Categories
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

Categories
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

Categories
Distance Learning Remote Learning Training Webinar

Top 5 Free SMARTS Webinars

The past year has been a real cognitive flexibility challenge for everyone! One big shift for us was moving from in-person to online professional development workshops. The benefit—now you can access our FREE executive function webinars on your own time schedule.

Here is the entire YouTube playlist of our free webinars, but let me highlight a few of our favorites:

1. Understanding Executive Function: The Key to Successful Learning

Why do so many students seem to struggle with executive function? And how can teachers and parents support students as they manage the executive function demands of everyday life? In this one-hour webinar, we explore how understanding executive function and working to provide strategies at school and at home can support students across grades and content areas. The presentation features strategies from local educational therapists as well as resources and materials from the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum.  https://www.youtube.com/embed/XaplK5jN7fk

2. Executive Function: The Bridge Between Home and School

Whether at home or at school, students need executive function strategies to handle challenging tasks as they set goals, shift flexibly, organize materials and information, and self-monitor and check their behavior and their work. When executive function expectations and supports are different at home and at school, executive function difficulties may arise. To truly support the executive function needs of students, executive function expectations and strategies must be clearly defined and accessible to everyone involved (teachers, parents, and students). In this one-hour webinar, educational therapists from the Institute for Learning and Development share strategies they use to help parents understand and support their students’ executive function needs.https://www.youtube.com/embed/9CozPKVB6yE

3. Executive Function and Reading

Students begin using executive function processes in literacy in the preschool years and continue as they progress through middle and high school and are expected to master complex skills in reading comprehension, summarizing, note-taking, and multi-stage writing projects. Beyond decoding spelling and vocabulary, successful reading requires that students be able to identify main ideas, topics, and supporting details in order to summarize and analyze what they are reading. Without strategies that help students meet the executive function demands of reading, students will struggle with reading comprehension, note-taking, essays, standardized tests, and more. In this one-hour webinar, Michael Greschler, M.Ed., director of the SMARTS Executive Function Programs, is joined by Wendy Stacey, M.S., director of Reading at the Institute for Learning and Development, to explore how executive function strategies can be used to help students tackle challenging reading material. The presentation features strategies developed at the Institute for Learning and Development and used in the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum. https://www.youtube.com/embed/IgvU1V3TgtM 

4. Executive Function and Math

In this one-hour webinar,  Joan Steinberg, M.Ed., director of Educational Therapy and an educational specialist at the Institute for Learning and Development, explores how executive function strategies can be used to help students tackle math. The presentation features strategies developed at the Institute for Learning and Development and used in the SMARTS Executive Function curriculum.https://www.youtube.com/embed/HhLAcp6j9VM 

5. Executive Function Challenges and Solutions: Shifting Between Remote to In-Person Instruction

The rapid shift to remote learning last spring turned students’, and teachers’, executive function strategies on their heads. As schools cycle between virtual, in-person, and hybrid instruction, it is becoming increasingly challenging for teachers, students, and parents to keep up. This webinar, led by Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS media manager, ResearchILD, and Caitlin Vanderberg, SMARTS intern, explores how various instructional models impact executive function demands and create executive function difficulties that undermine academic achievement. Through hands-on activities, attendees will learn strategies to help students shift flexibly and meet the executive function demands of virtual, in-person, and hybrid learning. https://www.youtube.com/embed/EjISXth80pw  We love sharing executive function research and strategies with you! Stay tuned for upcoming executive function trainings and webinars. If you enjoyed our trainings and want to find out when we post new ones, subscribe to our SMARTS YouTube channel.

  • 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

Categories
Remote Learning

Online Games for the Remote Elementary Classroom

In these days of remote learning, it can be challenging to motivate students and help them stay on top of the executive function demands of learning. Games can be invaluable for engaging students’ attention and fostering positive relations in the virtual elementary classroom.

Which games are the most fun and effective over services like Zoom? Edutopia has a terrific list of 13 Virtual Games to Play in Your Elementary Classroom. Here are a few of our favorites:

Connect Four, Trouble, Chess & Checkers

Liz Henneberry, a third-grade teacher in Franklin, Massachusetts, transformed Connect FourTroubleChess, and Checkers to Google Slides…Students click a board game shelved in a virtual recess room, which creates their own copy of the game. Students can then share the game with their friend using Google Drive so that the two can play a round together.

Tic-Tac-Toe

Robin Nahhas says her third-grade students have loved playing Multiplication Tic-Tac-Toe, a downloadable game she created on Google Slides so that they could practice their multiplication facts…She pairs up students and places them in breakout rooms on Zoom. Each student in the pair selects a set of color pieces, and when it’s their turn, they roll two digital dice, multiply the numbers shown, and place a piece onto the virtual board with the corresponding number…If students need help solving a problem, they can rely on their partner or click the “Ask for Help” button after trying one of the strategies they learned in class with pencil and paper first.

Scavenger Hunt

During morning meetings, fifth-grade teacher Sarah Wood says she incorporates games like scavenger hunts that the whole class can play together while learning from home. When it’s time to play, Wood projects a word like blanket and a matching image on a slideshow, and then students run to find the item in their homes. When they find the object, they can share it on video or by typing in the chat box.

Pictionary

Teachers can use Blackboard Collaborate, Whiteboard.fi, or the Whiteboard within Zoom for Pictionary. Students take turns drawing on a whiteboard—prompted by a word generator—while students call out their guesses.

What do you think of these games? Do you have any other virtual games that work well with elementary students? We’d love to hear about them 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

Categories
Remote Learning

Remote Learning – Parent Perspective: Changing Schedules and Changing Them Again

Distance learning is forcing everyone to adjust. Teachers, parents, and students are adjusting to new schedules. Many students have no ‘live’ classes to attend, spending their day completing asynchronous assignments. Some classes meet once or twice a week, with students working on assignments independently between classes.

Learning a new schedule is hard for all students (and all teachers, for that matter), but the negative impact doesn’t affect all student equally. It’s especially hard on students with learning differences, such as ADHD or dyslexia. Without transition times and clear expectations of how the day will unfold, students with learning differences may struggle to stay engaged.

In this installment of the SMARTS Online Remote Learning stories, a parent of a middle schooler describes the chaos and stress caused by rapidly shifting schedules.

Just when I thought things were calming down a little bit with some routine and schedule in place, the school decided to change the whole schedule around.  Change for change’s sake? Now we have a whole new set of stress around figuring out what’s changing and what’s not, new uncertainties around what seems to be a much more complicated schedule, with more “fun” electives and book clubs (dyslexic torture, if they’re “good old-fashioned” book clubs).The email from our teacher says, “This school-wide schedule change was created to improve the functioning of the remote schooling experience for as many constituents across the whole school as possible.”  As usual, the goal is to make school work for the majority, with no concern for individualization or the needs of the minority. 

No one likes to feel out of control. Given how unexpected the shift to remote learning has been, a sense of chaos was probably inevitable. However, as schools shift and adjust their schedules, it will be important to communicate the rationale and to reaffirm the commitment to meeting the needs of all students, especially those with learning and attention differences.

There’s so much talk about this time of crisis as an “opportunity” to slow down and simplify and limit screen time — to do things in a more old-fashioned way.  But, that doesn’t work for everyone.My student needs technology and lots of activities that are dyslexic-friendly.Right now, it seems like there’s a good excuse for this teaching-for-most approach. But really, this is business as usual.

As educators, how can we help our students, who may be used to feeling like school is not for them, feel connected and valued? We can begin by:

Schedules and teaching practices have to change, but if we can build in opportunities to differentiate assignments, leverage technology, and build in transition times, we can help our students, and their parents, feel supported.

Categories
Remote Learning

Remote Learning: Keeping Kids Engaged

Teachers, parents, and students, with or without learning differences such as ADHD or dyslexia, have all learned a hard lesson during the past weeks: remote learning can be boring.
Keeping students engaged is essential for successful learning. Here are some practical strategies you can use to keep your students engaged and active during remote teaching.

Encourage fidgeting

Keeping your hands active is great for paying attention (one of the many reasons note taking is so valuable). Students with ADHD especially benefit from being able to fidget. Ask students to keep some fidgets on hand. From fidget spinners to a Rubik’s Cube to paper clips, the range of fidget toys is endless.

Make time visible

Students are still developing an accurate sense of time, and the dramatic shift to remote learning has completely upended their sense of the passage of time. Typical transitions that would normally structure their day, such as walking to a new class, have all but disappeared. Start your classes with an agenda and use timers to help students gain a more concrete sense of time passing. Give students time to plan and prioritize their tasks. Discuss ways they can use timers to structure their homework (my students like to use playlists with defined amounts of time as planners).

Promote active learning

Watching a video by yourself and then filling out a worksheet is not as engaging as learning with your classmates. Students learn best when they can actively contribute and learn from multiple perspectives. When possible, structure time for students to contribute actively to the instruction. Well-placed activators, discussion questions, and group discussions using breakout rooms are all great ways to encourage active learning.

Remember to reflect

One of the biggest challenges of remote learning is we can’t see our students face to face! Teachers are experts at noticing when something isn’t working and thinking on the fly about how to differentiate. Now, however, we are teaching blind. We can’t see our students, only the assignments that they do or do not turn in. Use weekly reflections to get your students’ perspectives on how their learning is going (ask parents to fill out a reflection, too). Student reflections will give you valuable information to help make your teaching more equitable. It will also help students feel more engaged with learning as they reflect on what’s working for them, what’s not, and what they would like to do differently moving forward.
This is far from an exhaustive list of strategies to engage students during remote learning. What are we missing? We’d love to hear from you.
You can also find some great strategies in this blog by Carey Heller, Psy.D., “Keeping Kids Engaged in Online Therapy/Coaching and Other Remote Sessions.

Categories
Remote Learning

Parent Perspective: How to Support Remote Learning

As schools move to remote learning, parents are being asked to support students at home. Support can range from time management and academic help to regulating emotions and organizing materials. But how do you know when to help and how much to offer?

Many parents, especially those students with learning differences such as ADHD or dyslexia, are unsure of how much help to give. After all, school is a place for students to begin to develop their independence from parents. At the same time, no parent likes to watch their children struggle or give up.

Here are observations from a parent of an eighth-grade student during the first few days of remote learning (read some of her students’ blogs here).

After about an hour of school, I hear her chatting with her friends, cracking jokes, and being by far the loudest voice on the video conference. My blood pressure is going up, but I tell myself not to interfere. I’m actually sort of glad she is socializing as she was feeling so isolated after day one.

Later in the day, I hear sounds of extreme frustration. This can halt all progress, so I tried to help and we got into a big fight! When the storm calms, she says thanks, actually that was helpful, and she dives back into her schoolwork. In our house, there’s no point in holding a grudge.

As is typical, sometimes my daughter just needs a tiny push to get her over the hump of hyperactive inaction. Then she can work independently for hours. I see now that my “helpfulness” is interpreted by my daughter as if I said she’s “wrong”!  Note to self: find a better way to help.Remote learning is challenging for everyone, including parents.

Keep in mind that relationships are more important than any homework assignment. This mom knows her daughter and knows how to support her, and that is the most important thing.Parents can also help by reminding their student to do the things that they enjoy.

Although the hands-on project was just arts and crafts, my daughter started listening to an audiobook while she was doing the project. Since we don’t want to go to the movies right now, she found and started listening to Emma. This was awesome as she’s been so busy and stressed lately that she has not had time to just relax and read (ear reading).

Students may be too caught up in their online schooling to make time for things like reading, listening to music, and exercise. Helping students take time to relieve stress and anxiety can help them better understand the role that anxiety plays in their lives and how to manage it.Finally, parents can help by reminding students to take advantage of available supports.

After the school day ended, my daughter did not want to “meet” with her Executive Function coach! However, after doing some note-taking practice, they discussed the challenges of remote schooling. From that, her EF coach put together a summary table of four challenge areas and solutions for each. For instance:

  • Problem: Reading the assignments is difficult
  • Solution: Reach out to the teacher via email or Google Classroom, keeping in mind that teachers are not always immediately available

Her coach also offered to do a quick review of the reading via Skype, but, timing may not work out. One key solution is to acknowledge that remote schooling is hard – for teachers, too – and it’s only Day 2, so try to give it a little more time.  Good advice for me, too.

Many remote learning models rely on the student to reach out to the teacher when they need help. This may be a challenge, especially for students who struggle with motivation or who have experienced academic failure.

If your student was seeing an executive function coach, educational therapist, or a tutor, try to see if they can maintain that connection. These professionals can help students develop concrete strategies for adapting to online learning. They also provide one more supportive relationship that students can rely on as they adapt to their new remote learning lifestyle.

Looking for more resources? Check out these free executive function resources for parents.

Categories
Remote Learning SMARTS

Remote Learning – Parent Perspective: A Moment of Gratitude

The challenge of remote learning can take its toll on students, parents, and teachers alike. From confusing directions, mounting frustration, or even a sense of despair, it can be easy to feel hopeless. Change, however, also brings opportunities.
In this installment of SMARTS Online  Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning, a parent shares some moments of gratitude for unexpected moments of growth that remote learning has offered her daughter.

Because of the low self-esteem that often goes along with learning differences, my child will not always try new things, especially at school where teachers and students are not supportive and do not understand the struggle. In the safety of home, my child tried something new this week! It was just a quick musical project, but was a meaningful little victory. 

Isn’t that great! For this student, like many others, home is a place of safety. Students with learning differences might be anxious at school, nervous to try new things in front of their peers. Learning at home offers more freedom to explore things they might avoid in school. 

Also, after years of trying to get her interested in yoga, which could help her stress level, finally she has become interested. The remote yoga sessions that her school is offering have somehow sparked an interest. Now, she is doing yoga all the time, which may be reducing the stress of today’s various challenges. 

Many students, and their parents, are struggling with the monotony of being stuck at home. Why not try to adopt some new, healthy habits? Yoga, meditation, and arts and crafts are just some of the habits that students might have rejected before but would provide welcome entertainment and relief now that they are stuck inside.

I hope everyone out there is finding moments to smile and even be grateful during this very trying time.

This post is part of SMARTS Online’s Real-Life Experiences with Remote Learning series.

Categories
Remote Learning

Student Perspective: Remote Learning and “Class Discussions”

As schools turn to distance learning, how will students with dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning differences fare? Learning remotely can exacerbate the challenges that students with learning differences face, leaving them frustrated and at risk of falling behind.

What follows is a first-hand account of a day of distance learning from an eighth-grader with dyslexia. While her day was less than stellar, I hope we as educators can learn from her and make sure our teaching reflects the strengths and challenges faced by all of our students.

I started the day off by watching a video in English class and then “discussing” it with the class. The discussion was just hard because instead of FaceTiming, we had to use the comments below a post on Google Classroom. This meant the only option to communicate in the conversation was to type your answer as a comment. Since everyone was typing comments all at the same time, it felt like there was no real flow of conversation or ideas.It was hard to follow the conversation AND type really fast AND keep my comments relevant. I use voice dictation, which is not enabled in Google Classroom comments, so there’s a lag while I bring up the microphone with several extra clicks. By the time I was finished typing my comments, the conversation had moved on to a different topic.To make this experience even more stressful, the teacher made a passive aggressive comment saying that we need to make sure our comments were in full sentences, had no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.

The second half of our English class, we broke into groups and started working on a new group project. My group was able to use Google Hangouts so we could talk face to face. This part of the class went relatively smoothly except for the beginning because there was a lot of uncertainty about what we were supposed to be doing. The instructions were written unclearly and there was a lot of debate within my group about what we were supposed to do.  And, we weren’t able to clarify with a teacher since they weren’t online.

Clearly this experience was frustrating, and not just for a student with dyslexia. After all, having a discussion is about speaking and listening. By having all the students contribute willy-nilly, it sounds like no one was being listened to. By choosing a format that discourages the use of assistive technology and is biased in favor of students who can spell quickly, the essence of the discussion is quickly lost.As teachers learn how to adapt their lessons for remote learning, it will be important to reimagine routines like discussion or explaining directions to take into account the perspective and experience of all students in the class. Try to incorporate essentials for distance learning and help all students access the material and strategies they need to be successful. Stay tuned for more from our student correspondent!

Categories
Remote Learning

Remote Learning and Equity

The stress and chaos of the rapid shift to remote learning is hard on everyone: teachers, students, and parents. However, the impact doesn’t affect all students equally.

Students are now expected to do their learning at home, self-regulating their schedule and their productivity, while navigating new tech platforms and learning to engage in an entirely new way.

Students with learning and attention differences, those exposed to trauma, or students living in poverty all have unique risk factors that may be amplified by the demands of remote learning. (Check out SMARTS’ Remote Learning series for students’ perspectives on remote learning.)

Tracey A. Benson, professor, activist, and consultant, hosted a webinar entitled, “Developing Virtual Learning Plans with an Eye on Equity”. He laid out a number of tips for designing remote learning lesson plans that can support all students. The following three strategies are especially relevant when we consider the executive function demands of remote learning.

Weekly Surveys

Benson recommends sending a weekly survey to all parents to collect data. Parents will have unique insight into how well their student is able to handle the time management and homework demands of remote learning. This is also a great way to make sure parents are aware of the executive function expectations and the strategies students are learning. I love this idea, and why not also have a weekly student survey? Ongoing reflection is key to promoting self-understanding (for students and adults) and surveys will give students a voice during a challenging and chaotic time.

Minimize Independent Work

When students are assigned independent work, there is a lot that can go wrong. With asynchronous learning becoming an increasingly popular option, many students are struggling alone as they attempt to break down the directions, manage their time efficiently, overcome tech problems, and persevere when they are feeling stuck. By minimizing the amount of work students have to do on their own, and making sure students feel supported, we can reduce the risk that students will get stuck.

Aim for a 0% Failure Rate

A big part of equity is maintaining high expectations for all students and helping them achieve those expectations. While many schools are turning to pass/fail grading during distance learning (which is fine), we need to make sure we do not adopt a pass/fail approach to supporting our students. This means finding ways to differentiate our support and help every student to engage with remote learning materials and develop the strategies they need to be successful.