Categories
Cognitive Flexibility Executive Function growth mindset

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

Categories
Cognitive Flexibility

Dr. Lynn Meltzer on Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive flexibility, the ability to think flexibly, is one of the most important executive function processes to promote student success. Despite its importance, the concept of cognitive flexibility can be hard for students to visualize.

To help students understand the idea of thinking flexibly, we have come across many different ways of representing cognitive flexibility. Dr. Lynn Meltzer, president and founder of the Institutes for Learning and Development and the executive function guru behind SMARTS, often uses the example of standing on top of a mountain vs. being in the forest and looking at the trees.

The ability to switch between the big picture and the important details is essential for everything from note-taking and solving math problems to understanding jokes and deciding to go on a hike. When students do not know how to shift easily, they get caught in rigid and inefficient habits (e.g., re-reading material despite not understanding it or refusing to show their work in math despite repeatedly getting the wrong answer).

Check out the full clip below of Dr. Meltzer explaining the importance of cognitive flexibility. If you want to learn more about cognitive flexibility and the power of executive function strategies, join Dr. Meltzer and SMARTS team members at this year’s Executive Function Summer Summit. Hope to see you there!

  • 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

Categories
Cognitive Flexibility

Cognitive Flexibility in Trying Times

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

What Is Cognitive Flexibility?

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

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

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

Identify Obstacles and Solutions

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

Be a Role Model

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

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

  • Iris Jeffries, SMARTS Intern

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Cognitive Flexibility Learning Differences

Another Theory of Procrastination

In the executive function field, we think of organizing, planning, and prioritizing as the solutions to procrastination. However, in “Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control),” Charlotte Lieberman (New York Times, 3/25/19) suggests that there are deeper reasons for these habits. She describes procrastination as the seemingly irrational choice that people make to think of the present, rather than the future, in order to avoid tasks that might expose our insecurities, provoke anxiety, or simply bore or frustrate us.

Basically, when we procrastinate, our inner six-year-old takes over. Some of this ‘now-oriented’ behavior is hard-wired; humans are programmed to think of their present needs and tend to see their future self as an abstraction. After all, we are often told ‘to live in the present.’ When viewed in this light, the choice to procrastinate makes a lot of sense.

The flaw in this logic is that it robs us of the joy of a job well done. The satisfaction of having completed a task lives in the future, but without this feeling of accomplishment, work becomes associated with negative feelings of self-blame, stress, and low self-esteem. Any short-term positive feelings we get from procrastinating are outweighed by these toxic emotions, which may cause us to procrastinate more to escape them, contributing to a cycle of chronic procrastination.
Lieberman offers several suggestions to overcome the desire to procrastinate:

Don’t be too hard on yourself! Accepting where you are instead of berating yourself helps break the negative loop.

Think of the first step, not the entire task, and take that action. Sometimes planning out each step can make a task appear overwhelming, so considering only the next thing to do may make it seem more possible.

Hide your temptations (or make them less convenient). Turn off or delete distracting apps, or give yourself a difficult password. Go someplace that’s free of distractions. Put a “Do Not Disturb” note on your door.

Open up the path for what you want to get done. Set out needed materials, open the document, and clear a workspace ahead of time.

Overall, don’t blame yourself for being lazy. Executive function strategies, including time management and prioritizing, won’t help if you become trapped in a cycle of feeling bad about your procrastination.

We all procrastinate, that’s not going to change, so accept it, pick your motivational strategy, and get going! Who knows, maybe you were doing something useful while you were procrastinating. So enjoy that clean refrigerator, and take the first step to starting the task you meant to complete. Your future self will thank you!