Category Archives: Executive Function

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

36th Annual EF Conference Spotlight: Concurrent Presentations

This is the eighth post in a series that highlights the speakers of this year’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference, which will focus on promoting resilience and equity for ALL students.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn More

You can learn more about the concurrent speakers and their work by attending ResearchILD’s 36th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 11th and 12th.

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

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Lessons from ResearchILD’s 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows: Part 1

All educators play a crucial role in counteracting systemic racism and developing new and equitable approaches that support the success of every student. During the 2020-2021 school year, we launched our Executive Function (EF) and Equity Fellowship, bringing together six educators from across the US to explore how schools are addressing students’ executive function needs through an equity lens. This post, part one of a series, highlights the work of our 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellows.

Meet Your Students Where They Are 

Considering the learning context in which students operate is vital for successful EF strategy instruction. Dr. Kayoung Kim, a 2020-2021 EF and Equity Fellow and assistant professor of psychology at Tennessee State University, a historically black college and university (HBCU), worked closely with her students of color to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of her students were motivated but not college-ready, and she was aware that intergenerational trauma was affecting students. While students were balancing school, families, and work, barriers prevented them from accessing supports, ranging from students not knowing how or where to access supports to a lack of time

To address these issues, Dr. Kim implemented a trauma-informed metacognitive skills training course for first-semester freshmen that focused on time management. Her students completed time-waster analyses to understand the breakdown of their days. They then took time to reflect on their analyses to develop weekly or semester-long study plans. Self-reflection, explained Dr. Kim, was a critical part of this process.

Dr. Kim’s work is an example of trauma-informed teaching with students’ identities in mind. Throughout the academic year, Dr. Kim maintained open channels of communication with her students and held space for them to express how they learn best.

Equity Through Executive Function 

ResearchILD’s mission, under the direction of Dr. Lynn Meltzer, is to empower ALL students to learn how to learn and to promote persistence and resilience through executive function strategies that build academic and life success.

At ResearchILD, we work closely with teachers and administrators to integrate executive function strategy instruction into project-based learning with an emphasis on student and community empowerment. Teaching executive function strategies systematically through the SMARTS curriculum is a tool for equity—it ensures that all students have strategies to draw upon when they face novel challenges in their academic and personal lives.

Are you interested in applying to be a 2021-2022 EF and Equity Fellow? Learn more about the fellowship and application process

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Homeschooling: How to Build Executive Function Strategies, Part 1

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

Executive Function at School and Home

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

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

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

Promote Metacognition about Executive Function

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

Teach Executive Function Strategies within Academic Tasks

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

Introduce Executive Function Strategies in the Home

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

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

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

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Executive Function and Universal Design for Learning

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

What is Universal Design for Learning?

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

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

UDL and Executive Function

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

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

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

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

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Learning Recovery: Re-Engage Students with Executive Function

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

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

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

Build Academic Strength

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

Promote Metacognition

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

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

Help Students Learn to Focus

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

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org