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Intro to Executive Function

January 11, 2010 · Filed Under Behavior, Parents' Corner, Teachers' Corner, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

When last we left our hero, she was about to attend a workshop on executive function (’way back before the holiday season)…..

Actually, I did attend the workshop, and have been rolling the information around in my brain since then, trying to distill it into manageable bits to share with you. The online workshop I attended was “Who’s Running the Show? Executive Dysfunction and How to Help the Disorganized Child” by Laurie Dietzel. All in all, Dr. Dietzel confirmed many things I’ve been thinking for years, gave me considerably more professional vernacular to use, and contributed many ’soundbytes’ that seem like I can use them to help parents make their advocacy cases for their children, and with school personnel who aren’t quite convinced that this is a real problem for some students.

How familiar does this sound to you? Does your student:

  • finish homework but forget to turn it in?
  • have problems with transitions?
  • make a lot of seemingly ‘careless’ errors that aren’t caught by proofreading?
  • need many more reminders and prompts than most his/her age?
  • have trouble remembering directions, possessions, assignments?
  • demonstrate wildly inconsistent performance on academic tasks, doing A+ work one day and failing work the next on the same type of assignments?

This actually sounds like a number of the students that I work with in my tutoring business, and several more that I know in their personal lives. Dr. Dietzel is convinced that they suffer from what she is calling Executive Dysfunction. That translates to an impaired ability to select, sustain and guide their own behavior within rules and expectations for the setting and their age level. It’s an impairment of the processes that guide, direct and manage cognitive, behavioral and emotional functions. Executive Function, when working properly, is what allows us to set goals, plan, organize, sequence, and note feedback on our behavior. It’s what helps us try different problem-solving strategies and also what stops us from acting on impulsive ideas. It has to do with memory, accomplishing complex tasks, and making judgments.

Does any of this sound like your student? If so, he or she may be having trouble with executive function. Executive Dysfunction is often comorbid with ADHD and similar concerns, but not limited to that population. It can also occur with learning disabled students, but again is not limited to them. It’s not officially a medical problem yet, though this presenter indicated that doctors responsible for naming and creating diagnostic criteria are considering including it in the next reference that is due to come out in a few more years.

So the long and the short is that right this very moment, your child’s school or teacher is quite likely to tell you that no such disorder exists, since it’s not in the reference books. They are likely to tell you that your child is lazy or inattentive, hyperactive, ADHD, or learning disabled. In many districts, they are likely to offer little in the way of tangible help. However, stay tuned! I’m planning to revisit this subject again soon and will share some of the strategies that Dr. Dietzel recommended to help these individuals. There is hope, and there are things you can do at home to minimize and compensate for the problem.

Sign up for this site’s RSS feed or follow me on twitter so you can get in on the latest as soon as it’s posted!!

Heading to a Conference

December 7, 2009 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Teachers' Corner, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

I’m actually pretty excited this week-on Friday, I’m going to a teleconference about Executive Function and how to help children with these types of issues. It’s really applicable to my work with tutoring and with consulting for parents who have students with special needs.


The presenter is Laurie Dietzel, Ph.D. I don’t know much about her, but her website was very well done. She’s a neuropsychiatrist from the east coast, and specializes in working with children having these sorts of difficulties.



We’re off on the right foot already-I was sent a packet of information and handouts related to the class first thing this morning. I’ll let you all know what happens after the end of the week, and hopefully will have some new insights to share with you.

Write On!

July 5, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Tutors' Corner, Writing · Comment 

Keep those kids writing!  Next to reading every day, this has to be one of the most important things you can do to help your child succeed in school.  Written expression skills form the basis for many large projects in school, and if your child can write comfortably, he or she will have the tools to get the grades you desire.

Practice makes perfect with writing.  Encourage your child to write each and every day.  Write letters, write stories, write opinions.  Request permission for outings or get-togethers in writing.  Hold “Five-Sentence-Days” at your house (have everyone drop what they are doing and write five sentences about the topic you throw out).  Write directions and sequences of events. 

The more writing you have the kids do, the better.  Writing fluency and the ability to put pen to paper productively will improve with practice.  Timed free writing, where you require writers to keep a pencil moving for one to twenty minutes without stopping, can be a fun way to write, as well.  See who can get the most words on paper in the given time can add a fun twist for competitive spirits.

No matter which activities you choose, get those pencils moving!

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Study Skills Start in Preschool

July 4, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Readiness, Study Skills, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

As a tutor, I often work with high schoolers who are behind in their studies.  They come to me with concerns about grades in their classes, test anxieties, and difficulty learning the material that they are expected to master.   It’s hard to help them.  Most of the time, I feel we just barely keep their head above water and have a goal of trying to prevent them from dropping out before they get that all-important high school diploma.  I wish I could’ve seen them years ago.

If I had known these kids in preschool, and had some influence with their families, I would’ve had a message for them.  When your child is two, three and four years old, you are building the foundations for the skills that kids need for successful high school learning. 

Perhaps the most important gift you can give your young child is a love of and appreciation for learning.  This attitude can only be fostered by example.  You have to show, every day, that learning is a huge part of your life and your child’s life.  Make it a priority to answer questions, to teach skills the kids are interested in, and to let them see you using learning skills whenever you can.  Read and read to them.  Fill your home with learning materials, like books, references, newspapers, magazines, and learning toys.  No matter what you thought of school, make it a point to stay positive with your child.

Encourage reading and math and science and writing-not with formal “lessons” or “practice,” but through play and life experiences.  Take your child to parks, museums, historical sites, and stores.  Look things up at the library and on the internet.  When your child expresses interest, help him or her to accomplish the goal.  There’s no need to sit around a table using flashcards to help your child learn.  He or she will gain so much more by DOING things.  Try experiments, put on a play, build a carnival in the back yard, design an obstacle course, or write a story.  Hands-on is the best way to learn.

The preschool years are also the time to train memories and build language skills, which relate directly to study skills in high school and beyond.  Encourage your young child to retell stories, to relate events in sequence, to describe and to converse.  Play memory games that require recall of increasingly larger chunks of information.  Play word games and number games. 

The long and the short of it is that the preschool years are formative, not just for character and physical development, but also for later learning.  Give your child every chance to succeed-lay the foundations for school success!

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Reading Corner for July 3, 2008

July 3, 2008 · Filed Under Parents' Corner, Reading, Teachers' Corner, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

Keep your young child motivated to read more books this summer!  Teachers know that the more practice a child has with books, the better he or she is likely to read.  Here’s a quick idea to keep the kids excited about reading.

Use construction paper or other colorful paper and make a lot of circles to cut out.  4″ works nicely, but you can make them any size you like.  Make one larger circle and decorate as an insect head.  Hang the head on the wall or bulletin board.  Now, each time your child reads a book (or you read a book together), put the title onto one of the small circles and line it up behind the head to make a caterpillar-like critter.  The more reading that gets done, the longer the creature grows.  Children will be fascinated, and you may end up with a ‘pillar that goes clear around the room! 

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Celebrate July 2

Guess what!  It’s I Forgot Day!  Make a list of the best excuses for forgetting things.  Write a story about a time that you forgot something important. 

More importantly, it’s Freedom from Fear of Public Speaking Day.  That means it’s a perfect day to hold a talent show!  Gather up as many kids and adults as you can, and let everyone prepare a short act to do.  You might even want to have everyone share a spoken piece, whether it’s a short joke, a poem, or a long soliloquy.  Try some story-telling or reading out loud, too.

Have fun, and keep on learning!

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Celebrate July 1!

Looking for a reason to celebrate today?  It’s more than just frivolity; it’s EDUCATION!  You can use international, little-known, and absolutely bizarre holidays to teach all sorts of things. 

And today is a great day to start-it’s Second Half of the Year Day!  Try these activities to have fun and promote learning:  Put the year in perspective.  Write a summary of what you’ve been doing the past six months.  What’s been good and what’s been not-so-good?  How are you doing on those New Year’s Resolutions?  Maybe it’s time for some renewed vigor in that direction, or even a time to make a few new mid-year resolutions.

It’s also Canada Day.  Do a little research to find out what our neighbors to the north are celebrating today.  How is the holiday celebrated?  Uncover facts and info about Canada.

Try this one for some cool fun today: July 1 is Creative Ice Cream Flavor Day.  What unique and delightful flavor can your child come up with?  You can actually try this one out, or try for the most bizarre suggestion on paper.  Turn it into an experiment, a survey (with graphing), or a writing exercise.

And it’s Build a Scarecrow Day.  Try it out, either by building a real scarecrow with old clothes, broomsticks and straw, or with an art project.  How about a Scarecrow Contest?

Finally, July 1st is Zip Code Day.  What can you do with Zip Codes?  Try checking your junk mail and making math problems out of them.  Which are larger or smaller and by how much?  How many pieces of mail did you get from the same Zip Code?  If you multiply that Zip code by the number of pieces of mail that you got containing it, what’s the answer?  Try this one, too: tell or write a story where the Zip code is actually a secret code for something besides moving mail efficiently.  What’s the code for and who is using it?  What happens?

Whatever you choose to do, have a wonderful July 1.  And don’t forget to visit http://sandyfleming.info again for more holiday fun!

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The Learning Nook Forum is Up and Running!

June 25, 2008 · Filed Under Miscellania, Parents' Corner, Teachers' Corner, Tutors' Corner · Comment 

I’ve always wanted to do this!  I’ve finally got a forum going where parents, teachers, literacy workers, homeschoolers, and anyone else who is interested in education or has questions can gather and chat.  I hope you’ll visit soon!  I’m putting a link in the sidebar, but here’s one for now: The Learning Nook Forum.