to creating systematic goals that can guide them throughout the rest of the school year. And remember, it’s not too late for teachers to set their own goals for the year!

Looking to learn more? Check out our Goal Setting overview video, watch a recording of our “Executive Function and Goal Setting” webinar, or check out the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum for strategies to use with your students.

Happy goal setting!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Meet Our New EF Conference Partner: Fusion Academy!

We are excited to announce that Fusion Academy is partnering with us to bring you ResearchILD’s 2019 Executive Function Conference.

Fusion Academy is a national network of schools that specialize in individualized, one-to-one learning. We love their commitment to mentoring and personalized instruction. From their website:

For students struggling in traditional schools, Fusion Academy’s personalized, one-to-one approach to education provides a life-changing middle and high school experience for your child.

Our teacher-mentors meet their students where they are and seek first to understand their unique strengths, interests, and learning style. Once trust is established, they are able to personalize course material and their teaching style so students truly master the subject matter. Students can move at their own pace, whether accelerated or with additional support in our one-to-one classrooms.

Fusion Academy representatives will be on-site at the conference to answer questions and share information about their Burlington and Newton campuses.

There’s still time to register for ResearchILD’s 2019 Executive Function Conference on Friday, October 25, 2019, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Burlington, MA. View the conference agenda and register today!

We look forward to seeing you there!

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

EF Conference Speaker: Dr. Christopher Willard on Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the focus of ResearchILD’s 2019 Executive Function Conference, and we are excited to feature Christopher Willard, PsyD., psychologist and educational consultant specializing in mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a powerful and practical tool to use to empower students to engage with their emotions. All students may struggle with anxiety and emotional regulation when facing challenges in school. Students with learning and attention differences are especially at risk; struggles to maintain focus or sensory processing issues can have a toxic effect on a student’s emotional state. Their mental health and academic performance may suffer if they do not have tools to recognize and cope with powerful negative emotions through strategies that promote self-compassion and resilience.

Dr. Willard works with parents, educators, and counselors, teaching them to embody and teach mindfulness skills to promote resilience in students of any age. His presentations are filled with accessible exercises and ideas for how to adapt mindfulness for the individual needs of children and teens.

You can learn more about Dr. Willard from his interview on Full Pre Frontal Podcast and through his books, Growing Up Mindful: Essential Practices to Help Children, Teens, and Families Find Balance, Calm, and Resilience and Alphabreaths: The A, B, C’s of Mindful Breathing.

Take advantage of this opportunity to hear Dr. Willard speak at ResearchILD’s 10th Annual Executive Function Conference on Friday, October 25, 8:30 am-3:30 pm. Learn more and register today!

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

Project-Based Learning and Executive Function

Thinking about bringing project-based learning to your classroom? You can help students succeed by weaving executive function strategies into every step.

Project-based learning is a hot topic in education these days. By actively engaging in real-world projects, students often experience higher motivation and deeper learning. Students are able to explore issues that are personally meaningful, such as bullying, or make an impact on the community by helping out someone in need, like a homeless shelter or animal rescue. The skills and strategies needed to engage in project-based learning (e.g., organizing, public speaking, research) are essential for success in college and the real world.

Unfortunately, projects don’t always go smoothly and learning opportunities are lost. When we work with schools that are implementing project-based learning, it’s not unusual to hear stories of projects gone wrong: students who don’t understand the point, materials that got jumbled up or lost, or a timeline that left everything to the last minute.

To be successful when implementing project-based learning, executive function must be addressed explicitly. Students need to organize their time and materials, sift and sort information when conducting research, and self-monitor and check their progress.

Here are three steps to follow when thinking through how to integrate executive function into project-based learning.

  1. PLAN – A successful project takes thoughtful time management. This includes both long-term management (setting the timeline for each phase of the project) as well as short-term management (identifying work time and helping students use that time efficiently). Students must be engaged in the planning part of the project. While the teacher may need to do most of the calendar planning, students can create their own personal timeline to gain a sense of the scope of the project.
  2. DO – Project-based learning relies on academic tasks with a high executive function demand (note taking, reading comprehension, breaking down directions). This is the perfect opportunity to teach executive function strategies in the content of an engaging project! Model the successful use of an executive function strategy, and then let students practice this strategy on their project.
  3. REFLECT – Take time to ask students to reflect on how they used executive function strategies within their projects. This helps them to make connections between the problems they are exploring or to apply strategies they used on their project to other areas of their lives.

By explicitly embedding executive function into every step, you’ll increase the success and impact of your students’ project-based learning experience.

Want to learn more? Join us at the 10th Annual Executive Function Conference for a session on “Designing and Assigning Projects through an Executive Function Lens.” We’ll see you there!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director