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College Executive Function Learning Differences

Interviewing an EF Expert, Part 2

Top Tier Admissions(link opens in new tab/window), a company devoted to empowering students from around the world in the college and graduate school admissions process, recently interviewed ResearchILD’s very own Shelly Levy*, M.Ed., M.S., who is a leader in the field of learning development.

Shelly’s interview is a rich resource on executive function, and we will be diving into pieces of it here over the next few weeks (read all posts). 

How does executive function impact learning?

Shelly’s response: Executive function processes are essential for academic success, and we use them every day. Starting from elementary school on, executive function processes affect many academic areas. They are critically important for reading comprehension, written language, math problem solving, long-term projects, studying, and taking tests. In other words, everything we expect our teenagers to do every day in school.

The role of metacognition

The ability to engage with these executive function processes relies on students’ metacognition (also known as self-understanding). Metacognition is a topic we cover frequently here on the SMARTS blog. It’s impossible to define executive function without also considering metacognition.

Metacognitive awareness refers to students’ understanding and beliefs of how they think and learn as well as the strategies they can use to complete specific tasks. When students do not have executive function strategies, they lack an understanding of the way they learn best, their belief in their ability to succeed suffers, and they are unmotivated to put forth effort. When students know what strategies they need to be successful, they learn more about their personal strengths and challenges, which improves their belief in their abilities and motivates them to put in more effort, particularly for challenging tasks.

How can you promote metacognition for your students?

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

*Shelly Levy is the Director of SMARTS Training and an Educational Specialist at The Research Institute for Learning and Development in Lexington, MA. She has been in the field of special education for over 30 years.

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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ADHD EF Conference Executive Function

Understanding Executive Function and ADHD

This post is part of a series that highlights themes and takeaways from ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference: Executive Function & Social-Emotional Learning: Promoting Resilience, Stress Management, and Academic Success. 

ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference provided a space for important discussions about using executive function strategies to reduce stress and promote social-emotional learning. One subject that was discussed by multiple speakers was ADHD — how it relates to executive function and how to understand it through a strength-based approach.

Smart but Stuck 

On day one of the conference, Dr. Thomas E. Brown(link opens in new tab/window) shared insights into ADHD and how executive function impairments affect the ability of people with ADHD to do certain activities. Dr. Brown is a clinical professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the University of California, Riverside and was a past clinical faculty member in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine.

Drawing from his years working with and talking to people who have ADHD, Dr. Brown emphasized that every single person with ADHD has activities that they are able to focus on as well as other activities on which they aren’t able to focus at all.

Dr. Brown also stressed the role that emotions play in ADHD. Each person has different emotions that they are particularly vulnerable to. He compared emotions to chocolate chip cookies – they are often blended, layered, or mixed. Context is important, whether it is where you are or who you are with. Sometimes emotions take up too much space, and such intensity can lead to a reduction in sensitivity to other information.

How to Win Races with a Runaway Brain

On the second day of the conference, Dr. Edward Hallowell(link opens in new tab/window) pushed for a new way of thinking and talking about ADHD. “Depending on how you manage it, it can be either an asset or a liability in your life… it can also make your life.”

As the founder of the Hallowell ADHD Centers and past faculty member of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Hallowell has 40+ years of clinical experience working with people with ADHD. He stressed the importance of connection in learning. The beauty of connection is that it is fun, free, and in infinite supply.

Through his talk, Dr. Hallowell shared ways that parents of students with ADHD can help their children. For example, people with ADHD crave stimulation and cannot tolerate boredom because contentment is too bland. Dr. Hallowell thus encourages students to find a creative outlet. For him, it was writing. Through his lived experiences as someone who grew up with ADHD and has family members who have ADHD, Dr. Hallowell emphasized that anyone with ADHD can live a fulfilling life; it is all about the perspective and how you approach it.

  • Andrea Foo, 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

Categories
focus Memory Metacognition

Thankful for Thinking

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.

Here’s some food for thought for this Thanksgiving: What are the benefits of letting our minds meander? We often push our students to remain on-task and focused during the school day, but it’s impossible to avoid letting our minds wander once in a while.

For biological and psychological reasons, humans hardly “do nothing.” When we add in the constant connection, noise, and busyness of our modern world, we’re probably always doing something (like checking email or sending a message), even when we feel like we’re doing nothing.

It turns out, however, that there are many benefits to mind wandering(link opens in new tab/window), including creativity and a positive mood. When we allow ourselves space to brainstorm and wonder, we can shift out of auto-pilot and make new connections.

Mind wandering requires shifting into a reflective space. This is a good reminder to make time for reflection and giving thanks in the classroom, too!

In SMARTS, empowering students through metacognition is the name of the game. We use strategy reflection as an opportunity to ask questions that build students’ self-awareness. These reflections can take place at the beginning or end of a lesson, after a major assignment (such as a test or essay), after students receive a progress report or report card, and even in preparation for a parent-teacher conference or IEP meeting.

One idea for reflection could be to encourage students to list everything they are wondering about before or after learning new content, and they can also list thoughts that pop up along the way.

This Thanksgiving, let’s think about and give thanks for reflective thinking and letting our minds wander!

  • 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

Categories
Executive Function Recommendations ResearchILD

Interviewing an EF Expert, Part 1

Top Tier Admissions(link opens in new tab/window), a company devoted to empowering students from around the world in the college and graduate school admissions process, recently interviewed ResearchILD’s very own Shelly Levy*, M.Ed., M.S., who is a leader in the field of learning development. Shelly’s interview is a rich resource on executive function, and we will be diving into pieces of it here on the SMARTS blog over the next few weeks.

What is executive function and how does it impact learning?

Shelly’s response: If you Google the term “executive function,” you might notice that EF is a hot topic. There are a lot of resources and definitions out there, with doctors, neuroscientists, researchers, psychologists, teachers, and parents all claiming that they have the official definition of EF and the best approach. Some researchers claim that there is only one executive function process while others say there are up to 39 executive function processes!

It can be quite difficult to define executive function (EF), and this has a considerable impact on students who struggle with executive function, and especially those who learn differently.

The concept of executive function is interdisciplinary in nature; it is influenced by neuroscience, psychology, and education, and each field has interpreted and explained executive function differently. In addition, various components of executive function often overlap, and this confusion is reflected in the varying definitions of executive function offered by leading researchers in these fields.

Defining executive function the SMARTS way

When it comes to supporting the success of all students, it’s important to use approaches to EF that are clear to everyone. The definition we use as the core of the SMARTS curriculum is based on the work and research of Dr. Lynn Meltzer, who stresses the importance of translating theory and research in a way that is easy to access for practitioners.

Dr. Meltzer defines executive function as a broad term used to describe the complex cognitive processes that are the foundation for flexible, goal-directed behaviors.

Key executive function processes include:

  • Shifting flexibly (cognitive flexibility)
  • Goal setting
  • Organizing and prioritizing
  • Accessing working memory
  • Self-monitoring and self-checking.

Each of these executive function processes plays a crucial role in success, whether in school or in life. When teachers and their students can easily see how these processes are involved in learning, they can create strategies to address them.

Where do you see these processes arise for your students?

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

*Shelly Levy is the Director of SMARTS Training & an Educational Specialist at The Research Institute for Learning and Development in Lexington, MA. She has been in the field of Special Education for over 30 years.

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
EF Conference growth mindset Social-Emotional Learning

Learning to Give Students Grace

This post is part of a series that highlights themes and takeaways from ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference: Executive Function & Social-Emotional Learning: Promoting Resilience, Stress Management, and Academic Success. 

Teachers play an important role in students’ lives. Teachers are expected to juggle delivering more content year after year, and they are also responsible for their students’ well-being. It is understandable why some teachers push back against additional social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons. Most teachers simply don’t have the time.

However, presenter after presenter at ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference made it clear that we are at a place where students cannot learn without explicit SEL lessons. As Rose Delorme Metayer, M.Ed., director of the McCarthy Institute at Boston Latin School, said on the SMARTS School Panel:

I think the biggest thing for me when doing this work is remembering that young people need a lot of grace.

As teachers, how can we give our students grace and the space to make mistakes? How can we teach them to grow from these mistakes while staying on learning goals for the year?

There is no easy solution, but pairing SEL and executive function strategies is a way to start. With explicit executive function strategies, students can learn how to learn more efficiently. They can self-monitor, stay on task, and learn how to reach and set their own goals.

As Ned Hallowell, M.D., child and adult psychiatrist and founder of the Hallowell ADHD Centers, stated,

Kids need hugs, and touch, and expressions of love, and reassurance and you just cannot say it enough. They need daily doses of reassurance.

A teacher can be one person in students’ lives to give them the daily dose of reassurance, the grace to learn, and the space to grow.

And, as teachers, we need to give ourselves grace and reassurance. By making time for ourselves and for reflection, we will be better able to offer our students the support they need to thrive.

  • Tziona Chernoff, 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

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EF Conference Goal Setting Homeschool parent perspective

EF at Home: Goal Setting, Part 2

This is the second part of a two-part series on EF at Home: Goal Setting. You can read Part 1 here

When children create personalized and achievable goals that are CANDO (Clear, Appropriate, Numerical, Doable, and with Obstacles considered), they are positioned to succeed. Here are some practical tips for helping children set effective goals and monitor their progress.

Begin with Simple Goals

Start with straightforward goal areas that are motivating for your child. These might include:

  • Sports or Activities – Set goals related to sports or activities that your child has chosen and for which they are already motivated. Perhaps your child is trying to earn scout badges or master a certain instrumental piece or sports technique.
  • Household Projects – Set goals as a family (e.g., household cleaning or renovation projects) so you can work together to achieve success. You can also set individual goals for around the house (e.g., organizing a room or training a dog).
  • Academics – Begin with goals that are likely to be met easily to build confidence; then move toward goals for challenging tasks or subject areas. You can start by setting goals for homework completion for one day or for studying for a particular test.

As you focus on any goal area, remember that you want your child to see results and feel accomplished. Be careful about goals related only to outcomes (e.g., grades, points scored, medals) that may depend on the behaviors or standards of others. Instead, target goals that connect to the process of improvement (e.g., studying or practicing for so many hours per week).

Practice Monitoring Goal Progress

Setting goals is just the first step. If we write down a goal and put it in a drawer, it never gets done. Once your child has set an effective goal and identified short-term steps to reach it, you can help your child monitor and reflect on their progress. Use a calendar or planner to remind you and your child to revisit the goal and discuss whether progress is being made.

In the beginning, you will have to support your child in developing realistic self-assessment. Your child may say, “Yup, I’m doing it.” You may need to gently correct the assessment by asking questions about the timeline or the completion of short-term steps leading to the larger goal. You may even need to provide information about what you have observed—at least in the beginning. As your child practices checking goal progress, you can provide less direct support while encouraging your child to decide how to celebrate accomplishments.

Wrapping Up

Goal setting allows us to have a say in what we want to have, be, or do. By teaching children strategies for goal setting, along with sharing our own use of goal setting, we can start them on the path to goal-directed accomplishments!

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

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
EF Conference Goal Setting Homeschool parent perspective

EF at Home: Goal Setting, Part 1

To children, goal setting may seem like one of those things that adults do—and maybe only those highly successful adults that children see on television or in the movies. Many adults, in fact, simply have dreams (goals without deadlines!), and very few adults truly understand how to set effective goals and implement them. How then can we possibly expect our children to become good goal-setters?

Goal setting may not be part of the school or homeschool curriculum—but it could be. Either way, goal setting is something you can practice with your children at home. Here are some suggestions.

Teach a Goal-Setting Strategy

Start with suggesting a goal-setting strategy that is both easy to remember and effective. In the SMARTS Curriculum, we teach CANDO goal setting, which includes the following five criteria:

  • C – Clear: Goals must be clear and specific. Avoid words like “better” or “more” that simply show a direction. What, actually, do you want to accomplish?
  • A – Appropriate: Goals must be realistic, based on where you are starting, and also relevant to what you need or want. Make sure goals are next steps rather than “pie-in-the-sky” ideas of what you think might be nice.
  • N – Numerical: Goals must be measurable, so you can check whether or not you are meeting your goal. Can you use a number or percentage or some other amount to quantify what you are trying to do?
  • D – Doable: Larger goals must be broken down into short-term goals so that you can reach (and celebrate) those short-term goals along the way. What are the steps you need to take to accomplish what you want?
  • O – Obstacles Considered: Goals must be considered in terms of obstacles that might arise and possible solutions to those obstacles. What is likely to get in the way? What do you have going for you?

By teaching and modeling goal setting, your child can learn an important life skill. To learn more about the SMARTS Curriculum and information for homeschoolers and parents of school-aged children, we invite you to attend the 37th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 3 and 4, 2022, to hear from Michael Greschler, M.Ed. and Mindy Scirri, Ph.D.

Wearing Your Shoes: Teachers Collaborating with Parents to Promote Executive Function at School and at Home

In this workshop, Michael Greschler, M.Ed., and Mindy Scirri, Ph.D., will explore the impact of differing perspectives between teachers and parents/guardians, as well as practical strategies for collaborating with families to support students. Participants will learn strategies from the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum, review strategy instruction materials developed to support EF at home, and explore hands-on activities for bridging the gap between school and home.

Tune in tomrrow for Part 2 of this blog post to learn practical tips for goal setting and monitoring progress toward goals.

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

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
College Learning Differences parent perspective

Parent Perspective: Is It Time to Worry Yet?

My favorite literary father, Atticus Finch, tells his daughter, “It’s not time to worry yet.” Notice, he doesn’t say “don’t worry.” Instead, he counsels to only worry when there’s a valid reason.

For parents of a student with learning differences, anxiety is valid. The worry can be used to motivate action that will help a student, assuming it is not overwhelming (which it can be, understandably).

When a student struggles with reading, math, or executive function skills, schools often say “wait and see.” It’s a call for inaction. Wait and see is almost always bad advice.

When my daughter didn’t pass a reading assessment several years in a row, everyone said, “Don’t worry, she just needs more time.” After many years of unnecessary struggle, I learned that she is dyslexic.

What she needed was understanding and different instruction. Without that support and understanding, she developed severe anxiety and depression(link opens in new tab/window) at too young of an age. Waiting was educationally and emotionally damaging. I should have worried sooner.

Now in high school, my daughter still struggles every day. She manages to pull good grades so nobody seems worried. But I think I’d better start worrying that she’s not learning how she learns, not being prepared for college in a way that will work for her. And I’d better start worrying about helping her find a college that will accept her literally and figuratively.

“Don’t worry,” the college counselors say. “She’ll get in somewhere. Wait and see.” I’m sure that’s good advice for most kids, but nothing in my daughter’s educational experience has just magically worked out by waiting and seeing. It’s been hard work, motivated by worry.

Hopefully, it’s not paralyzing, but if you have kids with learning differences, it’s always time to worry.

  • Parent of LD High School Student
Categories
College EF Conference Homeschool Social-Emotional Learning

37th Annual EF Conference Highlight: ResearchILD and SMARTS Specialists 

ResearchILD is excited to host a number of educational specialists, SMARTS experts, and teacher trainers at our 37th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 3 and 4. These speakers will share practical strategies that you can bring into your classroom on Monday morning.

These pre-recorded concurrent sessions will be available starting the week of October 24. Conference attendees will have unlimited access to all concurrent sessions and the recordings of the live plenary sessions through January 15, 2023.

Wearing Your Shoes: Teachers Collaborating with Parents to Promote Executive Function at School and at Home

Michael Greschler, M.Ed. & Mindy Scirri, Ph.D.

In this workshop, we will explore the impact of differing perspectives between teachers and parents/guardians, as well as practical strategies for collaborating with families to support students. Participants will learn strategies from the SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum, review strategy instruction materials developed to support EF at home and explore hands-on activities for bridging the gap between school and home.

Executive Function and Social-Emotional Learning: Strategies for Perspective Taking, Self-Understanding, and Self-Management

Shelly Levy, M.Ed. M.S. & Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed.

In this session, we will discuss the relationship between emotion and executive function, as well as ways of teaching EF strategies to promote emotional regulation. We will address strategies for developing perspective taking, self-understanding, and self-management. Attendees will develop a more nuanced appreciation for the impact of negative emotions on students’ performance. They will also learn how to teach executive function strategies in ways that promote engagement and motivation and empower students to become more independent and successful.

Beyond Jokes and Riddles: Cognitive Flexibility Across the Grades and Content Areas

Donna Kincaid, M.Ed.

This session will focus on practical strategies for improving students’ cognitive flexibility in academic and social situations. We will model a number of effective and easy-to-teach strategies and discuss their application across academic domains.

Transition to College: Promoting Students’ Self-Understanding and Executive Function Strategy Use

Joan Steinberg, M.Ed.

During this session, we will discuss the importance of self-advocacy as students initiate adult relationships with professors, medication providers, therapists, and executive function coaches. Our students will talk about the differences in academic demands between high school and college, and the need to shift mindsets and develop new habits for these changing demands. In addition, we will discuss a variety of planning and time-management strategies that have been used by our students and customized for different learning profiles.

Learn More

To hear from these presenters and more, we invite you to attend ResearchILD’s 37th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 3 and 4, 2022.

  • 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

Categories
Memory Metacognition Teaching EF Tips

The Power of Protocols in Facilitating Learning

Protocols are tools that can be used to facilitate learning in formal or informal settings, whether it be a class on executive function strategies or a meeting with the purpose of product brainstorming.

Developed by school reformers in the 1990s, protocols consist of a set of agreed-upon guidelines for conversation that groups use when exploring ideas. According to EL Education (link opens in new tab/window), using protocols as a routine of every independent reading time, discussion, or collaboration will allow students to learn effectively and develop the habit of taking responsibility for their own learning.

The Pros of Protocols

Protocols have many benefits because they teach important skills such as:

  • Giving and receiving safe and honest feedback
  • Analyzing complex problems carefully without rushing to judgment
  • Grounding interpretations of complex texts on evidence

Ready to Give Protocols a Try?

Here are four of our favorite protocols:

Drawbacks and Suggestions

Common criticisms of protocols are that they may have too much structure and lead to limits in creativity and organic conversations. Additionally, protocols could unintentionally reinforce inequities in participation in a group discussion if someone constantly dominates the discussion. In these cases, the facilitator or teacher can modify the protocol to address the needs of students and the activity.

Remember to Reflect

Reflections at the end of a protocol allow students to develop their metacognitive skills. Encourage small groups or the entire class to reflect by asking, What worked well? What might we do differently the next time? Through using protocols and carving out time for reflection, educators can help students elevate their ability to think critically and shift flexibly.

  • Andrea Foo, 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