focus growth mindset Mental Health Metacognition

Mindful Holiday Moments

Happy Holidays from everyone on the ResearchILD and SMARTS Executive Function teams! We wish you a relaxing break, and we hope that your 2023 is filled with effective executive function strategies.

Making Time for Mindful Holiday Moments

The holiday season can be an overwhelming time of year, so it’s important to make time for mindful moments. Why not take time to incorporate mindfulness practices while reflecting on the past year and setting intentions for 2023?

Before the holiday break begins, it can help to carve out quiet times for students as well. Over the past two decades, school-based mindfulness programs have risen in popularity to help address the stress, anxiety, and dysregulation students are facing in their daily lives.

To get started at home or in school, check out these mindfulness-centered blog posts:

Build Your Executive Function Toolkit in 2023

Are you interested in building your Executive Function Toolkit? Join us in February and March to hear from EF experts on topics such as the intersection of EF and social-emotional learning, time management, Universal Design for Learning, and goal setting. Learn more and register today.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

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focus Homeschool parents

Interviewing an EF Expert, Part 4

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 blog over the next few weeks. Check out part 1, part 2, and part 3.

What can a parent do to help a teenager with executive function issues?

Shelly’s response: There are a number of ways you can support your teenager with executive function issues.

Open the lines of communication

Before getting to the learning, students need to feel safe and supported. Ask questions to show them you are on their team. It is important to approach the conversation with curiosity and demonstrate that you want to keep communication lines open, especially when the going gets tough.

Help create a comprehensive list of assignments

Some of the questions you ask your student can reveal how comfortable they are accessing their assignments (it might be different for each class). Once they know how to find and submit assignments, you can offer to help create a comprehensive list of assignments on a Google Document.

Help identify productive workspaces

It’s important to examine what spaces help your teen feel most productive. What seating and lighting do they prefer? What supplies and snacks are most helpful to have nearby? Help your student build their self-understanding by identifying things that help and hurt their ability to focus.

Break assignments into small, manageable parts

All long-term projects and papers are made up of multiple steps that occur in different stages. It can be difficult to know where to start and which steps need to be completed first. Help your student break down assignments into small, manageable parts and create a realistic timeline.

Recognize progress

Celebrate your teen’s efforts and successes along the way, no matter how small!

Seek external support when necessary 

Shelly also recommends that an executive function coach or educational specialist can support students and teach them the executive function strategies they need for success in high school, college, and beyond.

For more information, check out the SMARTS blog posts with resources for parents and homeschooling.

  • 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:

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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:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

The Institute for Learning and Development:

ADHD focus Procrastination

The Perfectionism-Procrastination Paradox

When students hand in assignments close to a deadline, it can be easy to label them as lazy, forgetful, or unmotivated. Surprisingly, research has shown that many procrastinators are perfectionists (link opens in new tab/window). For these students, the desire to get every element just right can be paralyzing and prevent them from getting started, despite their best intentions. Teaching executive function strategies can help “perfectionist-procrastinators” reframe their thinking and develop a realistic understanding of time. 

Hard Habits to Break

Breaking the perfectionism-procrastination cycle can be difficult. If the assignment doesn’t go well, there is a built-in excuse of lack of time: “Oh, I would have done better if I had more time.” If the assignment goes well, there is little incentive for students to change their ways.

All or Nothing

Many perfectionist-procrastinators engage in all-or-nothing thinking patterns. Take, for example, a multi-step project or research paper. Getting started can be daunting when students view the project as an overwhelming whole instead of something that they can break down into actionable parts. By teaching the Purposeful Highlighting strategy (from Unit 3 of SMARTS Elementary), you can help students learn to break down multi-step instructions into a numbered checklist. Purposeful Highlighting is a way for students to break down directions and identify multiple perspectives when reading or taking notes. This strategy helps students highlight effectively and avoid over-highlighting (“yellow page syndrome”).

Reestablish Reasonable Expectations

Perfectionist-procrastinators often struggle to initiate tasks when they are worried about making a mistake. Before students start their work, encourage them to reflect on the root causes of their perfectionism and procrastination tendencies. Fear and negative self-perceptions often go hand-in-hand with perfectionism and procrastination. Encourage self-compassion as students strive to change their studying and learning behaviors. Remind students that they can always revise their work and ideas along the way, so the first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect. 

Understanding Time

Another element that complicates task initiation is a tenuous understanding of time. Students tend to overestimate how long tasks will take, especially undesirable or difficult tasks. When it comes to getting started, encourage students to choose one task and estimate how long they think the task will take. Once students set a timer and get started, they might realize that they can get more done in a shorter period of time than they originally thought. 

What are your best tips for beating procrastination?   

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:

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ADHD focus

Fidgeting and Executive Function

Students love to fidget, right? From fidget spinners to Rubik’s cubes to doodling, there is almost an entire industry dedicated to keeping students’ hands busy. But fidgeting is more than that; fidgeting might also help support executive function.

Fidgeting and the Brain

A recent study, led by Justin Fernandez at Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), is reinforcing the benefits of fidgeting. While the study looked at the brains of people with ADHD specifically, these findings have important implications for acknowledging how students actually learn, especially when it comes to executive function.

The study found that, when the subjects were allowed to fidget, the blood flow to the prefrontal cortex increased. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of your brain’s executive function processes. We all know that executive function is essential for successful learning, so the importance of fidgeting must be recognized.

Viewed in this light, fidgeting deserves another look. Seeing students doodling or tapping away with their pencil is often interpreted as being off task. However, if fidgeting is a way to power up the brain, then perhaps fidgeting is adaptive, a part of the problem-solving process.

Fidgets for All

While many students with ADHD have access to fidgets in their 504 plans, all students can benefit from well-timed fidgeting. The need to fidget is universal, especially during remote or hybrid learning. From a movement break or a quick doodle to fidget toys like the Fidgi Pen, there are many ways to let your students fidget. (Does note-taking count as a fidget? We like to think so.)

Use Fidgets Productively

Of course, a fidget free-for-all can be pretty distracting (some teachers might still have a few confiscated fidget spinners in their desk drawer). Take time to teach students how to use fidgets productively. Talk about the best time to fidget or what kinds of activities are less distracting to others. Help students see fidgeting as a productive step in completing their work instead of something to hide when the teacher looks your way.

  • Michael Greschler, M.Ed., SMARTS Director

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

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