Online Resources to Help Students Stay Focused and Engaged

The unpredictable shift between in-person, remote, and hybrid schooling has left many students (and their teachers) feeling unsettled and overwhelmed. Activities that promote movement and mindfulness practices can help students cope with anxiety and access the executive function processes they need to successfully engage in learning. Here are some of our favorites from GoNoodle, an online platform that offers videos focused on movement and mindfulness for elementary school students.

Finding Focus

Whether students are returning from recess or transitioning between classes, they may benefit from a brief activity that helps them stay on task. The Strengthen Your Focus video can serve as a reminder for students to use their self-monitoring and self-checking strategies as they work. If students need support focusing on the present moment, have them view From Mindless to Mindful, which is also available in Spanish.

Following Instructions

As students approach winter break, they may need a few reminders to follow instructions. This video from Blazer Fresh encourages students to follow instructions using a framework that includes pausing, looking at the person speaking, nodding to show you understand, starting the task, and asking questions along the way. When students struggle with task initiation, it may help to break down just the instructions and the first step so they know how to get started.

Cognitive Flexibility

Lastly, here is a fun video for students to say hello in 15 different languages. To greet their peers and teachers in another language, students will practice cognitive flexibility by shifting mentally between a familiar salutation and a new one. Students may be excited to learn about the international greetings their peers are familiar with or use at home.

Looking for more tips for hybrid learning? Check out these posts on keeping students engaged and creating transition times during remote learning.

  • 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

15 Relatable ADHD Memes to Brighten Your Day

ADHD makes life hard for students, teachers, parents, everyone! While executive function strategies can help students succeed, sometimes students with ADHD are going to have a tough time. That’s when it is important to let off steam and remember that others face similar ADHD challenges. Here are some of our favorite funny ADHD memes that will hopefully help you, or someone you know, have a good laugh and know that they are not alone.

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We hope that these make you laugh! What are your favorite ADHD memes? 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

Cognitive Flexibility in Trying Times

We are living in an age of polarized perspectives. Whether we are talking about politics, race, or public health, the news and social media are awash in people airing strongly held convictions on what is right. In a world where people splinter away from those with differing viewpoints, we can teach our students the tenets of cognitive flexibility to foster resilience and hope.

What Is Cognitive Flexibility?

Cognitive flexibility is “the ability to think flexibly and to shift perspectives and approaches easily.” In each facet of our lives, we can become set in our ways, clinging to opinions and patterns of thinking that affirm our prior experience and validate our reality. In truth, each individual holds their own version of reality rooted in different truths that inevitably fail to match our own. When our truth doesn’t match the perspective of others, the results range from funny to downright frustrating.

Cognitive flexibility as a concept most easily applies to situations in which we are actively problem-solving, such as compiling sources for a group project, shifting between types of information, or even hiking up a mountain. We can also apply cognitive flexibility to our wider interactions with others.

Right now many of the challenges we face are presented in black-and-white terms. The sharp contrast may lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair in our students and ourselves. As educators, we can model and explicitly teach strategies for cognitive flexibility to keep hope alive.

Identify Obstacles and Solutions

One approach is to teach pathways thinking as part of goal setting. When students set goals, they learn that identifying and overcoming obstacles is a natural part of goal setting. When discussing current events in the classroom, students will probably be able to identify numerous obstacles. As a class, brainstorm various ways to overcome these obstacles. This exercise will help students feel more hopeful and will cultivate a flexible approach to understanding current challenges and solutions.

Be a Role Model

As teachers, we can also model our own cognitive flexibility. Rather than pretending we are unscathed by the many challenges we face, we can show how we acknowledge and address negative experiences. As our students get older and prepare to take on positions of leadership, they benefit from role models who demonstrate persistence and resilience in the face of adversity. Consider ways that you have adapted over the past months and think about how to share your newfound strategies with your students.

While certain realities are non-negotiable, there are still opportunities for helping students analyze and interpret the various facets and perspectives that surround an issue.

  • Iris Jeffries, 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

Cooking a Turkey with Executive Function

Executive function strategies are essential for successful learning. But executive function processes are not just for school; we use executive function strategies in every aspect of our daily lives. With the holidays approaching, let’s explore how you can use executive function strategies to pull off a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is at the heart of executive function. You must understand the endpoint, and the steps it will take to get there if you are going to be successful. This holiday, since I can’t travel home to be with my family, my goal is to cook a delicious meal, complete with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and dessert. I know it’s important to eat healthy food (junk food is bad for my executive function) so I look for recipes that are healthy, tasty, and will feed a small group.

Cognitive Flexibility

Thinking flexibly as you adopt and apply strategies is essential to success. As students get older and take on more challenging academic work, they must shift and adopt new strategies that keep pace with the demands they face. You never know what real-life situations will test your flexible thinking. As I shift from someone who eats the turkey to the person who cooks it, I will need to adopt a new perspective. What new challenges will I face? What new strategies will I have to adopt, and what strategies will I have to leave behind?

Organizing and Prioritizing

Many students and adults may struggle with organization; however, the ability to break down tasks, create categories, and prioritize the steps is a must! As I peruse recipes for roasting a turkey, I review the ingredients and the steps to prepare and cook. My plan and time management rely on accurate time estimation and an organized approach.

Accessing Working Memory

Working memory allows us to access the information we need, whether from short- or long-term memory, as we complete our tasks. In school, we often talk about the working memory demands of following directions or completing a math problem. As I cook my turkey, I will use my working memory to keep up with the recipe.

Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking

Whether you’re cooking, completing your homework, or checking your taxes, self-monitoring and self-checking help us ensure that we are truly doing our best work. Working memory helps us make sense of what is happening around us. As I cook the turkey, I can use a variety of self-checking strategies from making sure I’m following the recipe steps to checking to make sure the turkey is fully cooked.

Metacognitive Awareness

Self-understanding is an often overlooked aspect of executive function strategy use. Developing metacognition is an active process. Knowing what our strengths and challenges are, reflecting on our performance, and deciding how we will apply this knowledge moving forward allows us to become truly independent and strategic, whether as students, teachers, parents, or chefs. As I reflect on my previous cooking adventures, I remember that one time I roasted a chicken and it was too dry. What did I do wrong? How can I apply that knowledge to my Thanksgiving turkey? Better yet, maybe this year we’ll just order a pizza.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the SMARTS Executive Function program! We hope you all have a safe and restful holiday.

  • 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

Classroom Strategies to Promote Executive Function Development

At our recent ResearchILD 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference, we brought together researchers and educators who shared ways to build classroom environments that support students’ executive function development. Here are a few takeaways that you can incorporate into any classroom.

Executive Function and Academics

Dr. Stephanie Carlson, who presented on executive functions and school readiness, described how her research findings have shown that strong executive functioning skills in early childhood are correlated with academic achievement. Cognitive flexibility is particularly important as children accommodate new knowledge and information into their mental schemata. Dr. Carlson shared a game called Bear and Dragon that early childhood educators can play with their students to increase cognitive flexibility and working memory skills.

Visualizing Strategies

Dr. Peg Dawson, author of the Smart but Scattered book series, shared ways of making executive function strategies visible in the classroom. Visualizing executive functions can be a way for students to create mental representations for completing their work. Dr. Dawson suggested displaying posters with questions to help spark students’ metacognition and posting the materials that children will need so they can prepare ahead of time. To help students think strategically, she recommended providing small cards that pair executive functions with descriptive images.

Slow Processing Speed in a Fast-Paced World

How quickly can your students “get things done”? Dr. Ellen Braaten shared her research on how students with slow processing speed may have difficulty processing, assessing, and responding to information. Many children with ADHD or slow processing speed may need support to build their perception of time. To help students form a more accurate sense of passing time, Dr. Braaten emphasized teaching students to use analog clocks and stopwatches. Teachers can also model what it looks like to estimate how long an activity may take.

What is your best classroom tip for promoting executive function development in your students? Check out these links if you’re looking for more ways to have fun with executive function, integrate executive function into your virtual teaching, and set up an EF-friendly classroom

  • 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

The Power of a Mentor

ResearchILD’s 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference brought together educators from across the globe to hear from speakers at the forefront of executive function research and implementation in schools. One idea that rang true across many presentations was the impact that an encouraging mentor or supporter can have on a student’s sense of self-efficacy and success.

Nurturing Resilience

Dr. Robert Brooks, who kicked off the conference, shared ideas about how to nurture resilience in students during challenging times. In order to help students cope effectively in the face of adversity, Dr. Brooks emphasizes that children need a “charismatic adult” from whom they can garner strength. Teachers, who often provide this role, must ensure that their students feel welcomed and supported at school before launching into the instruction of academics and executive function strategies.

This sense of security and community is a key ingredient in creating a classroom context that empowers students. Morning meetings and homeroom times can include opportunities for building student mentorships so students feel heard. Dr. Brooks reminds us that it is crucial to build relationships with students and help them feel a sense of purpose, especially in the era of virtual learning.

The Power of One

Dr. Anthony Bashir, a professor at Emerson College and co-founder of Architects For Learning, led one of the conference’s panels alongside two SMARTS alumni, Chace Nolen and William Warren. Dr. Bashir introduced the idea that a single mentor can help guide students through “liminal space,” a place of uncertainty and unknowing.

Supporting this concept, William described a teacher who never gave up on him, trying multiple strategies until he received the help he needed. Chace, recounting the ways he saw aspects of his younger self in his fifth-grade mentee, noted how the SMARTS program gave him a framework for understanding how his brain worked and how it could grow and change.

The importance of relationships for executive function learning and academic success is clear. Whether it is a “charismatic adult,” a peer in middle or high school, or a friend in elementary school, having someone who believes in us can truly change the story we tell ourselves about our self-worth and strengths.

  • 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

Maintaining a Growth Mindset in 2020

This year has been full of challenging moments that have disrupted our lives, making it easy to sink into negative thinking patterns and an apathetic mindset. By surrendering to apathy, however, we are yielding our sense of control. Believing that your effort matters is key to maintaining a growth mindset.

Time to Reframe

Many of the things that have made 2020 so challenging are beyond our control. However, rather than viewing our efforts to cope with these challenges as fruitless, we can reframe our approach. Even setbacks that we have no control over are an opportunity to learn how to persist.

Many of us, for example, have experienced disruptions in our daily and weekly schedules. We can reframe these disruptions as a newly allocated time to realign our lives with what matters to us. Whether we find new ways to re-energize or explore personal interests, finding small ways we can reclaim control allows us to move beyond bemoaning what we perceive to be missing out on. Small choices can allow us to regain our growth mindset, helping us be more resilient during tough times.

Ask Questions for Self-Understanding

We can also act on the internal monologue that drives our character by asking questions. For example:

  1. What challenges am I experiencing?
  2. What can I do to persist in the face of setbacks?
  3. What criticisms of me have I been indignant towards?
  4. How can I address them in a productive way to grow as a person?
  5. Who can I channel as a model for the traits I aspire to embody?

By asking these types of questions, we understand ourselves better (key to addressing challenges strategically) and avoid surrendering to a fixed mindset. Even as we encounter injustice and the unknown, we can choose to apply what we know about ourselves to charting a course through, promoting hope instead of despair.

We are not what we feel, but we feel many things throughout the day as a result of our mindset and approach to the world. By shifting our approach from something fixed to something more generative, we engage with the potential that has yet to be reached.

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern

Why Do You Come to ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Virtual Conference?

Are you looking for a conference where you can learn about learning differences and how executive function strategies can help mediate stress and foster persistence and resilience?

We are excited to announce that registration is open for the 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference — now presented virtually!

This year’s conference will take place over Zoom from October 8 – 10, 2020. Conference participants will:

  • Explore innovative research and the implications for effective clinical practice and classroom teaching.
  • Learn about executive function strategies that benefit all students from kindergarten into high school and the college years and span reading, writing, math, and other content area subjects.
  • Receive a Certificate of Participation for 12 hours of instruction.

This year is the 35th anniversary of our Learning Differences Conference. What brings back our attendees year after year? Stephen Stuntz, Assistant Director of Instructional Support for Woodstock Vermont area schools, shares why he attends in the video below:

To find out more, check out these posts about the LD Conference.

Register today. Hope to see you there!

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

3 Strategies to Help Students Manage Stress

The start of the school year can be stressful for teachers and students alike. This year, with the uncertainty between remote learning, in-person instruction, and complicated hybrid models, stress is at an all time high.

How can we help our students navigate the emotional impact of this challenging time? Here are three general strategies you can teach for managing stress:

1. Identify stress

The impact of stress is not always obvious. When we are feeling stressed out, it is challenging to stop and say to ourselves, “This is stress that I’m feeling.” Instead, the effects of stress make us lash out at others or ourselves. By teaching students how too much stress feels, they will be better able to understand the effect stress has and resist self-destructive impulses.

2. Create a context to control stress

One of the easiest ways to control stress is to minimize the chances of being overwhelmed. This means paying attention to things like sleep, exercise, and nutrition, which help our body to regulate stress.

We can also help students understand their personal stressors. What tasks or situations do they find stressful? How can they control their environment to support themselves when facing  these moments? For example, if a student finds their math homework to be stressful, they could consider starting their homework with the teacher or a buddy to minimize stress.

3. Reduce stress, don’t eliminate it

The goal of managing stress is not to remove all stress. Stress is a natural part of life; it’s what makes us get to school on time and pay attention to our deadlines and obligations. Help students see that stress is an opportunity to learn more about who we are and what we need to succeed. When we understand what stresses us out and the strategies that help us in those moments, we can bring our stress level down to where it can be managed and worked through.

Interested in learning more about how to help students manage their stress in school?  David Anderson, Ph.D., the Senior Director of the Child Mind Institute, is presenting a talk titled, “Stress Management Strategies to Accelerate Student Performance” at this year’s Learning Differences Conference. You can learn more and register here.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

Managing Emotions and Expectations Around School

During these difficult times, we know that many students are feeling anxiety and intense emotions, especially about school. It can be hard for parents to know how to help their children. That’s why we felt it was important to share information about an upcoming webinar that McLean Hospital is presenting: Managing Emotions and Expectations Around School.

From the McLean website:

Everything You Want to Know About School and Anxiety

Whether children are returning full-time in person to school, part-time, or fully remote for their year, this uncharted territory for education has caused anxiety for kids and parents alike. Regardless of the environment they’ll be learning in, it’s important to manage the expectations of kids and help with their transition into a new school year. How can we help support them and lower their anxieties while also balancing work and parenting?

Join us live on Wednesday, August 26 at 12pm EST as Dr. Macht-Greenberg will share ways to support the new educational experience, methods to successfully balance the many demands that come with parenting, working, and teaching kids during a pandemic, and answers your questions about child development and returning to school.

Register here!

Would you like us to highlight more resources like this in the future? Let us know in the comments!

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