All posts by Bethany

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 next to piles of coins

Teaching Financial Literacy with EF Strategies, Part 2

This post is part of a series that highlights ways to teach financial literacy with executive function strategies. It’s never too early to teach your students financial literacy and EF strategies that can have a lasting impact (link opens in new tab/window)↗.

Goal Setting + Life Beyond High School

Teaching students to set goals and monitor their progress is an essential part of setting them up for long-term success. To help students set goals for college and careers, begin with exercises that promote self-understanding around their strengths, challenges, interests, hobbies, and more. Encourage students to define the what, why, and how of their goals, and provide opportunities for them to envision what their life might look like beyond middle and high school. 

After high school, students have many options such as four-year colleges, two-year colleges, and trade schools. These options can vary in terms of time and cost, so it is beneficial to help students consider the return on investment (ROI).

For students who are considering college, the Education Data Initiative offers research and resources to tackle the rising costs of higher education. They have several resources that can help students balance their long-term goals and the cost of higher education(link opens in new tab/window) .

If students are unsure of their path, taking a semester or year off can help students gain experience, develop self-understanding, and find clarity about their path forward. 

Once students determine the outcomes they would like to achieve, encourage them to monitor their goals and consider obstacles that might arise. CANDO Goals Lesson from unit 2 of the SMARTS Curriculum is an excellent way to get students thinking about setting meaningful goals

Stay tuned for part 3 of our EF and Financial Literacy series. 

  • 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

Student reading with hands on head

Parent Perspective: Why Our Kids Say “Can’t”

As a student with ADHD and dyslexia, my daughter started hearing about all the ways she was “bad” at a very young age. She was told she can’t sit still, can’t be quiet, can’t read, can’t write, can’t complete worksheets, can’t do grade-level work, and more. Every day in the classroom, she took in these negative messages and her reaction was expectedly negative. She developed anxiety and depression, and then was told she can’t control her emotions. 

She was punished and excluded at school. She was put in the corner, in isolation, in the hallway, in pull-out classes, and even suspended once in fourth grade. The message was clear: she can’t be included. 

Now in high school, it is difficult for her to have a growth mindset, and she is shamed for feeling pessimistic. She’s told she just shouldn’t say “I can’t”; she should say “I’ll keep trying!” Although most people can’t see it, she is trying, and trying really hard

Like my daughter, many students with learning differences have had negative experiences in school that have shaped their beliefs and attitudes about themselves and school. To undo this requires complicated, long-term hard work. She needs more than sound bites about grit and growth mindset; she needs real support for her differences, including her emotional differences.  

It’s been a challenging year for everyone. Modeling resilience for students can help them feel hopeful and like they “can.” 

  • Parent of LD High School Student

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Three high school students in science class

Motivation Monday: Flow State

Can you remember the last time you completed a task and were really “in the zone”? Positive psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura (Claremont Graduate University) describe this mental state as flow state. (link opens in new tab/window) Achieving flow state is about the careful balancing of skill level (low, medium, or high) with challenge level (low, medium, or high). 

A graph displaying skill level on the x-axis and challenge level on the y-axis. Flow state is achieved when skill and challenge levels are both high.
Courtesy of Amber Case on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/caseorganic/5528981189

Those who have experienced flow state describe feeling the following characteristics:

  1. Intense moments of concentration
  2. Deep involvement in task; merging of action and awareness
  3. Feelings of control over one’s actions
  4. Thorough enjoyment of the task at hand
  5. Time feels like it flies by

Why it matters for education

Helping students reach flow state means helping them balance their skill levels with the appropriate level of challenge. This process can start with activities that promote self-awareness and self-understanding. When students reach this state, they will feel successful, confident, and empowered.

The research around flow state can also have a positive impact on the way educators approach deep learning and the structure of the school day(link opens in new tab/window) . While the noise and energy of a bustling classroom may be beneficial for some students, constantly shifting attention from one subject to another after brief periods of time can prevent students from reaching flow state. When time and other factors allow, offering students extended periods of time (with short movement, brain, or sensory breaks) can allow them to engage more deeply with tasks and topics. 

Takeaways

  • 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 next to piles of coins

Teaching Financial Literacy with EF Strategies, Part 1

According to a study by FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) Investor Education Foundation(link opens in new tab/window), four in five young people are not able to successfully complete a financial literacy quiz. Since the Great Recession in 2008, financial literacy has declined across all demographics, but it is especially true for Millennials and Generation Z. One approach to boost your students’ financial literacy is teaching executive function strategies that foster skills in organizing, prioritizing, self-reflection, and flexibility.  It’s never too early to teach your students financial literacy and EF strategies that can have a lasting impact(link opens in new tab/window)

Planning + Loans 

Taking out a loan to help pay for college or a car is a substantial decision that can affect a person’s financial status in the long run. Teaching your students strategies for long-term organizing and prioritizing of materials and time (Unit 4 in SMARTS) is an excellent place to start. Encourage students to explore their obligations (have to’s), aspirations (want to’s), and negotiations when it comes to their time, activities, and lifestyle. Loans, interest rates, and inflation also offer real-world scenarios that can be explored in math classes across the grades

Some ideas for helping students plan for loans include:

  • What are the terms and fees associated with the loan? 
  • Are there prepayment penalties? 
  • Have they considered options to lower the interest rate, such as enrolling in automatic debit payments? 
  • Are they eligible to enroll in an income-driven repayment plan?

Shifting Flexibly + Budgeting

Strong budgeting skills are at the heart of setting oneself up for financial success. In order to create and maintain an accurate budget, students can first engage in activities that promote self-reflection and self-understanding. This is another element of personal finance where students can determine their spending “have to’s” and “want to’s”. What interests, hobbies, and activities are priorities that students should budget for? Playing games that encourage real-life budgeting(link opens in new tab/window) is a fun and low-stakes way to explore what it means to budget. When it comes to budgeting, students will need to remain flexible; unexpected costs can arise, so encouraging students to set aside a monthly stipend for last-minute emergency costs can prepare them for the unexpected.  

Stay tuned for part 2 of our EF and Financial Literacy series. 

  • 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

Student leaning over book with thought bubble

Motivation Monday: Attribution Theory

Attribution theory asserts that motivation depends on learners’ interpretations of their past successes and failures. Specifically, learner conceptualizations of the locus, stability, and controllability of past successful or failed outcomes influence if and how hard learners will try on similar tasks going forward. Here are some examples of what these characteristics(link opens in new tab/window)  might look like:

  • Locus: Was I successful on that test because I studied hard (internal factor) or because I got lucky (external factor)?
  • Stability: Will my effort/luck stay the same (stable) or change (unstable) over time?
  • Controllability: Can I control whether I do well on the next test (controllable) or is my success out of my hands (uncontrollable)?

Why it matters for education

Educators can play a critical role in helping students foster adaptive attribution styles. The benefits of certain attribution patterns are situationally relative. For example, an external attribution for a disagreement with a friend (“They were just having a tough day”) may benefit a student’s mental health. Contrarily, an external attribution for poor performance on a test (“It was my teacher’s fault”) may be maladaptive to a student’s motivation to put in effort on future assignments.

Takeaways

In education contexts, students are most likely to adaptively approach setbacks when they see challenges as internal, unstable, and controllable. A student with this attribution pattern might tell themselves after they perform poorly on a test, “I didn’t study in the best way for me, and I can make adjustments to how I prepare in order to improve next time.”

To help learners adopt adaptive attribution styles, consider the following approaches:

  • Teach students to see their success and failure as a product of their own effort (rather than ability). Statements like, “Great work—I can tell you studied a lot!” can go a long way.
  • Give students specific feedback. For example, when handing back a math worksheet, say, “It looks like you struggled most with dividing fractions on this assignment.”
  • Help students understand that failures can be addressed with appropriate strategy use. For the math worksheet example above, you might follow up with, “What strategy has worked for you in the past for mastering multiplying fractions? How can you apply a similar strategy to division?”
  • Create a classroom culture that values effort and persistence over being smart or good at a subject. If your students enjoy public praise, recognize students who you can tell work hard to improve their learning.
  • Taylor McKenna, M.A., 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

Two students giving a presentation about reptiles and amphibians while holding a reptile.

Motivation Monday: Constructivism

Constructivism is a theory of learning (link opens in new tab/window) that revolves around the idea that learners construct their own knowledge based on personal experiences and within their sociocultural contexts. In other words, knowledge cannot be separated from the context in which it occurs. Constructivists also believe that the motivation to learn is inherent within the learner, personal, and a prerequisite to successful learning.

Why it matters for education

Constructivism posits that many people learn best when they are allowed to discover essential information for themselves after working through a partially guided segment or lesson. (In the SMARTS curriculum, students engage in a metacognitive activator, guided instruction, independent practice, and reflection).

Constructivism also has clear connections to real-world learning across the subjects. For example, one study found(link opens in new tab/window) that students were more motivated to learn science topics when they had more opportunities to relate their learning to real-world issues. 

Takeaways

  • 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

Image containing two pieces of paper with printed text, a magnifying glass, pencil, and pen

Students Speak: What Is Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking?

What exactly does it mean to monitor and check our work? Self-monitoring and self-checking are two executive function areas that are often overlooked and not explicitly taught. In the SMARTS curriculum, these areas are clearly defined and modeled for students.

  • Self-monitoring is an ongoing process of noticing what one is doing.
  • Self-checking is the process of finding and correcting mistakes in one’s work.

What do students think about self-monitoring and self-checking? Throughout ResearchILD’s Student Ambassador Program this fall, students were encouraged to collectively think about their thinking and how executive function processes impact their day-to-day experiences in school and at home. Here are some of their ideas about what self-monitoring and self-checking mean to them:

Students Speak: What do self-monitoring and self-checking mean to you?

  • “Checking my language and tone while speaking with various people/making sure I recall certain facts.”
  • “Correcting and checking your own work.”
  • “Self monitoring and self checking is how to act in different environments.”
  • “Self-monitoring means having the ability to change how you act in different places or situations. Self-checking means the ability to make a list to keep you organized for whatever activity you are doing.”

Students Speak: What is one way that you monitor your progress or self-check?

  • “I look back on myself and my actions and try to think if they were smart or not.”
  • “I make a list.”
  • “Plan ahead and adjust accordingly by making mental checks to complete each day.”
  • “One way that I monitor my own progress or self-check is by saying to myself what I have to do for the activity I am doing.”

How to Encourage Students to Self-Monitor and Self-Check

Students struggle with self-monitoring when they don’t check what they are doing and have trouble setting goals for themselves. Strategies that improve self-awareness can help strengthen students’ ability to self-monitor and refocus.

  • Be clear about which materials students need to bring to and from school.
  • Set aside time for self-checking at the start and end of the school day and after students complete assignments.
  • Utilize theater games and literacy activities, such as Reader’s Theater, to help students monitor their tone, voice, and actions. 
  • Attend our free webinar on May 10: Executive Function and Self-Checking: Helping Students Learn from Their Mistakes. Learn more and register
  • 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

Stressed student reads while surrounded by books

The Perfectionism-Procrastination Paradox

When students hand in assignments close to a deadline, it can be easy to label them as lazy, forgetful, or unmotivated. Surprisingly, research has shown that many procrastinators are perfectionists (link opens in new tab/window). For these students, the desire to get every element just right can be paralyzing and prevent them from getting started, despite their best intentions. Teaching executive function strategies can help “perfectionist-procrastinators” reframe their thinking and develop a realistic understanding of time. 

Hard Habits to Break

Breaking the perfectionism-procrastination cycle can be difficult. If the assignment doesn’t go well, there is a built-in excuse of lack of time: “Oh, I would have done better if I had more time.” If the assignment goes well, there is little incentive for students to change their ways.

All or Nothing

Many perfectionist-procrastinators engage in all-or-nothing thinking patterns. Take, for example, a multi-step project or research paper. Getting started can be daunting when students view the project as an overwhelming whole instead of something that they can break down into actionable parts. By teaching the Purposeful Highlighting strategy (from Unit 3 of SMARTS Elementary), you can help students learn to break down multi-step instructions into a numbered checklist. Purposeful Highlighting is a way for students to break down directions and identify multiple perspectives when reading or taking notes. This strategy helps students highlight effectively and avoid over-highlighting (“yellow page syndrome”).

Reestablish Reasonable Expectations

Perfectionist-procrastinators often struggle to initiate tasks when they are worried about making a mistake. Before students start their work, encourage them to reflect on the root causes of their perfectionism and procrastination tendencies. Fear and negative self-perceptions often go hand-in-hand with perfectionism and procrastination. Encourage self-compassion as students strive to change their studying and learning behaviors. Remind students that they can always revise their work and ideas along the way, so the first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Understanding Time

Another element that complicates task initiation is a tenuous understanding of time. Students tend to overestimate how long tasks will take, especially undesirable or difficult tasks. When it comes to getting started, encourage students to choose one task and estimate how long they think the task will take. Once students set a timer and get started, they might realize that they can get more done in a shorter period of time than they originally thought. 

What are your best tips for beating procrastination?   

  • 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