IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Posts tagged executive function

#LATICInsights: Teach Consensus-Building!

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students have many opportunities to make decisions that affect groups, including when to meet, the roles different group members will take, which solution is best for a problem, how to present the solution, and so forth. It’s a perfect opportunity to teach young people how to build consensus rather than relying on the easier, but more dangerous, majority-rule voting.

The problem with majority-rule voting is best summarized in a quote generally attributed to Ben Franklin, “two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” In classrooms, and society, the losing side is often angry and subsequently focuses time on how to get others to take sides.

The alternative is to work toward consensus and ensuring that all group members can, in the least, “live with” the decision. The ability to reach consensus will help children during their school years and well beyond throughout their lives. You can use a variety of classroom tools to teach consensus. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “Love it, hate it, live with it” – As students make group decisions, rather than voting, they state one by one if they love the decision, hate it, or can live with it. If even one person hates it, the discussion continues to find a decision for which everyone can say they love it or can live with it.
  • DeBono’s PMI (Plus, Minus, Interesting ideas or questions) – As students ponder a decision, they stop and take 3-6 minutes to independently jot down two aspects they like about it, two they don’t like about it, and two questions or ideas related to it. They then discuss their entries for each of the three columns. Often, the final decision lies in the third column.

  • Placemat Activity – Students sit around the “placemat” and enter their decision and supporting ideas in an outer area of the paper. They then discuss and, when they arrive at consensus, they put the decision in the middle of the paper. All students then initial it to confirm that they agree with the decision.

  • De Bono’s Six Hats – This is a great tool for looking a decision from a variety of angles. When a group is stuck, they individually jot down ideas for all six hats.

The time spent helping students learn consensus building will pay off through a more productive classroom climate and have lasting effects for society at large. Change the world!


Hour of Code for Raising Student Achievement

As a former computer programmer, who believes that programmers run the world, I have a particular fondness for the first full week in December, known as “Hour of Code.” Coding deserves a lot more respect than it gets for raising overall student achievement.

Coding is the art and science of giving commands to a computer to make something happen. For students, it often focuses on moving characters or objects around a screen to accomplish some task, or giving commands to a robotic device to have it carry out specific tasks, such as picking up an object or moving. The Hour of Code site has many coding activities in which students (and you) can engage.

You can think of Hour of Code as an introduction to the field of computer science. However, the academic skills students will build during that hour are powerful. First, they will be exercising many executive function skills. The highlighted skills below are just some that stand out; you could actually highlight almost every executive function skill as being addressed through coding. As you plan or use existing coding activities, map them to executive function skills to see how you robust your coding activities really are.


Coding also building reasoning skills, which are essential to student achievement. Here are just three types of reasoning supported by coding:


For a more comprehensive list of types of reasoning skills, visit the changing minds website.

Try some of this year’s Hour of Code activities and think through how each one builds executive function and reasoning skills, both key to increasing student achievement. Then consider building coding opportunities into your classroom or course throughout the year. Promote coding; change the world!

Rethinking Success: Engagement, Empowerment, & Efficacy

Like it or not, to most schools, achievement means strong performance on state tests. Some claim to value life preparation and social/emotional growth over test scores, but that never plays well in the annual newspaper articles. What if you could have it all? What if you could rethink success and have happy, healthy, excited students from all walks of life, with strong test scores?

I love to build sand castles, particularly with young children; and I usually start with a large hole in the middle that hits the water (easier to retrieve wet sand.) I begin by sharing a vision and a dream of a sand castle; then I share the news that if we dig dequoteep enough, we will hit water. The dream of hitting water from the sand on the shore is usually all it takes to engage my building partner. As the hole grows, there are skills to retrieving the wet sand and building up the walls. I coach in those skills and share my belief in my building partner’s ability to carry them out (empowerment). Finally, the walls are in place and we begin the work of carving with shells (my dad always told me you carve away everything that doesn’t look like a castle.) Soon, the castle begins to emerge. Now, my building partner spreads wings, creates, and shines with self-belief (efficacy) and the castle grows more and more awesome until there is no more sunlight to guide us.

One of my favorite quotes:

build a shipIf you want an increase in test scores, don’t drum up teachers and coaches to gather up resources and teach to the test. Instead, teach them to long for a day when their students are self-confident, responsible, and excited about learning. Your strong test scores will emerge. Make these your goals:

Engage students with authentic, open-ended, problems to tackle related to the content to get them in “flow“: get them grappling! Instead of focusing on the skill; focus on where they will use that skill and start there (flip the triangle!)

Empower students by giving them increasing responsibility for their own learning. Let them decide which activities to pursue and when in order to learn the skills they need to accomplish the task that has engaged them.

Build their efficacy through leveling up activities that continue to offer them success, building a belief in their ability to achieve a goal. Let them self-assess, set goals, and accomplish their goals. Essentially, facilitate their learning.

If you aim for engagement, empowerment, and efficacy, your students will be proud, happy, and loving learning; and your test scores will rise! Perhaps success for our students is, in fact, engagement, empowerment, and efficacy.

“If, Then” Plans: Building Executive Function

One of the most important characteristics for success is the ability to delay gratification: to persist in a task or goal in spite of tempting distractions. How do we build this valuable executive function skill in our students? For starters, here is an “If, Then” planning sheet to use with students; but read on . . .


In the 1960s, Stanford University professor Walter Mischel devised the marshmallow test in which he gave preschoolers a choice: eat this one marshmallow now or wait fifteen minutes and you’ll get two. It is interesting to watch videos of the test, with some children simply eating the marshmallow and others doing everything possible to delay gratification marshmallow testin order to get the better prize! Ultimately, as researchers followed the children through school and life, those who were able to delay gratification ended up with better outcomes and accomplishments in later years.


In his book, The Marshmallow Test, Mischel shares the story of this test along with brain
physiology that can help you better understand your students. For example, the limbic system (primitive brain structures) handle basic drives and emotions; Mischel calls it the “hot system,” where decisions to act are made quickly without regard for long-term consequences. The pre-frontal cortex, home of executive function, is then the “cool system” that includes complex, reflective decision-making. Obviously, the more you can build this “cool system” (aka executive function) in students, the better. And the
more “cool” you are, the better you fare in life.


The planning sheet above addresses just one approach to activating your cooling system presented by Mischel. Students of all ages can use it. Just have them consider a short-term goal they are trying to achieve in which they could be derailed by distractions. Have them anticipate those distractions and consider how they would thwart them. This could be a phrase they would say to themselves or an action they would take. Later, they can reflect (another executive function skill) on how well they did in staying on track.


For more on executive function:

IDE Corp. to Present at 2016 Annual AMLE Conference

IDE Corp. is pleased to announce that they will be partnering with two client school districts and presenting at the 2016 Conference of the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE).  IDE and the Hastings-on-Hudson Union Free School District in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY will present two sessions on “Redefining Class Participation Into Building Executive Function Skills” and “Designing Classrooms For Problem-Finders, Innovators, and Entrepreneurs”.  The South Orangetown Central School District in Blauvelt, NY will partner with IDE to present “Using Systems Mapping to Support Comprehensive Instructional Change”.  Both school districts are designing and implementing K-12 Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms™. The annual AMLE conference will take place in Austin, Texas from October 9-12, 2016.

Learn more about Executive Function in Dr. Nancy Sulla’s video “Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student Achievement“.

Founded by Dr. Nancy Sulla, IDE Corp. offers a comprehensive instructional model that is the synthesis of the best research available on student achievement. IDE consultants work with school districts around the country to help them shift paradigms and design new approaches to instruction.  IDE Corp. has been providing instructional and organizational consulting to schools since 1987.

Executive Function May Be The Missing Link

For too long, executive function has been a term used primarily among special education professionals to discuss deficits, ignored by mainstream educators as the path to achievement for all.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 10.14.57 PMSimply put, academic rigor refers to academic engagement that focuses on higher-order thinking and application. It is a door-opener for students!

If students can thrive in academic rigor, they can nail those standardized tests, tackle most problems and challenges that come their way, and follow any of a vast number of career paths. Building academic rigor should be the goal of every school, every teacher. Executive function may be the missing link to increased student achievement.

How many of the following skills would you say are required for students to perform at rigorous levels?

  • Focusing
  • Concentrating
  • Shifting focus from one event to another
  • Changing perspective
  • Seeing multiple sides of a situation
  • Being open to other people’s points of view
  • Being creative
  • Catching and correcting errors
  • Thinking about multiple concepts simultaneously
  • Storing and manipulating visual and verbal information
  • Identifying same and different
  • Remembering details
  • Following multiple steps
  • Anticipating
  • Persisting in a task
  • Organizing actions and thoughts
  • Considering future consequences in light of current action

These are the skills of executive function, controlled by the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

The good news is, the more you use these skills, the stronger they become. You can build executive function in students by engaging them in these skills.

If you are running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you can explore ways to build executive function through the various structures inherent in the model. If not, you can still use this list to brainstorm how you can engage students in using the skills listed in the third column. This assessment sheet can be used by teachers to assess students or by students to self assess.

For more information, read chapter 6 of It’s Not What You Teach But How: 7 Insights For Making the CCSS Work for You, published by Routledge.