Through explicit, systematic instruction, students learn strategies for key executive functioning skills of self-management, such as time management, organization (materials hand-on and online and environment), developing goals and goal directed persistence, types of attention, planning and prioritizing. During once-a-week sessions, students complete self-assessments and reflection sheets. Students learn a toolbox of skills and strategies to help them with each skill pulling from sources from Peg Dawson, Sarah Ward, and research from Dr. Russell Barkley and Dr. Tom Brown.
Enhancing and practicing those skills are done through service-learning projects designed to span 3 months. In addition, “soft skills” (teamwork and communication) and the Laurel School Leadership Competency for Professionalism and Ethics are emphasized throughout our service cycles.
Helping students develop Executive Function (EF) strategies – goal setting, cognitive flexibility, organizing and prioritizing, memorizing, self-checking and monitoring – can be the difference between success and failure, particularly in the current environment.
The class is grounded in knowledge the executive functions appear in basic forms in young children and gradually become more complex as the brain matures throughout childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Therefore, the environment offers scaffolding and a positive attitude that our students will gradually grow these skills.
Service-learning is a form of project-based learning in which academic goals are accomplished through community service. We harness the power of this approach to provides kids with authentic learning experiences in which they learn executive functioning skills. Through real-life, real-world context, our students develop proficiency in adaptable thinking, planning, self-monitoring, self-control, working memory, time management, and organization. At same time, our executive functioning leadership class develops citizenship, responsibility, and critical “soft skills”, such as teamwork, communications, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills.
Students who participate in the SMARTS program show increased motivation to learn, stronger effort, and a desire to use executive function strategies in their schoolwork, homework, and studying. Students also develop the self-understanding to know which strategies work best for them as well as why, where, when and how to use these strategies in their academic work.