Innovative Educational Solutions
Dr. Sheri's Blog
Dr. Sheri's Blog
|Posted on September 6, 2016 at 1:57 AM||comments (306)|
As a student, a mom, and a teacher, I've experienced many late nights spent cramming to get a project completed and turned in on time. Unfortunately, for individuals with executive function deficits, planning can be an area of great weakness. This lack of planning can result in leaving things to the last minute, or not getting started with a project at all because it just seems too overwhelming.
Project mapping is a method whereby sticky notes are used to identify the different components of a project. A calendar is used to assign dates to each individual task, and that date is then written on each sticky note. The sticky notes are then placed on a planner with three columns: Not Begun, In Progress, and Completed. All sticky notes start in the far left column. As tasks are begun, they are moved to the middle column. When they are completed, they are moved to the far right column. The goal is to get all the sticky notes to the far right column before the due date.
For a video on how to complete a project map, check out our latest video on YouTube. For a template, click here.
If you're a classroom teacher and you have students completing group projects, the project map can be easily adapted by using different colored stickies for different members of the group.
One of the reasons why this process is so effective is because it provides a visual reminder of all the steps that need to be completed in order for the project to be done. It also provides a strong visual regarding how much needs to be done, relative to how much has already been finished.
If you found this information helpful, please leave a comment and share this information with others who might find it useful.
|Posted on August 5, 2016 at 1:24 AM||comments (70)|
Visual scales are terrific tools for helping young people with executive function challenges to see and understand the subtleties of everyday life. Click here for a document with instructions on how to make a visual scale. And click here for a short YouTube video showing how to make a visual scale.
Visual scales can be used in a variety of ways: to show voice or noise levels, to communicate state of mind, to indicate physical health, or to show proximity. Visual scales work by showing the current level in relation to the desired level, and by tracking progress toward the desired level.
Have you successfully used visual scales with your students or children? If so, please share in the comments so that other readers can benefit from your experiences.
|Posted on June 18, 2015 at 11:25 PM||comments (87)|
|Posted on May 4, 2015 at 9:25 PM||comments (90)|
I've never considered myself to be very flexible. In fact, when I was eight years old and taking ballet classes, my Russian ballet instructor was dismayed at how my young body simply refused to bend on command. I've found that doing yoga regularly can contribute to a more flexible body, but what can one do when the problem is an inflexible brain?
Last week I discussed executive function (EF), which is a set of cognitive functions that help us to be more mentally flexible, less impulsive, able to control our emotions, and capable of planning and problem solving. I promised to discuss each of these areas more fully, and to provide some ideas for strategies that can be used to support children and adults who experience EF challenges.
In FLIPP the Switch: Strengthen Executive Function Skills, we define flexibility as, "the ability to change your mind and make changes to your plans as needed" (Wilkins & Burmeister, 2015). Perhaps you know someone who always needs to have things their way, or perhaps you've had experience with someone who gets an idea in their mind and can't seem to see any other alternatives. These individuals were exhibiting a lack of mental flexibility.
Having mental flexibility is important in that it allows us to move forward and get things done, even when things might not happen as planned. It also allows us to look at a situation from several different perspectives, enabling us to "try on" different solutions, eventually landing on one that makes the most sense. It also helps us to take the perspective of others by making it possible for us to put ourselves in the place of someone else, ultimately allowing us to show empathy and understanding. Finally, mental flexibility makes it possible for us to go into unfamiliar situations and adapt our behavior to fit in with the expectations of the particular situation.
One strategy that can be used to build mental flexibility for building contextual sensitivity (the ability to "size up" a situation and adapt behavior accordingly) is a process called SOARR. The letters in SOARR stand for:
S - Specify the specific situation (i.e., eating in a fancy restaurant)
O - Observe how others are behaving (i.e., talking quietly, using cutlery, etc.)
A - Analyze what behaviors will need to be exhibited in order to fit in with the environment
R - Respond based on the observation and analysis
R - Reflect on your own perceptions and the responses of others
SOARR can be used as a coaching tool, with one individual taking on the coaching role and supporting the other person to walk through the steps. The coach could be a trusted adult, such as a teacher or a parent, who works with a young person who needs some help with mental flexibility. However, an individual can also use SOARR as a self-coaching tool, running through the steps mentally when in an unfamiliar situation. The goal is to build flexibility so that one can quickly analyze a situation, determine the expected behaviors, and adopt those behaviors that will enable the person to comfortably navigate the situation.
For more information on executive function, as well as 25 strategies for supporting individuals with EF deficits, check out FLIPP the Switch: Strengthen Executive Function Skills,
which is available from AAPC Publishing, as well as major booksellers (such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble).
Next week I'll discuss the link between EF and emotions, and share a strategy for reducing the emotionality that can sometimes occur when we're working with a someone with EF challenges. Until then, stay agile, both in body and mind!
|Posted on April 27, 2015 at 4:52 PM||comments (56)|
Do you work with a student, have a child, or live with someone who is disorganized, inflexible, impulsive, and who struggles with planning and problem solving? Did you know that these traits fall into a category of skills called executive functions? Your student, child, or significant other may find it difficult to achieve in school, follow through with responsibilities at home, and/or interact appropriately in work and community settings – not because of a lack of effort or desire to do well but due to a lack of executive function (EF) skills.
One easy way to remember some of the major components of executive function is to think of the acronym FLIPP: Flexibility, Leveled emotionality, Impulse control, Planning/organizing, and Problem solving (Wilkins & Burmeister, 2015):
· Flexibility: The ability to change your mind and make changes to your plans as needed.
· Leveled Emotionality: The ability to emotionally self-regulate and avoid extensive mood swings
· Impulse Control: The ability to control your impulses, such as waiting to speak when called upon.
· Planning/Organizing: The ability to make plans and keep track of time and materials so that work is finished on time.
· Problem Solving: The ability to know when there is a problem that needs to be solved, generate solutions, select one, and evaluate the outcome.
Executive function deficits can negatively impact success at school, home, the community, and work. Although many educators associate deficits in EF skills with students on the autism spectrum, the reality is that many young people struggle with executive functioning. In fact, it is accurate to say that all young people are learning EF as these skills are not fully developed until people are well into their twenties. In addition, several clinical conditions, such as attention deficit disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, intellectual disability, obsessive-compulsive disorders, social communication disorder, specific learning disability, Tourette syndrome, and traumatic brain injury are often understood to include a component of EF deficits. Furthermore, individuals with diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia may also exhibit deficits in the area of executive function.
The bottom line is that many of the individuals with whom we interact on a daily basis may lack fully developed executive function skills. The good news is that there are some very easy-to-use strategies that can go a long way toward minimizing conflict and maximizing success in dealing with someone who struggles with EF. Tune in tomorrow for ideas to help with mental flexibility.
|Posted on March 29, 2015 at 4:42 AM||comments (355)|
|Posted on February 17, 2015 at 10:46 PM||comments (55)|
|Posted on February 12, 2015 at 5:10 AM||comments (54)|
Well, I'm in Darwin for the night, after flying on a single engine plane in and out of a very small town in the Australian bush. I've spent two days there in the school, flying back each evening to a larger town (large, as in, over 100 residents). I hardly slept the night before my first flight, but I soon found that I'm not frightened and, in fact, the views are amazing!
My new school is small (around 25 students, K-7th grade) and in a community sheltered by an amazing escarpment, with picturesque waterfalls and rough-hewn walls. The town is made up of one extended family, which causes some problems with the students at school who bring their arguments and disagreements with them.
The students at this school speak English quite well (in fact, they are very adept at producing some very common English swear words), and their literacy skills are a little bit higher than what I experienced last week. However, their behavior is unbelievable. They kick, hit, bite, throw things at each other, scream, yell, and call each other names. They do not hesitate in the least if there is an adult around (a kindergarten student actually hit the substitute teacher this afternoon). Getting them to sit, focus, and work is exhausting!
Luckily, this community has been blessed with an amazing principal, who could be working at Stanford University, but who has, instead, chosen to spend the last years before retirement in making a difference in these children's lives. She has taught in Australia, Hong Kong, the UK, and the US. She is Montessori trained and is open to trying new techniques to help the students learn. She and her husband, a retired chemist, live in a small flat attached to the school. She has only been there six months, but her influence is already being felt. She expects a lot out of the students, and, for the most part, they do what she asks. I'm enjoying working with her immensely; although she has such a wealth of experience, she is still incredibly humble and willing to learn and try new things.
Tomorrow morning I'm back in my charter plan and off to my little town to spend another day supporting the students and educators there. However, tonight I'm enjoying a comfy hotel room, having thoroughly appreciated a nice salad and glass of wine, while waiting for all my clothing to run through the laundry facilities in the hotel. It's amazing how little things take on so much more meaning when one experiences live with so much less!
As the Aussies say, "Cheers and G'day!"
Buffalo and horses on the way out of town
The school and school children on the approach to the airstrip
|Posted on February 9, 2015 at 1:56 AM||comments (47)|
I'm rounding out my first week at my biggest school (approximately 125 students, preschool through grade 10) and so I thought I'd take a few moments to sum up my experiences here.
On Saturday night I had a terrific time at a potluck featuring Australian dishes. Everyone brought something to share and we had some really terrific tucker (aka food). There was chicken parma, Australian lamb, quiche, coleslaw, Australian meatballs, cheesymite rolls (cheese and Vegemite on homemade Australian bread), berry and apple crisp, anzac biscuits, and pavlova (I brought cheesy potatoes - kind of a French/American thing). It was really nice relaxing and getting to know the teachers and their spouses away from school.
On Sunday afternoon I was to one of the teacher's houses for tea (I'll call her Joanie), and Sunday evening I was invited, along with Joanie, to another teacher's house for dinner (I'll call her Martha). Joanie borrowed the "ute" (aka: utility vehicle) from the principal for the short drive to Martha's house. I wondered why we would need the ute when Martha's house is just down the street and around the corner. However, when we almost got run down by a spooked wild horse being chased by dogs, I understood why we might not want to walk outside after dark in the Australian bush. First of all, it's dark! I mean, it's completely black outside - which is, of itself, quite scary. Even more importantly, Joanie shared with me a short list of the kind of creatures you might run into if you decide to take a walk in the Australian bush after dark (even if you walk on the road in the town):
Here are a few funny stories before I sign off for the day. On Friday I was teaching a lesson which had me demonstrating smiling. At the end of the lesson, one of the girls came to me, pointed to my mouth and said, "What that? Open you mouth." I opened my mouth and her eyes got big, "What that? You have gold in you mouth?" She was mesmerized by my gold and silver fillings. She quickly called the other children over and my dental work was examined very closely. She then asked me if she could touch my fillings, which I explained was unwise because she would get my germs. When she asked how I got the metal in my mouth, I answered by saying I got it because I didn't do a good job of brushing my teeth as a girl. In hindsight, I'm not sure that was the right answer to give. I hope she doesn't stop brushing her teeth in the hope that she'll discover gold one day!
At the end of the day Friday I was walking to the teacher's lounge when a boy around 10 asked me if I was from welfare. He even checked my name tag to check it out. I assured him I was here to help the teachers, which he found acceptable.
In one of the younger groups, students are asked to identify a picture of a shoe. The children, unfamiliar with shoes, have begun to call them "shoots." It appears to be a cross between shoe and boots, which the are familiar with because boots are worn by men who muster the cattle.
Finally, one of the most disturbing things I've learned is how hungry these children are. When I was at Joanie's on Sunday three of the children knocked on her door. They explained that their mother was hungry and wanted meat. They had brought a bucket and had walked through an intense thunder storm to see if they could get something to eat. The government checks had arrived on Thursday, which means that the family had used all the money in under three days, leaving the children with no food until the next check in two weeks. In fact, it's not uncommon to find mothers with their toddlers at the school eating breakfast and lunch because there is nothing to eat at home.
Once again I'm humbled and impressed by the educators who choose to serve this needy population. What amazing work they are doing!
|Posted on February 7, 2015 at 1:28 AM||comments (66)|
Well, I've completed the first week of supporting educators in a remote community in the Australian bush. I honestly didn't really know what to expect and I'm not sure I could have ever understood the experience of teaching in a remote indigenous community school unless I had had the opportunity to come here.
I have found the teachers who choose to live and teach out here in this remote community to be dedicated and practical. In my experience, they seem to complain very little and, instead of complaining, do what it takes to get things done. We began teaching Direct Instruction before our order of materials arrived because the teachers and the principal were committed to making the implementation work. Teachers copied lessons, studied, and presented their first lessons on the second day of school. When the materials did arrive (on the third day), teachers stayed late to unload the pallets at 5:00 in 100° temperatures (with 80% humidity). When it was discovered that we were short materials, teachers came up with solutions so that the teaching would go on.
In some ways the students are very much the same as American students (see my last post in which I describe students singing, "Let it Go"); in other ways they are very unique. Almost all of the students (probably 98%) are English Language Learners, and most of them have very low English skills. They also have very low literacy skills. One of the main problems is attendance. Many students don't attend school regularly, which certainly contributes to their low skills. When they do come to school, they are often sluggish and some fall asleep at school. From what I understand, it is not common in homes for students to have a regular bedtime. In fact, students are often awake most of the night, coming to school the next day sleepy and unresponsive. They finish school and go home to sleep during the evening, waking up after dark to stay awake for most of the night. This contributes to the instructional challenges for teachers, as they struggle to engage students and teach them academics, despite the sleepy response they receive.
The community consists of the school, a store, a health center, and an airstrip. In some ways the school is a central component of the community. Many parents spend time at the school because it is centrally located and provides shade and a place for little ones to play. Many of the people in the community are related and they all know each other well, having grown up together and lived in rather close quarters for many generations. I had the opportunity to ride with one of the school workers as he drove students home the day the bus was stuck in mud. The state of the homes reminded me of some of the places I've visited in the US; places marked by abject poverty and neglect. There were many dilapidated cars, tires, and other types of trash littering the fronts and sides of houses. It is my understanding that several families may live in one house, with many children and adults sharing the living space. It helped me to understand why the children might come to school tired and unmotivated to learn. On the other hand, it also showed me why both children and adults might want to come to the school, with it's painted doors and brightly colored walls and displays. The school must seem like an incredible place to be, when compared with the realities of the living spaces.
The local school - complete with one of the large puddles that is a constant during the rainy season.
Next week I'm off to a new school. Due to the fact that the roads are impassable and that the community is so tiny that there is no place for me to stay there, I'll be commuting from one town to another via a single-engine plane. I'll have a pilot and an aircraft assigned to me and I'll fly in and out of the school in the morning and afternoon. As I'm rather terrified of flying in small planes, this plan does not thrill me! Oh well! It will be an interesting adventure and another opportunity to experience the realities of life in this world.