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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

Categories
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
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

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Cognitive Flexibility EF Conference Executive Function

Supporting Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the Classroom

Students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) frequently face challenges in school↗(link opens in new tab/window), often due to unmet sensory, social, and developmental needs. With the prevalence of students diagnosed with ASD steadily increasing↗(link opens in new tab/window), it is more important than ever to understand current, research-based fundamentals of supporting individuals with ASD.

Supporting Students with ASD: from Research to Practice

ResearchILD is thrilled to host Dot Lucci, M.Ed., C.A.G.S., at our 37th Annual Executive Function Conference, where she will present “Creating Classroom Environments that Help ASD Students Thrive – Not Just Survive.”

Dot’s presentation will focus on:

  • The diagnostic criteria and characteristics of ASD
  • How the incorporation of self-awareness, stress-management, and social-emotional intelligence into classrooms can support diverse learners
  • How topics such as positive psychology, explanatory style, and stress management can be applied in classrooms to support students with ASD
  • Concrete tools and strategies for supporting students with ASD

Dot brings over 30 years of experience in education, psychology, and academia pertaining to inclusion of students with special needs, particularly ASD, across settings. In addition, she has extensive experience translating her many publications on ASD into practice as a board member of Autism Asperger’s Network (AANE), program director and director of consultation at Aspire/Massachusetts General Hospital, and co-author of the Think Smart Feel Good curriculum.

Learn More

Interested in learning more about best practices for supporting students with autism spectrum disorder? We invite you to attend our 37th Annual Executive Function Conference on November 3 and 4, 2022, to hear from Dot and other experts in the fields of executive function, social-emotional learning, and education.

  • Taylor McKenna, M.A., 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 Metacognition Webinar

Free Webinar: Executive Function Strategies as a Blueprint for Academic Success

Success in our fast-paced, high-stakes schools is dependent on executive function processes. Why do so many students seem to struggle with executive function? How can teachers and parents support students to handle the executive function demands of academic and everyday life?

Join staff members from ResearchILD for an in-depth explanation of executive function and the SMARTS curriculum in our free webinar on Tuesday, October 11, at 3:30 p.m. EST (link opens in new tab/window).

Why Is Executive Function Important? 

Executive function is a hot topic in education these days, but what does it mean and why do so many students struggle with it? In our 21st-century schools, a large gap still separates the strategies that are taught from the skills needed for success in school and in the workplace. Classroom instruction often focuses on the content, or what, of learning rather than the process, or how, of learning. Furthermore, students are not taught to understand how they think and how they learn, a process known as “metacognitive awareness.”

Nevertheless, academic performance depends on students’ self-understanding as well as their ability to plan their time, organize and prioritize ideas, think flexibly, monitor their progress, and self-regulate.

These executive function processes have become increasingly important from the elementary grades onwards as students complete complex reading and writing assignments as well as online research for long-term projects.

Webinar Topics 

SMARTS is an executive function curriculum that empowers all students by helping them understand their strengths and challenges and teaching them executive function strategies for academic and life success.

In our free, one-hour webinar, staff members from the Research Institute for Learning and Development will explore:

  • How understanding executive function and providing strategies at school and at home can support students across grades and content areas
  • The history and research behind the SMARTS Curriculum
  • Different ways schools use SMARTS
  • The structure and format of SMARTS, how to create a unique scope and sequence, and how to measure student strategy use

Learn More and Register

You can learn more about executive function and the SMARTS curriculum in our free webinar on Tuesday, October 11, at 3:30 p.m. EST (link opens in new tab/window). We look forward to seeing you!

  • 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 Executive Function Working Memory

EF in the Dog Days of Summer

Long days, peak temperatures, and high humidity…we are officially in the dog days of summer! During this time, humans and their canine companions in the Northern Hemisphere will do their best to rest and avoid extended exposure to the sun and heat.

Over the summer you might have more time to observe your dog’s daily patterns. Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking and how they learn? This is the perfect time to explore new research around the similarities in cognition among humans and dogs.

Over the summer you might have more time to observe your dog’s daily patterns. Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking and how they learn? This is the perfect time to explore new research around the similarities in cognition among humans and dogs.

Executive Function and Dogs

According to a recent study from La Trobe University (link opens in new tab/window), dogs and humans regulate their behavior in similar ways. Researchers focused on a few executive function processes: the ability to follow instructions, control physical impulses, and use working memory.

Over thousands of years of domestication, the survival of dogs has depended on their ability to obtain sufficient food and care by regulating their behavior to suit the human environment. Just as considering the context is crucial when examining executive function processes in humans, the same concept applies when observing dogs and their processes.

Working dogs, such as farm dogs or assistance dogs, have demonstrated highly developed executive function processes. For example, seeing-eye dogs have the ability to inhibit urges to chase other animals and closely follow sequences of instructions.  

Developing EF Strategies

Research in humans has shown that a structured, systematic, and explicit approach to teaching executive function strategies (the foundation of the SMARTS curriculum) fosters self-understanding and empowers students to learn how to learn. Training, it turns out, is the key factor in dogs’ development of executive function processes. Next time you want to teach your dog a new trick, consider using a SMARTS strategy!

Looking to build your executive function toolkit? Join us for the Executive Function Summer Summit (July 26, July 28, August 2, and August 4) and the SMARTS Executive Function Summer Workshop (August 9, August 11). All summer professional development opportunities are available online via Zoom and through recorded sessions.

  • 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
Equity Executive Function Metacognition

Promoting Equity through Executive Function

How can executive function curricula help level the playing field in education? Our mission at ResearchILD 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. 

Executive function (EF) processes—goal setting, cognitive flexibility, organizing and prioritizing, memorizing, self-checking and monitoring—are critically important for learning and social behavior.

Research has shown that executive function mediates socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in school achievement; therefore, interventions targeting executive function could help to close the SES-related achievement gap. Executive function represents a powerful tool for developing equitable and anti-racist educational systems. 

From the earliest grades, academic tasks require the coordination and integration of numerous processes as well as the ability to think flexibly and self-check. Consider common academic tasks like reading for meaning, solving math problems, elaborating in writing, summarizing, note-taking, and studying. Each of these requires students to set goals, organize and prioritize information, shift perspectives, think and problem-solve flexibly, memorize, and self-monitor. These executive function processes impact the accuracy and efficiency of students’ performance in academic and social situations.

Executive function strategies are for all students. When EF strategies are systematically taught, new pathways are opened as students learn to successfully navigate novel situations in their classrooms, schools, and personal lives. You can read ResearchILD’s complete white paper on executive function and equity 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
Executive Function Quick Tip Recommendations

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: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

Categories
Executive Function Motivation Quick Tip

Motivation Monday: Behaviorism

Behaviorism is a theory of learning that focuses on students’ interactions with their environment; learning occurs when there is a response to the right stimulus. Students’ behaviors change because of interactions with stimuli in their environment.

Behaviorism is not concerned with internal changes; instead, it focuses on observable changes in students’ actions. For example, rewarding students for meeting the class goal of handing in their assignments on time is an example of positive reinforcement — adding in a desired stimulus. Removing weekend homework as a result of improved class behavior is an example of negative reinforcement — removing an undesired stimulus.

Why it matters for education

Learning does not happen in a vacuum — we have to consider the context and environment, especially for executive function strategy instruction. Are the EF demands appropriate for students? Do they have the strategies they need to meet expectations? By creating a classroom environment that fosters executive function strategy use and positive student behaviors, we can bring about change in students’ actions.

Behaviorism also underlies patterns of positive reinforcement. For example, if a student has difficulty completing tasks independently, subtle praise when the student meets their goal can encourage this behavior. Scheduling fun (yet educational) activities can also help students associate school with positive feelings.

Takeaways

  • Consider external rewards (e.g., praise, free choice activities, rewards) when tasks are new or difficult.
  • Extrinsic reinforcement can also be helpful when students are completing non-fulfilling activities (e.g., drill-and-practice tasks to gain mastery in foundational skills such as math facts).
  • As students gain mastery, switch the focus from external rewards to intrinsic rewards (e.g., deemphasize grades by acknowledging progress made in the learning process, encourage pride in one’s work).   
  • Be clear about which behaviors lead to which consequences, both positive and negative.

We are launching a “Motivation Monday” series here on the SMARTS blog to explore various theories of learning and motivation. Look for the second post which will cover goal orientation theory and growth mindset.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

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 today

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 Organization Quick Tip

Quick Tip: The Power of Common Language

What’s in a name? When it comes to addressing students’ executive function challenges and helping them understand their learning profiles, a structured, systematic, and explicit approach is key. By clearly naming executive function strategies, students can develop an understanding of what strategies are, why they matter, and how they can be applied. 

For Students

When we name and model a strategy, students can begin to think about the strategy’s value and applications in their lives. Take, for example, an organizational strategy like the SMARTS 4C’s strategy (Unit 4 in SMARTS). This strategy helps students organize their materials using the 4C’s (C, C, C, and C). Developing clear and consistent language in the classroom around organization can increase strategy use and ensure that students can refer to the strategy by name later on.

Strategy instruction promotes self-understanding as students are required to think about what strategies they can use, why they will help, and when they can use them. 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. When armed with strategies that they can name and understand, students have options for how they can respond to challenges.

For Educators and Administrators

Naming executive function strategies is also beneficial for educators and administrators. If everyone in a school or learning center is using the same executive function strategies and terms, this shared common language could ultimately lead to a culture shift. Repeated exposure to the same strategies can also help students see that all their teachers are on the same page and that strategies can be applied across classes

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2022

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 today

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org