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Executive Function Universal Design for Learning

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

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Executive Function Metacognition Remote Learning

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

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Distance Learning Executive Function Remote Learning

Executive Function and Online Learning

In a typical school year, teachers may feel that by spring their students will fully understand the class expectations and be settled into their routines. This school year, however, has been anything but typical! It is important to remember that context matters for executive function, and the radically different expectations and systems of online learning context presents different challenges (and opportunities).

To help students succeed in an online learning environment, executive function demands must be consistent and transparent.

Where is my homework again?

Do not assume that students know how to find important information on their class websites or their school’s learning management system. While some students may seamlessly navigate these websites, even teaching you a few tricky, other students may run find seeming simple tasks quite challenging, giving up when they feel overloaded by information. Provide explicit modeling to ensure that all students can find their homework, participate in discussion, turn in their work, and check their grades. Some students may require more coordination and executive function support. Keep your communication systems simple and consistent; it makes a big difference. Teacher announcements should be in one designated spot, instead of mixing email announcements, discussion board posts, and in-person announcements.

I need help!

When teaching online, it can be difficult to determine when a student needs extra support and which aspects of the learning environment are posing challenges. Students are more isolated from their teacher and peers, making them reluctant to ask for help. Some students may not even know where to begin asking for help. By conducting brief check-ins (via a Zoom poll, Google form, etc.), you can discover how comfortable students are navigating the online resources for their classes or if they are still experiencing information overload. It is never too late to open up channels of communication and allow students to share their perspectives; this can ensure all learners feel heard and supported.

Our latest webinar, “Executive Function Challenges and Solutions: Shifting Between Remote to In-Person Instruction,” offers a number of tips and tools for teachers to support their students’ EF in the current learning context.

For more information about supporting students during remote learning, take a look at some of these posts.

  • 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

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Executive Function

Reader’s Theater and Executive Function Strategies

When it comes to reading, working in groups can be problematic, especially for students with dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning differences. Reader’s theater is a fun way to let all students collaboratively engage with texts as they strengthen executive function strategies.

Reader’s Theater & Executive Function

Reader’s theater is a multisensory instructional strategy designed to help students develop fluency and comprehension by reading scripts based on grade-level texts. Reader’s theater is not only limited to language arts—it can be a useful instructional strategy for science, social studies, and second language classes.

Executive function is often overlooked when it comes to reading instruction. The informal performances of reader’s theater allow students to work collaboratively, craft a character or tone, and use their executive function strategies.

Let’s break down how reader’s theater can provide opportunities to teach strategies that will help students overcome executive functioning challenges. 

Working memory

Reader’s theater asks students to use their strategies for working memory. Students will need to maintain their spot in their script and keep track of their peers’ lines as they progress through their performance. Reader’s theater offers a natural opportunity for repeated reading, and students can practice their lines multiple times as a group. This provides students with many chances to employ their strategies for remembering when it is their turn to read.  

Cognitive flexibility

Once students are assigned their character or role, they must craft certain voices or gestures to match their lines. While performing, students will have to shift between their own perspective and their character’s perspective. Playing a different character provides a concrete opportunity to understand how to shift in real or imagined scenarios. They will also have to shift between listening to their peers’ lines and reading out their own.  

Self-monitoring and self-checking

As students embody the characters they are portraying, they must use their self-monitoring strategies to ensure that their gestures and voices match the text. They might ask themselves: How is the character feeling here? How might I communicate this character’s emotions? Are there words I don’t know? Encourage students to prompt each other to ask themselves these questions; this will help keep everyone on track.

Reader’s theater is a fun way for all students to participate in activities that promote literacy, reading comprehension, and executive function strategies. For more resources about theater-related activities, check out this post about theater games that help build flexible thinking.  

  • 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

 

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Distance Learning Executive Function Training

Executive Function Essentials: A toolkit for remote and in-class learning

We’re excited to announce Executive Function Essentials 2021, our newest training series that focuses on teaching executive function strategies for remote and in-person classroom settings.Presented by Lynn Meltzer, Ph.D., and the staff of the Institutes for Learning and Development, this four-session series will help you build your executive function toolkit by:

  • Deepening your understanding of metacognition, organization, flexible problem solving, motivation, engagement
  • Developing a practical appreciation of the latest research
  • Gaining strategies and activities to use when teaching remotely and in-person

Session Overviews

Depending on your teaching goals, choose the sessions that are right for you. All presentations will be recorded if you cannot attend live.

  • In addition, we will offer two application-based presentations on the subjects of dyslexia on March 4 and math on April 1, 2021.

Start your 2021 with the resolution to teach essential executive function strategies across all teaching and learning formats. Learn more and register today!

We look forward to having you join us. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager

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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Executive Function

Executive Function Strategies Vs. Skills: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to supporting students’ executive function needs, the terms “skill” and “strategy” are often used interchangeably. In the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum, we believe it is important to underscore the difference between such seemingly similar terms.

Skills refer to abilities that may be enacted without much thought from the individual. Strategies, on the other hand, are intentionally employed by an individual to accomplish a specific task, such as reading a book or studying for an exam.

When it comes to teaching executive function, it is important to promote a strategic approach for many reasons.

  1. Strategy instruction is a strengths-based approach, that focuses on students achieving personally meaningful goals, supported by teachers’ explicit teaching and modeling of strategy use. Students who struggle may internalize their failures and come to believe that their efforts will not lead to success. However, when armed with strategies, students have options for how they can respond to an academic or organizational challenge.
  2. Strategy instruction promotes self-understanding. Using strategies is an intentional and deliberate process; students become active learners who engage in self-reflection about which strategies were most successful in specific situations. This metacognitive process is an important part of teaching students to understand how they learn most effectively. When students feel valued and involved in their learning, they are more likely to be motivated.
  3. Strategy instruction is beneficial for all learners. Every student can benefit from having a larger set of strategies to pull from when they face challenges in academics and in their everyday lives.

The SMARTS Executive Function curriculum helps students understand their areas of strength and challenge and explicitly teaches executive function strategies. Learn more about the three key tenets at the heart of the SMARTS program.

  • 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

Categories
Executive Function

Cooking a Turkey with Executive Function

Executive function strategies are essential for successful learning. But executive function processes are not just for school; we use executive function strategies in every aspect of our daily lives. With the holidays approaching, let’s explore how you can use executive function strategies to pull off a perfectly roasted Thanksgiving turkey.

Goal Setting

Goal setting is at the heart of executive function. You must understand the endpoint, and the steps it will take to get there if you are going to be successful. This holiday, since I can’t travel home to be with my family, my goal is to cook a delicious meal, complete with turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and dessert. I know it’s important to eat healthy food (junk food is bad for my executive function) so I look for recipes that are healthy, tasty, and will feed a small group.

Cognitive Flexibility

Thinking flexibly as you adopt and apply strategies is essential to success. As students get older and take on more challenging academic work, they must shift and adopt new strategies that keep pace with the demands they face. You never know what real-life situations will test your flexible thinking. As I shift from someone who eats the turkey to the person who cooks it, I will need to adopt a new perspective. What new challenges will I face? What new strategies will I have to adopt, and what strategies will I have to leave behind?

Organizing and Prioritizing

Many students and adults may struggle with organization; however, the ability to break down tasks, create categories, and prioritize the steps is a must! As I peruse recipes for roasting a turkey, I review the ingredients and the steps to prepare and cook. My plan and time management rely on accurate time estimation and an organized approach.

Accessing Working Memory

Working memory allows us to access the information we need, whether from short- or long-term memory, as we complete our tasks. In school, we often talk about the working memory demands of following directions or completing a math problem. As I cook my turkey, I will use my working memory to keep up with the recipe.

Self-Monitoring and Self-Checking

Whether you’re cooking, completing your homework, or checking your taxes, self-monitoring and self-checking help us ensure that we are truly doing our best work. Working memory helps us make sense of what is happening around us. As I cook the turkey, I can use a variety of self-checking strategies from making sure I’m following the recipe steps to checking to make sure the turkey is fully cooked.

Metacognitive Awareness

Self-understanding is an often overlooked aspect of executive function strategy use. Developing metacognition is an active process. Knowing what our strengths and challenges are, reflecting on our performance, and deciding how we will apply this knowledge moving forward allows us to become truly independent and strategic, whether as students, teachers, parents, or chefs. As I reflect on my previous cooking adventures, I remember that one time I roasted a chicken and it was too dry. What did I do wrong? How can I apply that knowledge to my Thanksgiving turkey? Better yet, maybe this year we’ll just order a pizza.

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the SMARTS Executive Function program! We hope you all have a safe and restful holiday.

  • 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

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Executive Function

Classroom Strategies to Promote Executive Function Development

At our recent ResearchILD 35th Annual Learning Differences Conference, we brought together researchers and educators who shared ways to build classroom environments that support students’ executive function development. Here are a few takeaways that you can incorporate into any classroom.

Executive Function and Academics

Dr. Stephanie Carlson, who presented on executive functions and school readiness, described how her research findings have shown that strong executive functioning skills in early childhood are correlated with academic achievement. Cognitive flexibility is particularly important as children accommodate new knowledge and information into their mental schemata. Dr. Carlson shared a game called Bear and Dragon that early childhood educators can play with their students to increase cognitive flexibility and working memory skills.

Visualizing Strategies

Dr. Peg Dawson, author of the Smart but Scattered book series, shared ways of making executive function strategies visible in the classroom. Visualizing executive functions can be a way for students to create mental representations for completing their work. Dr. Dawson suggested displaying posters with questions to help spark students’ metacognition and posting the materials that children will need so they can prepare ahead of time. To help students think strategically, she recommended providing small cards that pair executive functions with descriptive images.

Slow Processing Speed in a Fast-Paced World

How quickly can your students “get things done”? Dr. Ellen Braaten shared her research on how students with slow processing speed may have difficulty processing, assessing, and responding to information. Many children with ADHD or slow processing speed may need support to build their perception of time. To help students form a more accurate sense of passing time, Dr. Braaten emphasized teaching students to use analog clocks and stopwatches. Teachers can also model what it looks like to estimate how long an activity may take.

What is your best classroom tip for promoting executive function development in your students? Check out these links if you’re looking for more ways to have fun with executive function, integrate executive function into your virtual teaching, and set up an EF-friendly classroom!

  • 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

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Executive Function Webinar

Strategies Matter: Harnessing Best Practices from the Neuroscience of Learning to Improve Post-Pandemic Teaching

Recently Dr. Lynn Meltzer, president of our parent organization ResearchILD,  participated with Sucheta Kamath, CEO and Founder of ExQ, in a webinar about executive function.

They shared their insights from the science of learning how to learn that can empower learners to connect with strategies that matter to them.

“The brain’s Executive Function skills provide tools for effective self-assessment and intentional capacity for self-redirection. Considering that every child and educator is going through unprecedented times with looming unknowns, it has become even more critical that we highlight the process of intentional learning and strategic thinking so that educational experiences for our children become more meaningful.”

We invite you to watch the webinar recording to learn how to:

  • Help learners assess their self-efficacy
  • Apply the science of metacognition to develop strategies based on self-understanding and self-assessment
  • Cultivate a community of learners who can adapt their learning approaches and subsequently enhance their learning experiences

We hope you find this webinar useful and look forward to hearing your comments. And be sure to check out EQ, a research-informed system designed to enhance the brain’s executive function through game-based personalized training.

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager
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Executive Function

Executive Function and the Superintendent’s Office

Executive function is increasingly becoming a district-wide issue. All students, with and without a diagnosed learning difference, benefit from executive function support. And, as the need for executive function strategy instruction becomes better known, administrators are having to decide how executive function support takes place in their school.

Should executive function be taught explicitly only in special education settings? Should teachers in content area classes receive training in executive function? How does executive function align with other school-wide initiatives or with mandated standardized testing?

The answers to these questions matter. Executive function is becoming an increasingly common goal on students’ IEPs and 504 plans, yet schools often do not have programs in place to help students meet these goals. Teachers are hungry for executive function training and programming, yet professional development and coaching plans rarely address executive function.

Through our work at SMARTS, we have seen administrators tackle this issue in many ways. Some schools may opt to infuse executive function into special education services by teaching SMARTS strategies in academic support settings. Some schools approach executive function school-wide, creating frameworks that establish executive function objectives and corresponding strategies for each grade, which are instituted in general education classes.  (Learn how one district is using  district-wide executive function as a powerful tool for equity here).

There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but schools can be successful when they are able to clearly define the executive function demands they are placing on their students and articulate how they will support students to meet these demands.

The truth is that, because executive function is so essential to successful learning for ALL students, it is crucial that school leaders find a way to integrate executive function strategies into the systems and processes of teaching and learning. As schools struggle to adapt to the demands of remote learning and hybrid models, here at SMARTS we will remain dedicated to helping all educators to develop approaches to teaching executive function strategies that meet the needs for all students, their teachers, and their administrators!

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director