Back to School Success Strategies
The topic of our September meeting was Back to School Success Strategies: Help our students get back in the groove and find the right way to organize and study.
The meeting consisted of the following board of panelists:
- Nicole Sloan from Life Span Consulting Mother of 8, ADHD coach and who also has ADHD herself
- Pat Wood Co-founder of Newark Chapter of CHADD and an ADHD coach
- Keith McGoan From Back to Basics, a tutor of children with ADHD.
While this session was related to ADHD, many suggestions and strategies can help all children increase their success in school.
Alex Rittberg, Co-president of the BSNPTA, welcomed everyone at 6:35 pm. We had over 60 attendees including the following Brandywine School District (BSD) staff: Gary Berg, Hara Blum, Sarah Cerminaro, Cindy Di Guglielomo, Doug DiRaddo, Janet Geiger, Julie Harrington, Ann Hilkert, Linc Hohler, Joyce Kauffmann, Kathi Marshall, Lisa Pfiffer, Jeff Roth, Tom Sicoli, Joyce Skrobot and Marty Tracy. Debra Heffernan, BSD Board member and BSD Board-BSNPTA Liaison was also in attendance.
Alex discussed the BSDs 5 year Strategic Plan and talked about all the work that parents and staff put into the plan over the summer. Alex talked about how key input was provided by Stetson and Associates in the form of Stetson’s External Review of Special Education Services.
Ann Hilkert then encouraged parents and staff to attend one of the Stetson’s Step-by-Step Inclusion training offered Oct 4th, Nov 15 and Nov 16th. Ann pointed out the District’s Flyers on the training were available on the literature table in the back of the room.
Ellen Coulston, BSNPTA Membership chair, mentioned the Parent Information Center of Delaware (PIC)’s Oct 13th meeting on Surviving the Social Minefield and encouraged parents and teachers to attend. Ellen suggested parents attend the meeting with a teacher and pay for the treacher’s admission. Because the limited seating session was almost full, she suggested folks sign up ASAP. Ellen also mentioned PIC was sponsoring a Wrightslaw program on Feb 13th. Ellen encouraged attending the IDEA 2004 Regs on Oct 17 in Malvern, PA. PIC may be sponsoring vans or buses to the event. The cost would be $5 per person. If you would like a ride, contact PIC at email@example.com or 999-7394.
Dr. Jeff Roth psychologist from the Brandywine School District talked about the districts Resource Center. He thanked the Brandywine Special Needs PTA for their help for families, teachers and the district. He talked about the Inclusive initiative for every school, positive behavior teams, section 504 disabilities and accommodations. At the Resource center there are Books and videos. The resource center is located at Claymont Elementary School. Please call 793-5043 if you would like to visit the center. He asked for volunteers to continur to organize the center. He thanked Julie Harrington, Jane Noel and our very own Amber Stankis for their help in getting the center together. He also named a few book titles that are available at the center.
Alex Rittberg provided a series of questions and comments for the panel to address and spur audience participation.
Alex: WHAT IS ADHD?
Ms Sloan informed us that it is hard to decide what ADHD is. It has different affects on peoples lives. It may also co-exist with other disabilities such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Opposional Defiant Disorder (ODD).
The panelists informed us that some children with ADHD may be OK at school and come home and take their anger out on their parents. School may be the worse time in their lives because there are so many rules to follow. When they get older they will hopefully choose careers in something that they like and for which they have the skills. Hopefully the ADD or ADHD will be a beneficial attribute.
Mr. McGoan advised parents to take away distractions especially before medication is used. (See related article: To Medicate or not to Medicate.)
Ms. Sloan could not emphasize enough the relationship with your child’s teacher. She is in constant interaction with teachers via email or voice mail. The style of communication depended on what method the teacher reacted to best. Some teachers prefer email, others do better getting and leaving telephone messages and voicemails.
Alex: PLEASE COMMENT ON STUDY SKILLS, ORGANIATION AND TIME MANAGEMENT
Ms. Wood stressed the importance for parents to be organized – for example, setting a time and place for homework. There must be a place for their book bags and lunch box. She suggested easy things like color coding books and folders to help organize work by subject. Ms. Sloan said that she was able to create a better home environment for school work once she began to get her arms around her own ADHD issues.
The panelists told the audience that the children must be involved in and buy into the process in order for study skills to work. Sometimes distracting behavior can be reduced by offering an outlet for that behavior. For example, koosh balls to provide movement may help some children reduce fidgeting. Ms. Sloan is easily distracted by noises when she studies but she finds that if she listens to certain music (music she knows very well), she is better able to “tune-out” distractions. Some students may find it impossible to study with music, others might find music helpful – it all depends on the student. It is important to find individual strategies for individual students – no two students will have exactly the same mix of strategies.
The panel suggested breaking down class projects into small steps and setting your own deadline for each part of the project. The district provides agendas for all students where assignments are supposed to be written down. Try to have the student use their agenda. Ms. Sloan augments the agenda with weekly communications with her childrens teachers.
Organization can be taught. According to all the panelists, the most important feature of an organization system is that the student buys into it. Unless the student believes in the system, it won’t be that student’s own system and it will fail. What is a workable “system” to a student may appear to be a mess to someone else. One good subjective test is to ask the student for a particular paper and if they can find it consistently in 15 seconds or less, then they probably have a workable “system”. Ms. Sloan said she takes her children to Staples and lets them pick out some supplies they are more likely to use folders and other tools they really like. Mr. McGoan said one teacher got a middle school student an agenda book from the high school and that motivated the student to always show off the agenda and use it consistently. (See related: A Backpack Plan of Attack: Organizational Skills Are in the Bag)
Picking the “best” time to study or do homework depends on the child. Some students do homework first thing when they get home, others do homework better in the morning before school and some do it while listening to their I-pod. It is more important to find what works best for the student than to stick to some universal rule. Having a homework buddy for each class is a great way to supplement incomplete agenda entries. A second set of text books at home is a great solution for students who forget their books. Incentives such as free time for video games or playing outside is a good way to motivate some students. Incentives with immediate gratification usually work better than a reward given at the end of the week.
Parent: HOMEWORK TIME IS FIGHT TIME AT OUR HOUSE
Mr. McGoan said pick a consistent time for homework. Ms. Sloan said that time may be a range rather than an absolute time that depends on the student. Everyone agreed you need to avoid the meltdown. Once that happens, you are probably done for the day. If you can anticipate a meltdown coming on, take a break but agree on when to resume and use a timer to make sure student knows when to get back to task. (See related article: Helping your Child with Homework and related booklets.)
Alex: PREPARING FOR TESTS
There are many ways to improve Study Skills. The panel suggested that giving children an oral test when the child knows the material, but has difficulty when asked to sit down to take the test. Also taking the test in another room, in the hall away from the distractions can also help. These are examples of the kinds of testing accommodations that can be specified in an IEP or 504 plan. (see related Accommodations Manual: How to Select, Administer and Evaluate.)
Parents must be on top of projects. Change the due dates to create artificially early ones. Break large tasks into smaller ones. It may help to make projects more granular than the teacher. For example, rather than having one task where note cards for a report are complete before the rough draft is begun, it may help to have the student do several note cards every day. Reward the child along the way as each piece of the project is completed.
Alex: EXECUTIVE FUNCTION AND MEMORY TECHNIQUES
The panelists said everyone is born with a finite amount of Executive Function ability. Rather than increase that finite amount, it makes more sense to use that given amount more efficiently with things like Memory Techniques. Use props that help the child remember. Also use word association.
The panel also commented on medication. Some children need medication while others need ways to be organized. Ms Sloan commented on how she feels when she does not take her medication. She cannot sit still and can relate to children with ADHD that must sit in school all day long and comply with the rules. For her, the need for medication is directly related to the environment she will be in.
Alex Rittberg thanked the panelists.
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD)
Attention Deficit Library page from the Center for Development and Learning