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Monday, June 30, 2014

Executive Functioning: The Truth About Planning, Time Management and Organization

Did you know that the ability to plan, organize and manage time is not fully developed until individuals reach their early 20s?  In fact, many students require structured instruction and scaffolding to learn these skills.  Executive functioning, or the "Grand Central Station" of the brain, is a common term that is used to describe these areas of cognitive functioning.

Planning, Managing Time and Organization:  How Difficult Can it Really Be?
When I first began working with young learners that struggled with executive functioning, I was surprised how challenging executive functioning skills could be for some of my bright learners.  What seemed to be clear and obvious was obscure, taxing and problematic for for many learners. 

Misunderstood Students:
Instead of understanding and assistance, students that have difficulties with planning, time management and organization are often intimidated with discipline.  For example, students often report that they are given detention or that they miss recess when they fail to turn in an assignment.  In addition, many are misunderstood resulting in negative labels and inconsistent methods that result in poor grades. These students continually report that they are called lazy, unmotivated and careless, and this can result in frustration, anger and even helplessness.  

Getting school districts to offer accommodations for students that struggle with executive functioning challenges is difficult, and at present, with technological advances, each teacher seems to have their own way of reporting and collecting assignments.  Consequently, this population of learners experiences additional pressure due to the lacking structure across teachers and their need for consistency. 

Executive Functioning Deficits: What are the Signs?  
They often:
1.   lose attention.
2.   lose assignments.
3.   complete assignments at the last minute.
4.   underestimate the time it takes to complete a task.
5.   forget to record homework assignments.
6.   forget materials at school.
7.   forget materials at home.
8.   avoid test preparation.
9.   struggle with the management of long-term assignments, tasks or goals.
10. neglect to prepare for midterms or finals.
11. forget appointments.
12. miss important directions.
13. lose mental stamina and fail to complete a task.
14. misplace needed materials.
15. rush through work.

So How Can We Help?
1.   Set a good example.
2.   Exhibit metacognitive skills by thinking through your own mental processes aloud. 
3.   Maintain a homework plan. 
4.   Break big assignments into manageable activites.
5.   Generate to do lists.
6.   Instruct students about study skills.
7.   Demonstrate note-taking skills.
8.   Teach test taking and memory strategies.
9.   Ignite student motivation through positive reinforcement.  
10. Generate and use graphic organizers for writing.
11. Use a structured daily routine.
Where Can I Purchase Ready-Made Materials?
To learn more about strategies and more, I have a 116 page publication on CD or digital download that offers materials and methods that structure, guide, and support students in time management, planning and organization.  These comprehensive materials include questionnaires, agendas, checklists, an organizers for reading, writing and test preparation.  You will also find additional advice and materials in math, memory, setting priorities, motivation, and creating incentives programs.  These materials are varied and assist learners from elementary to college.  Finally, you can also get a free sample, passive vs. active learner assessment, from the publication, and you can view a free video on executive functioning.  Click Here  

Cheers, Erica

Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  

Monday, June 23, 2014

3 Tips for Managing Family Stress This Summer

With the end of school brings happy children and parents who hope to reduce their stress levels. However, about one week into the summer, I typically hear from parents who want to know how to reduce the whining and fighting in the household. Here are a few ideas for creating a summer that you’ll actually enjoy:
  1. Add structure to the day: When children have routines, they understand the expectations and can mentally prepare for the day. If you’d like to give your children a chance to relax, consider a loose but predictable structure. Aim for meals at the same time, a chore time, and time planned for other activities. Even though it seems like removing structure might give your children more of a break, complete lack of planning tends to wind up in a complete free-for-all and increases the  chances of meltdowns. 
  1. Target positive behavior: Think about what behavior you’d like to see flourish in your children. Do they need help with teamwork? Keeping their hands to themselves? Sharing? Choose one behavior and create a reward system that’s easy to enforce. My personal favorite is to start filling a jar with cotton balls (one earned for each good choice) and have a family reward when it’s full. Rewards don’t have to be expensive; a trip to the park or family movie night might be treats that motivate. The important point is to give your attention to the positive behaviors rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then course-correcting. Think of your attention like sunlight on plants; are you shining it on the weeds (i.e. negative behaviors) or the flowers (i.e. positive behaviors)? A reward system helps you to stay positive and your children to focus on the behavior you’d like to nurture.
  1. Use electronics wisely: Between TV, video games, cell phones, and tablets, screen time adds up fast! If your children are likely to ask for a screen the moment they’re free, you’re not alone. A little planning can help avoid the struggle by setting expectations early in the summer. Consider a limited time to use electronics, a few days without any screens, or earned screen time for less desirable activities, such as chores.
Consider some structural additions to your summer to make the most out of the summer vacation!

Emily Herber McLean, LPC is a child and family therapist at The Center for Psychological Services.

Monday, June 16, 2014

When is it Time to Explore Non-Traditional Options?

Many high school graduates with diagnosed learning disabilities are able to matriculate and successfully complete traditional undergraduate programs while utilizing a range of services appropriate for their needs.  However, some students have additional requirements that limit their possibilities.  For these students, who seek a college experience but require additional services, there are other, exciting options worthy of exploration.

One such program is Threshold, housed on the campus of Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.   Candidates for Threshold may score below average on tests of cognitive ability, and struggle in the core content areas.  This program provides them exposure to careers in business or early childhood education, while earning 6 college credits and building independent living skills.  Students who complete the program may participate in postgraduate programs which allow for further skill development and additional credits. 
College Internship Program:
With programs in Massachusetts, Florida, Indiana, New York and California, College Internship Program provides students on the Autism Spectrum, those with ADHD or learning disabilities with the skills to become independent learners and members of the community.   Different tracks, ranging from college, to career, to the arts, are available to students, depending on their needs and interests. 

Vocational Independence Program:
The Vocational Independence Program (VIP) at New York Institute of Technology in Central Islip is another program that fosters independence for those with significant learning needs.   It also offers two tracks: Introduction to Independence, a summer program encompassing recreation and work-study; and its traditional three-year VIP program that is based in academics, the enhancement of social skills, independent living and career readiness. 
Programs such as these help make the dream of a college experience a reality for many students for whom such an opportunity would not often exist.  They serve as another important example of the possibilities that are available for all students who have the desire to succeed, despite the challenges they face.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Helping Dyslexic Students Over the Summer

How to Make Learning Part of your Summer Routine

Sunny days, swimming pools, Crocs, staying up past bedtime, and no homework!  That’s what kids think of when June arrives and school lets out.  For most kids the time off is a delight, a much needed respite from the intensity of the school year and the mastery of a year’s curriculum. 

Have you noticed that when your kids return to school they spend September and the first part of October reviewing everything they learned in April and May?  Have you wondered why that is?  Well, two to three months off from learning is a long time and memory for newly learned material tends to decay quickly, so by the time kids get back to school after a summer of duly earned fun and play, many of their skills have deteriorated.  They need review to get back to the skill level they demonstrated in June.
Children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia can’t afford to take so much time off from learning, the cost is too great.  Your child worked hard to acquire the skills she learned this year—you saw how hard it was.  She put in sustained effort, practiced, worked with specialists and tutors, and even with that support has to strive to hold onto every bit of skill she acquired.
The learning curve for children who have dyslexia differs from that of a typical learner.  While another child may retain a word after seeing it 2-5 times, your child may need to see it 40-50 times, even more to be able to read it fluently or spell it.  The repetition provided by specialized teachers and the practice you support every night through word rings, Wilson homework, read alouds, and flashcards is designed to provide the exposure, rehearsal, and application that a dyslexic child needs to retain essential foundation knowledge.  The consequence of the summer break for that child is much greater loss of knowledge and skill than is typical of most.  Catch up in the fall is thus insufficient to get him back to where he was in June.  He has lost too much ground and it will take too long to regain his traction.
Here are some activities you can use over the summer at home to reinforce this year’s progress.  The goal is not to gain ground or learn more, but rather to maintain hard earned footing:
Keep reading!  During the year your child reads to herself and you read to her (I hope).  Daily reading activities shouldn’t change, except perhaps to increase as there is more flexibility in scheduling.  In addition to selecting high interest books, it can also be helpful to read aloud some of the books she will encounter in next year’s curriculum, so that she will be familiar with the material.
Practice math facts: Road trips, family dinners, and during a game of catch are great times to practice basic math facts.  You may think these have been mastered, but they tend to decay without use and next year’s math will require more efficient recall of math facts for higher level calculations.
Find fun ways to use math everyday:  For example, have a lemonade stand.  Bake: reading a recipe and measuring ingredients uses knowledge of fractions and working memory.  Visit the local dollar general store and have your child calculate how much money they need for items (don’t forget the tax) and how much change they should expect.  Do a construction or sewing project; these involve measurement, planning, and checking one’s work.  Have your child calculate the tip when you eat in a restaurant.
Visit museums, historical sites, or other venues that build on subject matter that your child learned about last year or will learn about next year:  Hands-on and visual experiences are so very valuable to a child’s understanding of an historical period, place, or series of events.  For example, if your child studied the Civil War, a visit to Gettysburg may be in order.  If they learned about the prehistoric period, visit a natural history museum.  Finally, for geology go to a natural park.
Keep a summer journal: You and your child could even coauthor a journal.
A summer academic program or tutoring may be in order:  This keeps your child's mind in the game and can both enrich and solidify learning in areas of particular need (or strength) for your child. 
Don’t forget about technology:  We know our children love their screens so find a few good educational apps that they can use on the way to the beach or during downtime at home.  Summer is also a good time for older children to practice typing using a web-based program, get used to audiobooks, and master the use of voice to text technology.
Making learning a part of your summer routine keeps your child’s mind engaged and will make fall a much more pleasant time as he enters next year’s classroom feeling confident and ready to learn.

Enjoy summer!

Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Graduation! Prepare for what comes next...

T.S. Eliot in his famous poem The Quartets says we “...arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” and he goes on to say "In my beginning is my ending". Nothing could be truer when it comes to young adults with learning issues graduating from high school. As they venture off to next steps in the world, they begin anew. Although this path is new, many steps they will take are familiar.

Because of the rigor it took to graduate from High School, they are well on their way to being successful with a new set of challenges. No matter what is next for your young adult, a few steps properly taken at this momentous time can preserve options and smooth the road later.

And... here is fair warning about a few obstacles as your kids with learning issues venture out into the world! There is a tendency to engage in what I call “Hope-a-Hope-a”: to believe a learning issue is understood and no longer a challenge. In essence, there can be a little feeling deep down inside that says “I have graduated from my learning issue”! This is just not true! What is guaranteed to happen, however, is that new experiences with their learning issue will arise. 

Summary of Performance 
IDEA, the legislation that covers kids with learning issues while in primary and secondary schools, requires that a local education agency provide a summary of the child’s academic achievement and functional performance. Completing this is an important step to take on making a good start with what ever new beginning the student is embarking upon. This Summary of Performance (SOP) should include recommendations on how to assist the child in meeting post-secondary goals. Creating a summary of their achievement and performance at graduation can help with educational, work and other options later in life.

What goes into a (SOP) - Summary of Performance
The SOP should contain the following information to make it as usable as possible in the future.
·      Background Information    This section requests that copies of the most recent formal and informal assessments that document the child’s learning issues be included.
·      Students Post secondary Goals   These goals should indicate the post high school environment the student has plans of transitioning to upon completion of high school.
·      Summary of Performance This section has three critical areas:
o   Cognitive
o   Academic
o   Functional
The student’s present level of performance in each area should be addressed as well as modifications, accommodations and assistive technology used.
·      Recommendations to assist the student in meeting Post Secondary Goals   A description of essential accommodations, assistive technology and support services the student will need to access their post secondary goals.
·      Student Input Student input to these reports is essential to its clarity for both the student and those that will use the report in the future. The student may fill this section out independently or through a student interview. 
How Do I Get Started on an SOP?
A template for the SOP can be downloaded from the LDA website at www.ldamerica.org It is available to be freely copied or adapted for educational purposes. Hats off to the National Transition Team for making this available for all!

Take a moment in the midst of your graduation celebrations to plan for the future for your student with learning disabilities. It is just plain smart to request a thorough SOP from your school as a parting “gift”.  It will prove useful in the future!

Parents, do you have questions raising your child with learning issues? You can raise confident capable kids despite learning issues. Reach out for answers to your most perplexing questions today!

Becky Scott

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What to Do When Traditional Phonics Fails

Are you familiar with that pesky ‘magic e’?

It’s a special phonics rule taught to kids worldwide. The supposed  magic of the ‘e’ that appears at the end of a word is that it supposedly lengthens the vowel before it.

For example, take the word cake. The e does its magic and lengthens the a vowel.

But hang on a minute. What about come or done? Something’s fishy there...

A recent research study found that the ‘magic e’ rule works only 77% of the time with a vowels, 76% of the time with u vowels, 75% of the time with i vowels, 58% of the time with o vowels, and a scrawny 16% of the time with e vowels. A little number crunching shows us that the ‘magic e’ only works 60% of the time.

A 60% success rate doesn’t bode well for a phonics rule. It's only slightly higher than half the time!

Or how about another famous phonics saying: “when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking”? Here, the idea is that when there are two vowels together, the sound they will make is the long vowel relating to the first vowel, like in the word rain.

There's only one little problem, however: this works less than 50% of the time. Doesn’t sound like a "rule" really, does it?

These little sayings are simply attempts at helping early readers remember irregular phonetic constructions, and they can be helpful in some circumstances. But their failure illustrates a much bigger problem overall: traditional phonics alone may not be the best way to teach the English language.

That’s why we recommend Guided Phonetic Reading (GPR), or multisensory techniques that involve more than just a rule-based phonics curriculum. Especially for visual learners or dyslexics with low phonemic awareness, memorizing a bunch of faulty rules is never going to be the right way to go.

As one example of a multi-sensory approach to phonics, GPR uses a visual angle to teach the letter-to-sound relationships in English. Little visual images floating above a word represent each of the sounds in that word. They act as a support for the learner. It’s similar to learning to ride a bike with training wheels. Through decoding practice using these visual phonics prompts that are always correct, even for irregular words, reading can be taught as a skill rather than a set of untrustworthy rules. Over time, the child is weaned off those training wheels and no longer needs the image prompts to read.

And with GPR currently running around a 95% success rate with struggling readers, perhaps that’s the kind of “magic” we should be teaching in our classrooms!

Sarah Forrest is a Reading Specialist for the Easyread System, an online program designed to help children learn to read who are struggling with dyslexia, weak auditory processing and more.