SMARTS: Executive Function Program in Churchill Middle School

SMARTS empowers students by helping them understand their strengths and weaknesses and teaching them critically important executive function strategies.
As students move from 6th through 8th grade, they are not only faced with the demands of their academic classes, but they are also navigating the social, physical and emotional terrain of adolescence. When you add the extra layer of a language based learning disability, throw in some inattention, a sprinkle of impulsivity, and a dash of age appropriate rebellion, you’ve got the wondrous place known as middle school. It’s a time where students start to experience greater independence, while still in the safety net of their families and teachers.
Many skills are being developed as students enter middle school. The last two years in the Churchill middle school have seen a greater emphasis on direct instruction of executive function skills. Specifically, students and teachers have engaged with the SMARTS Executive Function Program (Strategies, Motivation, Awareness, Resilience, Talents, Success), which is designed to help educators teach students different executive functioning strategies, among them: metacognition, understanding and prioritizing time, goal-setting, study skills, and note taking.
The first lesson teachers use from SMARTS focuses on metacognitive awareness. In this lesson, students learn to define metacognition and map out their personal strengths and challenges. It is the foundation from which the other lessons are built upon. Students spend time creating “CANDO Goals,” which helps students create clear and attainable goals. Students in the middle school, especially 8th graders who start attending their parent teachers conferences, benefit from this process as it gives them greater ownership of their skill development and learning, and it also prepares them to discuss how the school year is going at the conference.
Sample CANDO Goal Worksheet:
Other lessons help students examine and prioritize their time, analyze their work and create short term goals for their work, and note taking. Since all of the middle school teachers have received professional development training in the Smarts program, students are not just using the strategies in one class, but all of their content area classes.
In Purposeful Highlighting, students are taught to use a reading comprehension strategy for identifying various types of information in a text. This strategy has proven useful across the content areas.
In Top 3 Hits, students are asked to analyze common errors and create a mnemonic to remember them for next time. This strategy comes into play for test prep, writing, goal setting, and encourages students to tap into their metacognitive awareness.
Gina Manes
Middle School Program Coordinator
The Churchill School and Center