Parent Training: Executive Function 101

executive-function-101-ebook-140812092227-phpapp02-thumbnail-4I recently had the pleasure of spending over an hour answer questions and giving insight to the parent of a child with ADHD and Executive Function difficulties that were not only affecting the child at school, but also at home. Executive Function is the process within each of us that helps us to stay organized, remember what we just read, multitask effectively, wait our turn, make connections between our past and the present, initiate and complete tasks, adjust to changes to routines or schedules, control impulses, manage our emotions, make plans, set priorities, and monitor our use of time. Wow! That’s a lot of behaviors all controlled by the executive function area of our brain, also known as the pre-frontal cortex. (I have been reading a lot about brain research and the effect of the brain on mental health. It’s fascinating, but I digress.)

Some suggestions that I was able to provide this parent included:

Posting lists in her child’s room, bathroom, kitchen, and front door to help her remember the things that she needs to do in each of these areas. There are times that it takes this student 10 prompts to finally brush her teeth. So, I advised Mom to make a self-care list to keep in the child’s bathroom. This would include things like brushing her teeth, using the restroom before bed, bathing, and any other self care the child may need to perform during the day. This can be divided up into morning and afternoon routines. Depending on the level of difficulty the child has with following it, include a reward system for completing those tasks as needed in the beginning. I will talk more about reward systems shortly. Post a list in her room of things she needs to remember to do before bed or before she leaves her room for school in the morning with the same expectations and possible rewards as the self-care list. Additionally, a chore chart in the kitchen could list things like finishing homework, feeding the dog, unloading the dishwasher. Finally, a sign by the front door could list things she needs to remember to take to school such as jacket, water bottle, homework or other assignments, fundraising or other materials due. At school I suggested a list in her locker of things to take from her locker into class each morning and a list of things to remember to take home at the end of the day such as jacket, lunchbox, water bottle, agenda.

Another concern mom had was how she unpacked her school bag at home, including sorting through its contents effectively rather than removing it’s contents and handing most of it to mom. I advised her to initially plan to sit with her at the table each day and talk about the contents while sorting them into piles such as, mom needs to sign, correct and return to teacher, and completed assignments that need to go in the trash or collection location determined in advance by the family. By teaching her that everything has a place she will learn how to empty the contents of her book bag on her own without the support of a parent. This will also be effective at teaching her how to manage her things as she generalizes this skill to other areas of her life such as school and in her own personal space or bedroom. I told her that at my house I have mail boxes on the kitchen wall for key family members so they know where to find their mail or other items without having to leave them on the counter until they choose to come get them.

One other thing that mom asked me about was responding to her daughters frequent complaints about things not going according to her plan. This included things from wanting only her favorite cereal that mom would have to go out of her way to buy, getting her preferred seat in the car, and arguing with siblings when they are in her way or making too much noise. I assured her this is common for most children and not just an ADHD thing. I suggested that she set ground rules for these things. For example, the first kid to the car gets to choose their seat. If the kids are arguing in the back seat they are not earning points on their reward system as discussed below. I advised mom to stay out of their arguments as much as possible so they can learn to work out issues on their own. One of the greatest skills elementary students are lacking is problem solving, not only academically, but also socially. Additionally, I told her not to go out of her way for a certain grocery item unless it is being used as an infrequent reward. It should not be an everyday expectation. Children should have some choice in what they eat, but they should also be happy for what the parents provide even if they prefer something slightly different. I advised mom to teach the children to walk away from minor annoyances like Johnny tapping his fingers on the table or Sally crunching her ice too loudly. These are things they are going to experience everyday for the rest of their lives. They need to learn tolerance for these experiences or how to leave the location of the annoyance rather than picking a fight with a sibling who may have no idea they are irritating. Picking a fight only leads to more drama. It does not solve the problem.

Keeping a record of completed chores and homework is kind of like keeping a record of the hours you worked so that you can get paid. We go to work not only because we love what we do, but also because it pay for other things we love, like eating, having a roof over our head, and a car to drive. Children appreciate being paid for the things they do as well. This is where a family economy or reward system is effective. Reward systems do not have to be things that cost money. They just need to be things that are important to the child that they cannot obtain any other way. For example, staying up late on the weekend, getting to choose the family entertainment for the evening, an extra weekend at a favorite Aunt or grandparents house, or maybe a box of that favorite cereal only available at a store across town. Now, there are also ways to use money as an incentive that will not make you feel like you are paying them to do what they should be doing anyway. If your children earn an allowance for completing these and other chores around the house, that money can then pay for little things you might typically buy for them. These things might include school spirit items, dollar store trinkets, candy or gum at the grocery store check out. This can be used to teach children the value of money. You can require that they give a percent to charity, save another percent and spend only whats left. The options are limitless, but could be an amazing learning experience.

I have covered just a few Executive Function areas and how a parent can support their child’s need to be taught how to cope with these deficits. For more information on Executive Functioning check out one of these resources: Executive Function 101 E-book

What is the Executive Center of the Brain?

Executive Function: Implications for Education


Early Literacy Fun in the Sun

I’m spending a few weeks this summer as an Elementary Reading Interventionist for Summer School. In addition to copying accommodations and making sure every teacher has the information and support to make their students successful, I have been asked to share early literacy games and activities with teachers who typically work with older students. So, following are some of the materials I used in my own classroom and have provided to those teachers for use this summer. They are great activities for use at home as well. I hope you find these helpful and fun for your kids as you attempt to avoid the summer slide.

The following ThingLink links will take you to some of my early childhood pages. Hover over the pages to see dots or numbers to activate the link.

Kinder Morning Meeting songs with videos

Kindermorning meeting





First Grade Morning Meeting songs with videos






Alphabet songs – I love these!!


Sight Word Review songs with videos







The Following are free TpT phonics games that I have used with great success:

CVC Phonics Game


CVC Word Blending Practice


CVC Word Building Activities


The following are writing and letter recognition worksheets from my TpT page:

Lowercase Alphabet fill in the blank


Uppercase Alphabet fill in the blankswpid-IMG_20131016_094334.jpg






Handwriting Trace & Copy


Pre Primer Dolch Words read-write-trace-pastepreprimerreadwrite

Be sure to leave feedback on the TpT pages of the teachers who put these together. They love to hear that their products are supporting students all over the world. Enjoy your summer!

Positive Behavior Supports: The Good Behavior Game

img_0629Are you struggling to gain attention and compliance from your students? Are the expectations you’ve taught, evaluated and  retaught still not getting the behavior you need for the best teaching environment? It may be time to teach them a game! The research-based Good Behavior Game (GBG) , which was originally designed by University of Kansas researchers Harriet Barrish, Muriel Saunders, and Montrose Wolf in 1969, is a group contingency that may be just what you need to make your students successful. A group contingency means teams either win or lose as a team. No one is solely responsible so it supports a peer-mediated system whereby students comply in order to support the group as a whole, even if they typically do not see compliance as a benefit for themselves alone. It is a great way to teach appropriate behavior and expectations to your class in a fun game-style learning format. There are several ways to play the GBG, but here are the basics:

  1. Divide the class into 2 or more groups; by table, row, or other common system of dividing them.
  2. Post a scoring sheet as shown above with each of the teams identified or use one of the many free online scoreboard apps.
  3. Determine when the game will begin and end. It is typically suggested that the game be played 2-3 times per day for up to an hour each time. However, this game can be used in any way that fits the time constraints of your classroom, meaning if you have 40 minutes to spare, implement the game and watch your classroom behavior transform. Additionally, you can chose to start out with a shorter time frame, and build up to an hour. This may be especially effective in younger grades such as Kindergarten or first.
  4. Review posted expectations in the classroom, choosing about 3 of them to be the focus of the game. Explain these expectations and how points are earned or lost.
  5. Teams can earn negative points, positive points, or both
    • PAX, who has a variation of the GBG, gives only negative points called “spleems”, which are just a silly way of identifying them without calling them by a negative term.
    • California’s Positive Environment Network of Trainers (PENT) also has a variation of the GBG in which students are given positive points for compliance and may lose points for non-compliance.
  6. During the game, class continues as usual. This could be played at any time during the day with any lesson.
  7. At the end of the specified time frame, teams can win a tangible (recommended early on in learning the game) or non-tangible (suggested once tangibles are faded out after the game is well understood).
    • Tangibles could include
      • treasure box
      • edibles
      • stars, stamps, tickets toward a larger reward
    • Non-tangibles could include 1-2 minutes of one of the following:
      • dance party
      • act like a monkey
      • talk like a pirate
      • drum solo on their desks
  8. How to win the game should be set in advance.
    • For example, on the PAX video below, the teacher advises that a team will only win if they have 4 or fewer Spleems.
    • Another option might be based on the number of positive points they receive. For example, a team might be required to obtain at least 4 positive points.

The next one adds a Most Valuable Player award for one student. It’s just one of several great twists he adds to the game for these older students! Check it out

Please ask questions if there is anything you need clarified! I look forward to your feedback.

Positive Behavior Supports: Routines & Procedures

Everything we do through the course of our day works best when we know and understand the routines and procedures that help us to act effortlessly with little thought. When we drive the same route to work each morning that is a routine that we have learned, practiced, and solidified in our brain so that we eventually get to a point that we do it without much effort. It is a habit we have created within ourselves from what was originally a step by step procedure. These routines and procedures operate in many different ways in our mind. Without them, things would be more difficult and time consuming.

When we first learn to fill the dishwasher as a child, we typically have an adult who directs us through the procedure of which items go where so that we can get the most out of one wash cycle. After a while this procedure becomes routine and we can work through it without trying to remember where the cups go, versus the flatware. Routines and procedures are a crucial part of an effective and well managed classroom. They help to manage classroom efficiency by giving students control over their environment. They help them to establish a predictable pattern of expectation. They can help to reduce anxiety so that students can focus and learn without fear of what to do next. Children with neurological differences, executive functioning difficulties, or even typically developing children who are new to an environment, operate best in a setting where they can work independently according to a common plan. The more consistent the environment, the more calm most students will be within it.

Tier1StrategiesPart1Classroom procedures must be taught, monitored, evaluated, and retaught. There is a cycle through which these procedures become a classroom routine. It is not something you teach the first week of school and expect students to perfectly follow for the remainder of the school year. Just like when we determine to restrict something in our own lives and over time our bad habits creep back in, students who are not reminded and redirected toward the correct execution of a procedure will not develop a proper routine. They may develop of a routine that is less than what you had hoped or worse, nothing like you had in mind. It is your job as the teacher to monitor them and provide feedback.  This cycle of teaching, evaluating, correcting, and reteaching is as much a part of your job as teaching them to spell and count. One of the biggest obstacles to student learning is student behavior. Teaching them routines and procedures in a key in the process of teaching proper behavior.

Routines & Procedures may include:

Morning routine: what to do when they arrive each day. Here are some ideas:

Lunch routine: what does it take to get from the classroom to the lunchroom and back to class. What should the line look like?  Where will we sit? Where are hands and feet expected to be? Who sits where? What is the voice level expectation? How do I buy my lunch? What if I brought my lunch? What is my parent is joining me for lunch?

Hallway procedures: how to walk down the hall. Where are hands, feet and mouths during this transition? Where do we stop? When do we start? How do we handle things that do not go as planned due to others in the hallway? I will cover this in more detail on a future post. Here are some ideas:

Attention Getters: Here is a great example of procedures for gaining attention:

Managing student work: turning it in, missed work, etc. Here are some real life examples:

End of day or end of class procedures: What should students do to prepare to leave you room? What should they take with them? What should they leave behind? Where should they leave materials? Here are some examples:

This is not an exhaustive list of routines and procedures for the classroom, but a good example of where to start. It is never too late to implement these in your classroom. They not only support your students need for structure, but support the teachers ability to maintain that structure.

Positive Behavior Supports: Attention Maintained Behavior

512860481Some students, for various reasons, require more attention than others and may act out to obtain that attention. In behavior circles this is known as attention-seeking, or more appropriately, attention-maintained behavior because responding to these overt “requests” for attention will support or maintain the unwanted negative behavior. The recipe for combating this is as follows:

  • Planned ignoring, which means ignoring the behavior but not the child, is the key to extinguishing or at least diminishing this behavior
    • Make no eye contact or gestures toward the child while he is misbehaving, this could accidentally reinforce the behavior
    • If another student points out the behavior, nod or mildly acknowledge that child’s concern without acknowledging the behavior or calling more attention to it.
    • Over time, peers will learn how to ignore the behavior themselves.
    • You might say something like “thank you Suzie, and I really like how you’re sitting quietly on the rug”
    • This ignoring stops the instant the child becomes compliant with expectations
    • Be prepared to praise the student as often as possible for this compliance
    • Praise must be given before the child reverts back to negative measures for attention
    • Waiting to provide the attention could accidentally reinforce a subsequent negative behavior
    • It is a careful balancing act that requires a lot of attention to detail in the beginning
  • Acknowledge and praise other students for appropriate behavior
    • if the target student is not sitting appropriately, give specific verbal praise to others for “sitting with their feet on the floor” or “sitting crisscross applesauce”
    • if he is not walking in the hallway, give specific verbal feedback to others who are “walking nicely on the green line” or “staying directly behind the student in front of them”
    • if he is talking out of turn, never acknowledge this behavior by addressing it as “blurting” or “talking out”, instead verbally thank others for “keeping a bubble in their mouth” or “waiting quietly to be called on”
  • When the child complies with expectations, reinforce the behavior with acknowledgement, praise as quickly as possible,  and make sure he knows how he earned it
    • Thank him for “sitting so nicely on the rug”
    • Put a sticker on his chart while he is watching you
    • Tell him you’re “moving his clip to purple for being such as good listener”
    • Give him a ticket and verbal praise for “lining up quickly and quietly”
    • Punch his card and verbally praise him for “sharing materials with a peer”
    • Give him Class Dojo points while making eye contact and giving him a thumbs up for “waiting patiently for his turn at your table”
  • Provide as much non-contingent positive attention to the child as possible when he is behaving appropriately. You might think of this as a random act of kindness. Some ideas are:
    • pat him on the shoulder
    • give a high five or side hug when he arrives in the morning
    • give him a thumbs up
    • check in during solo time
    • call on him to respond to questions in class
    • give him classroom tasks to complete such as turning off the light or sharpening pencils
    • make eye contact and smile
  • Realize that all of these are good teaching strategies that can, and should, be employed with all of your students, but should be more purposefully given to the student with attention maintained behavior.
  • Also note that over time, you should begin to diminish or fade the “extra” attention to the level of the rest of the class.
    • Give smaller, less obvious, types of attention
    • Give fewer, less often, occurrences of attention
    • Always continue to give as much attention as you are giving to other typical students in your classroom

There are hyperlinks above for editable tickets and punch cards that are free on TeachersPayTeachers. These are easy to make yourself, but even better when you start from someone else’s template.

Supporting Angry Students

enhanceWhen your student becomes angry and even hostile, you as the teacher must remain in control and do what is best for the student and the class. Here are a few tips and strategies to get you and the class through the situation and on to better days.

  1. Stay calm. Take a deep breath.
  2. Do not take it personally.
  3. Take a moment to collect yourself if necessary. Do not respond to the student in an overly negative or positive manner. You should have a neutral affect. Your attitude and response will set the tone for what happens next.
  4. Step back from the student in a supportive, non-threatening, but firm stance. You should not be close enough to get injured should things take a negative turn.
  5. Provide information, but do not get into a verbal power struggle with the student.
  6. Provide a cool down spot for the student.
  7.  Once calm, help student to use problem solving to work through the situation.
  8. Document episodes to determine the trigger(s).
  9.  This behavior is typically caused by one or a combination of the following:
    • Peer Influence
    • Modeling by peers or adults
    • Lack of Social Skills
    • Negative self-image
  10.  If Peer influence is determined to be part of the problem, remove the student from access to the peer as much as possible, especially if the peer is the trigger.
  11. If negative self-image, home life or adult modeling is determined to be part of the problem, the student may benefit from joining a group led by the school counselor to learn coping skills to avoid this behavior.
    • Small group counseling with students who have similar needs
    • PALS – one on one with an older student to provide support and stability
  12.  If Social Skills is determined to be part of the problem, set aside time each week to teach him the deficient social skills that contribute to this behavior.

These pieces take time to create an implement in your classroom. Do not stress yourself out over trying to do it all at once. You know your student best and can use that knowledge to guide you in which pieces to implement over time. These behaviors were not learned in a day and they are not going to be corrected in a day either. I would suggest that you give a strategy at least two weeks of consistent use before determining that it doesn’t work. Often if it does not seem to be working, it is not being implemented correctly. If at first you don’t succeed, try it again, in a different way, until you get it right. I look forward to hearing your success stories.


Student Behavior Self-Assessment & Goal Setting

Student self-assessment and progress monitoring for academic goals is a great way of teaching students to recognize their strengths and weaknesses as well as being responsible for their improvement. So, why not take it a step further and have students self assess and progress monitor their behavior as well. This is actually a Tier 1 behavior strategy that works for all students in your classroom, not just those who are struggling with specific behaviors. There is always room for all of us to improve our behavior and make better choices. In fact, I’m working on putting together a Teacher self-assessment as well that will give teachers the opportunity to model this strategy with their own data collection and honest feedback.

original-3521323-1This is a two-step process. The first step is this checklist of campus and classroom behavior expectations. It is free in an editable Microsoft Excel format on my Teacher Pay Teacher site here. It is also available for free in a non-editable Adobe pdf format here. My suggestion is that you edit it to mirror the actual expectations you have taught and support for your students. I created this list based on social contracts and expectations posted in various schools that I support.

original-3521323-2As you read the list aloud, you should explain what each expectations looks like and what it does not look like. Students will use the Student Self Assessment sheet to grade themselves on each behavior, quantifying it according the following rating scale:

1- poor, 2 – sad, 3 – ok, 4 – weak, and 5 – perfect.

Next, Students choose the 3 or 4 behaviors they feel need the most attention, and write goals for improving those behaviors over a period of time on the Student Behavior Goal Setting sheet. This is a great time to remind students of  (or introduce) SMART goals.

If you are not familiar with SMART goals, it’s easy to find in a quick search on Pinterest, Google, or a freebie from Teachers Pay Teachers like this.

Goal setting is always in season. There is never a wrong time to set new goals. The beginning of the year, of course is the best time so that expectations are set, modeled and followed from the beginning. However, a new 6 weeks, a new month, even a new calendar year or semester is a great time to teach students to analyze where they are, determine where they should be, and plot a course for improvement.