(Note: I am not receiving any compensation for this post)
Today I’m going to write about something that’s sort of pushed itself to the forefront of my mind lately–but I’ve been really mulling over this issue for quite some time. As many of you know, developing and mastering executive functioning skills is really a major challenge for many of our dyslexic kids and adults. Just as importantly, it is also a challenge for our parents and educators to provide the necessary support for our dyslexic friends to improve their executive functioning.
Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to connect with Dr. Lynn Meltzer and her team at the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD) and her corollary services organization The Institute for Learning and Development (ILD). Dr. Meltzer has long been known to be an international leader in the EF field and she has been at the forefront of the efforts to create programs and curriculum to support our teachers’ efforts to strengthen students’ EF skills.
For the past several years, Dr. Meltzer and her colleagues have been evolving their SMARTS Executive Function program from its beginnings as a mentoring program to an in-house teacher training program to now most recently a fully online program!
The SMARTS Online Executive Function Program is a huge step forward and thank goodness it’s finally available anywhere and anytime.
Let’s talk a bit about what the program entails and then I’m going to provide some of my own views about how to think about this amazing tool.
What is SMARTS?
SMARTS is a very intensive and thorough program that provides core help with EF skills that usually just aren’t taught in school. Developing EF skills is a struggle for many kids but when you add the issue of dyslexia, the challenge is often seemingly overwhelming. Too many of our kids just don’t know where to start and the likelihood of them shutting down is intensified.
Let’s take a look at what the SMARTS acronym stands for.
(Note: The following image is a screenshot from the SMARTS website)
The key word to describe the SMARTS program is… thorough! There are six units with multiple lessons in each unit (Unit 4 is actually broken up into 2 parts) and the program includes Instructional Overview Videos that are key in terms of providing a foundation for teaching the curriculum.
Also, keep in mind that this program is designed for a 9-month time frame and covers the top five key executive function processes–
- goal setting
- thinking flexibly
- organizing and prioritizing
- accessing working memory
Here is a key point which will serve as a jumping off point for my own commentary. Dr. Meltzer and her team are quite clear that this curriculum is in-depth and should not be viewed as a quick fix.There isn’t a quick fix but this program works. The reason it works is because the educators come to realize that we teach each of these skills in three steps:
- Each EF strategy must first be modeled by the teacher
- THEN the students practice the skills with fun activities
- THEN AND ONLY THEN the students begin to incorporate their EF skills in their actual schoolwork
“Building a Container”
Implicit in the above comments about teachers taking the step by step process (I do it, we do it, you do it) is a very important concept that often is not discussed. And that is, a key component to our dyslexic students’ success is the awareness that we, as adults, must think explicitly about how we organize ourselves around our kids. Very often we expect the students to organize around us instead of thinking about how to organize around our kids…especially those who struggle with EF or some other learning difference.
Here’s an example that happens commonly. Most schools have a culture of demanding that the student’s organize around a specific curriculum, a certain educator mindset, a certain set of rules, etc. If the child unable to do so, very frequently there is no cultural mechanism in place that prompts the question. ”
If the child is failing in school, how might we as adults organize more effectively around them, understand them, and provide the support they need to succeed.”
Instead, the child fails and suffers the consequences.
So “building a container” refers to our process as teachers, administrators, school team members, etc. to create a support system or “container” around our students who need extra help. It refers to an explicit awareness that we have a responsibility to create a plan and make them feel valued, safe and successful.
As mentioned earlier, executive functioning skills are not, by and large, included in most school curricula. Yet, a substantial proportion of our students, by virtue of how their brain is wired, present with very significant challenges in the EF area. This is clearly an area where we, as adults and educators, must provide the “container” for our kids. We’ve got to close the gap.
Therein lies the beauty of Dr. Meltzer’s SMARTS EF program. She and her team leveraged technology so that evidence-based strategies for developing the key skills in this area are available anytime, anywhere.
Exploring the use of this program is not unlike your initial experience with intensive, multisensory approaches to dyslexia. Honestly, it can look daunting at first blush. However, keep this in mind…It is a triathlon, not a sprint. This is a program that provides intensive support in developing EF skills over a significant number of months. One step at a time. One step at a time.
Dr. Meltzer and her team have created an incredible program and I urge you to consider how you might integrate it into your existing curricula.