Category Archives: Recommendations

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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:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

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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:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

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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.


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:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

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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:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

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Motivation Monday: Cultural Responsiveness

Why we need to consider culture when assessing student motivation

As educators, we talk a lot about using research-based practices. However, data shows(link opens in new tab/window) that 96% of participants in educational psychology research are from WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic)(link opens in new tab/window) countries, even though only 12% of the world population live in WEIRD areas. In light of this stunning disparity, 21st-century researchers have begun investigating whether patterns of motivation vary across diverse populations.

So far, the answer to this question has been a resounding yes; it is inequitable to solely rely on models of motivation based on WEIRD research. The distinctions in motivational forces across Western and Non-Western, collectivist and individualistic(link opens in new tab/window), and even generational and community cultures call for student and family-centered adaptations of motivational theories to classrooms.


You may be wondering, what can I do if “research-based practices” might not apply to my students?

 The good news is that many motivation experts, administrators, and educators have suggestions for how to account for and embrace cultural diversity when addressing student motivation in the classroom. These suggestions include:

  • Reflect on your own biases and assumptions regarding whether and why some students are “inherently” motivated or unmotivated. How can you challenge any assumptions you identify?
  • Consider using a beginning-of-the-year questionnaire(link opens in new tab/window) to ask caregivers what motivates their children. You might be surprised by the variety of extrinsic, intrinsic, relational and aspirational motivators parents and guardians name.
  • Adopt culturally sustaining teaching practices. Culturally sustaining pedagogy extends beyond the reach of culturally relevant pedagogy by incorporating rather than simply complimenting students’ diverse wealth of cultural knowledge into classroom instruction.

Interested in more information about theories of learning and motivation? Take a look at our posts on Behaviorism, Goal Orientation Theory and Growth Mindset, Expectancy-Value Theory and Self-Determination Theory.

  • Taylor McKenna, M.A., SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development: