How to Research
When students with ADHD or executive function gaps are asked to "do research," it can seem like a vague and overwhelming task. Where do they start? Where do they look? How do they record what they find? How do they synthesize everything so they can use it for their project or paper? Here is a guide that can help them understand where to start and where to go. HOW TO RESEARCH 1. Start from the ending. What is the finished product you'll need? A presentation? An essay? Look at your assignment sheet to learn the parameters of the assignment. What is your teacher expecting you to produce once your assignment is finished? What questions will be answered? 2. Then you can plan backwards: think about how much time it will take to write the paper/create the presentation, how much time it will take to synthesize the information you get from your research, and how much time it will take to do the research. You can estimate. 3. Start researching. a) Keep in mind what your teacher expects you to produce and what questions they want answered. Write these questions on a Doc, piece of paper, or white board so you keep them in mind as you research. b) Look for primary sources, credible web sites, news articles from reputable news organizations, books, and magazines. Skim them to see if they will be useful in your research. c) Once you have a collection of sources, read each one, taking notes either in a Doc, on a piece of paper, or directly on the article if you've printed it out. You can highlight sections you want to quote or use in your essay or presentation. d) Take a day to step away from your research. e) Come back to your notes and annotations. Have your teacher's expectations, the assignment outline, and the questions to be answered with you. Begin to organize your notes in ways that will help you answer the questions and meet the expectations of the assignment. You may want to create a new document that synthesizes your notes and annotations into categories, either one you write by hand, or one you type into a document. 4. Now you are ready to create the first draft of your final product, whether it is an essay or a presentation. I have put this information into a graphic that you can share with your student. I can also email this image to you; just ask!
This is Why Dyslexic Students Struggle
During a recent professional development training, I came across a fantastic graphic that visually demonstrates exactly why reading is so challenging to learn, especially for students with learning differences like dyslexia. It's called the reading rope, and it was created by Hollis Scarborough, a leading researcher of early language development. You can see it here (scroll down to the end; I don't have permission to use it in this newsletter). When you look at the image, you notice that several skills are braided together into two different sections which are also woven together. The first piece is language comprehension, and the strands here are our background knowledge, vocabulary, understanding of the structure of language, verbal reasoning skills, and our understanding of literacy concepts like genres or subtopics. The second piece is word recognition. You've heard me talk about these pieces often: phonological awareness (knowing what sounds letters make, the names of letters, the concept of syllables, etc.), decoding (being able to break down words to read and pronounce them), and sight recognition of familiar words. These two pieces are then connected over time to create a skilled, fluent reader. Look at all the things happening simultaneously when we read! It's a great deal of work and it can make us quite tired if it is something challenging for us. This is why so many dyslexic students tell me they don't like to read; it's just so darn hard! And if they aren't getting explicit instruction in all of these pieces, reading will feel like an immense chore. The next time you feel defeated, frustrated, confused, or down about how your child is performing with reading, remember the reading rope. If they have the right supports in place, they will reach fluency eventually, and it will feel really good for you both. Photo by Start Digital on Unsplash
ADHD and Focus
As part of my series on executive function, I'd like to address something that can puzzle neurotypical people: the relationship between those with ADHD and their ability to focus. For years, I've had parents come to me and say their student just doesn't try to focus. That their mind wanders and if they'd just learn to focus, they could get their homework done or pay attention in class. This isn't true, however. As this article in ADDitude magazine shows, it's not that students with ADHD have a lack of focus, it's that they do not know how to control their focus. And there is a big difference there. Students with ADHD have explained it to me like this: when they are in class, they don't just hear the teacher's voice. They also hear the sound of the heating vent, their neighbor's foot tapping, the video from the next classroom, and the sound of other students' keys on their keyboards. Their brain isn't able to put those other noises into the background as easily. Instead, it all blends together into a mix of sounds that make it challenging to focus on just one, namely the teacher's voice. Mindfulness techniques can help here...if a student learns how to focus on their breath, as well as notice when their attention wanders, they can eventually learn how to bring themselves back into focus when they notice their attention has slipped. At home, if a student is trying to do their homework and someone is cooking dinner, a sibling is playing a video game, and a parent is conducting a phone call, it will be hard to filter out all the extraneous noise to focus on math. It can take some experimenting to find the optimal study space at home that will provide the right level of stimulation, but this is a good time of year to try different things. Some students enjoy background music while they study, and that doesn't always mean Mozart; upbeat, fast-paced electronic or rock music does the trick for some. As the article mentioned above states, it is helpful to establish a routine around homework, assist students in getting started with their work (which often looks like reading through the instructions together and making sure the student understands the assignment), breaking down bigger tasks into smaller pieces, doing some supervising, and allowing frequent breaks. Do not expect your child to do these things on her own, even in high school. Most students with ADHD need a good deal of support before they can do these things on their own, and will need repeated practice as well. Once it looks like they have some independence, back off the support, but don't take it away altogether. Gradually allow them more independence until it appears they can tackle assignments on their own confidently. And always keep in mind that they are doing their best. Most students with ADHD are trying and are working with what they've got, so the best thing we can do as the adults in their lives is help them find the strategies and tools that will help them succeed. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
IEPs and 504 Plans During COVID-19
Navigating online learning is tricky enough, but when your child has an IEP or 504 plan, how can you make sure that the support they need is being provided? Here are some resources I've found to help you understand your child's rights and what schools should be doing to maintain the educational supports outlined in the IEP or 504 plan. Adjusting Your Child's IEP or 504 Plan for Distance Learning from ADDitude Magazine. Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During a COVID-19 Outbreak from the US Department of Education Considerations for IEPs 2020 for Vermont Special Education Guidance for COVID-19 for California How to Handle IEPs During the Coronavirus Crisis? Some Expert Advice from Education Week. Are Special Education Services Required in the Time of COVID-19? from the American Bar Association Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash
Calendar and Planner Recommendations
I'm returning to my executive function series and this week I'd like to talk about calendars and planners. First, I'll recommend the 360 Thinking Academic Planner from Cognitive Connections. I particularly like this planner because it is much more robust than the planners you'll find at an office supply store. There is the traditional section for writing down appointments, but there is also an entire section for listing homework assignments that also includes prompts for what they might need to complete the assignment, an estimate for how long they think it will take to do the assignment, and what they need to do to turn in the assignment. You can see a sample page and explanation here. Another item that may benefit your student is a large wall calendar. You could buy a paper one or a white board with the squares already printed on it, or even a large white board that the student can draw a calendar on. This is helpful for long-term planning of essays, projects, and study time. I recommend something that can either be easily erased, like a white board, or that could be used with sticky notes. That way, when deadlines change or the task priority shifts, they can easily move things around on the calendar. Using pencil and erasing gets messy, and pen is even worse. I also recommend getting restickable glue. This way, students could draw pictures of what needs to get done (a piece of paper and a pencil could represent an essay, a microscope could represent a science project) and utilize their visual working memory, as I mentioned in my last post. They could use these items in the following way: 1. Writing down assignments in the planner while in class or while looking at Google Classroom or their school's portal.2. At study hall, or when they get home, filling in their planner page with when they are going to do each homework assignment (e.g. math at 7 pm, read novel at 8 pm, study for history test on 9/25 and 9/26).3. Either at this point, or another time soon, plan out how much time long-term projects or essays assigned will take and transferring that information to the wall calendar. I'm happy to help my students set up a system like this, and the beginning of the school year is a great time to do so! Please let me know if this kind of support is something you'd like for your child.