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Explicitly Teach Executive Function Skills with Unstuck & On Target: A Q&A with Lynn Cannon, M.Ed.

Q. The newly reformatted version of Unstuck & On Target is now optimized for both in-person and virtual instruction. Can you describe what’s new about this reconfigured version?

A. In this unique new environment of virtual learning, all Unstuck & On Target materials are now available as fillable PDFs. This allows teachers to project the worksheets and add to them during the course of the lesson. Additionally, all of the posters and game boards are available in print-ready PDFs and PowerPoint files. This allows you to make as many copies as you’d like—a big bonus, as many of our teachers like to post supportive visuals in different areas of the classroom and school and share with families.

Q. Could you share some practical tips for virtual implementation of Unstuck & On Target?

A. Now that Unstuck & On Target has materials available online, implementing the curriculum and reinforcing the lessons should be as user-friendly and simple as it is in person. Prior to beginning instruction, there are a couple things you will want to consider as you prepare for teaching Unstuck virtually.

First, the reinforcement system is designed to highlight and celebrate students using newly acquired Unstuck skills by giving tally marks and verbal praise. You will want to think of a way to visually represent these moments for students—many of our teachers have found the whiteboard feature on most computers to be an easy solution, or a jar of pom poms or marbles that you keep next to you while you are teaching to show to students what they are earning.

Second, Unstuck has several visuals that are beneficial in teaching new skills and serve as visual reminders throughout the intervention. They are now available electronically, but without a traditional classroom to display them, you will want to find a way to offer them to students. Many teachers have found it helpful to review them during whole group times like morning meeting.
Finally, while very few of the lessons require additional materials outside of what is included in the manual, you will want to review the materials list to make sure students have the necessary materials on hand.

Already have the second edition?
Then you already have access to the new digital files!
Just visit the existing downloads page on the Brookes Download Hub to access the files.

Q. How would you explain the primary goals of Unstuck & On Target? What are the most important skills students will learn after working through the curriculum?

A. Unstuck & On Target is an intervention designed to teach students how to be more flexible, planful and goal-directed. There are two main goals of the curriculum. The first goal is to increase cognitive flexibility, organization, and planning abilities of students with executive dysfunction so that they can more easily shift from topic to topic and task to task, and consider new ideas or another person’s point of view. The second goal is to provide an intervention that works in the classroom and will ultimately allow the teacher to spend more time focusing on teaching and less time on managing behavior.

During the course of the intervention, students are introduced to key vocabulary known as scripts. Examples of these scripts include stuck vs. unstuck, flexibility, Plan A & Plan B, and Big Deal Little Deal. These scripts are the foundation for instruction. At the beginning of each unit, students receive a new script, uncover what the script means, and work through a variety of different practice and generalization opportunities. The scripts create common language that develops between the students, teachers, and parents—language that can be used to support and encourage use of the skills and continues long after the culmination of Unstuck & On Target.

Q. Today’s teachers have a lot to juggle. Can you explain how Unstuck & On Target is typically implemented, to reassure educators who may worry that their class schedule is too full to sustain a supplementary curriculum?

A. There has never been more expected of our teachers and it can be overwhelming to figure out how to fit it all in. We also have to make sure the things we add into our school day have been proven to positively impact our students. Unstuck is a research-based intervention. This means that if we dedicate the time to teaching Unstuck, not only will our students learn valuable life skills that will positively impact their academics and social interactions, we will gain back a good portion of the time that was being dedicated to redirecting and managing behavior throughout the school day.

Unstuck is designed to be implemented in small-group or whole-group instruction. Each session should take between 20 to 30 minutes. The beauty of Unstuck is that you can do it in a variety of different settings: for example, in class, pull-out groups, or a lunch bunch. The frequency, whether one time a week or multiple times a week, is also up to you and should be what your schedule allows for. The power will come from not only the explicit lesson instruction, but also how you use the language and concepts to support instruction and interactions across the school day.

Q. Could you talk a little about the Home Practice handouts and how they help reinforce the home-school connection?

Click to zoom

A. We know that new skills have a better chance of becoming ingrained if students have a chance to practice them across multiple settings and are offered ample opportunities for generalization. Each lesson includes a Classroom Practice and a Home Practice. These practice pages serve two purposes. First, they communicate the language and skills that your students have learned to those other professionals and adults that work with the student. Second, they provide quick tips for how to practice and reinforce the new skills.

Q. Why will a program like Unstuck & On Target be especially important in a post-COVID environment, after most students return to in-person learning?

A. The COVID learning environment has presented a unique set of challenges for all of our students. Students who thrive on predictability, structure, and consistency have likely experienced a lot of stress as their learning environments have been so drastically altered. The skills students will learn in Unstuck & On Target—flexibility, goal setting, emotional regulation—will be incredibly supportive as students return to a more traditional learning environment and social expectations increase. We also know that during virtual learning and social distancing, it has been harder to create a sense of community in our classrooms and groups. Unstuck & On Target supports the development of community by creating a common language and set of reinforced skills and expectations.

Interested in learning more?

Unstuck & On Target!

An Executive Function Curriculum to Improve Flexibility, Planning, and Organization, Second Edition

For students with executive function challenges, problems with flexibility and goal-directed behavior can be a major obstacle to success in school and in life. With the enhanced second edition of this popular curriculum—now optimized for both in-person and virtual instruction—you’ll have everything you need to explicitly teach executive function skills in today’s educational environment.

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