All Posts By

Katie Holmes


Discovering Dyslexia

February 12, 2018

Dyslexia is so dear to my heart I can’t believe I haven’t written a post on it before now.  I think it’s because I’m worried I won’t do it justice.  There are so many myths out there about Dyslexia, and my main objective is to dispel them in this post.

When you first saw the word, Dyslexia, you probably thought “seeing words backwards” or something similar.  Please erase that thought from your memory and replace it with the following information:

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is based in the brain- not the eyes.  People with dyslexia struggle with our foundational reading skills- reading words and decoding.  It also goes on to impact their reading fluency and reading comprehension because they cannot access the text due to their basic reading skill weaknesses.

They aren’t visually seeing the words any differently than anyone else, instead their brain is not processing the information the same as a typical reader.  This makes it a laborious and frustrating process because they have to start from scratch every time they encounter a word.  This is why sometimes it seems like they’re reading backwards because they will guess and over rely on their sight word vocabulary.  Another common idea is when a child reverses letters that means they have dyslexia.  It’s actually quite common for kids to reverse letters up until around 3rd grade.  Sometimes people with dyslexia continue to reverse letters, whereas some never struggle with reversing letters.

What leads to these difficulties?  People with dyslexia struggle with phonological processing with a main deficit is phonological awareness.  Phonological awareness involves being able to hear, identify, and manipulate the sounds that make up words in our language. It is one of our best predictors for reading ability because the better you are orally hearing and manipulating sound the better you will be with pairing the sound with the letters that represent them.  The good news is we can increase phonological awareness skills with appropriate intervention…I’ll have to save that information for another post.  If you can’t wait- start researching Orton-Gillingham or Multi-sensory structured language approach.

Phonological Memory and Rapid Naming are the other two phonological processing areas individuals with dyslexia can struggle with.  Phonological memory is our short-term memory for things that we hear.  This can make learning new information take longer, and decoding longer words can be more intense.  Rapid Naming is the time it takes us to get information from our long-term memory out.  For example, how quickly can you name random letters on a page.  If someone’s retrieval time is a deficit they will need more time and shorted assignments to help them show you what they know.  Their reading fluency might always be slower than their peers as well.  Sometimes people have difficulties in all 3 processing areas while others struggle with 1 or 2 areas.

There are many specific learning disabilities, and dyslexia is the most common.  However, since the break down occurs with the foundation of reading it goes on to impact all areas of reading and can impact spelling, written expression, and vocabulary.  This can lead to some difficulties in identifying the exact cause of academic difficulties.  Unfortunately, not all school psychologists have received appropriate training in identifying dyslexia.  It can vary from state to state and district to district.  One clue can be if a student has no problems understand if material is read aloud versus when they read it. Typically, listening comprehension and verbal skills are strengths in individuals with dyslexia.

While there is a general profile of dyslexia, it’s on a continuum so there are differing levels of severity.  However, if you’ve met someone with dyslexia you’ve probably noticed that they’re very bright and excel in other areas.  This is because everyone with dyslexia has average or higher intelligence.  This can lead to early difficulties with identification because sometimes children get labeled as unmotivated or lazy instead of people realizing they have an underlying learning disability.  This is because you can easily tell they are smart and capable of doing well.  Due to their brain processing information differently, they will need to be taught how to read differently.  It will take them longer to “retrain their brain.”  However, they are fully capable of learning to read, but it is a lifelong condition.  There is no “cure”, but their skills can improve and they can learn coping strategies.  I’ll save more on this for another post.

Both males and females can have dyslexia, and people have it all over the world- it’s not specific to English.  Also, people of all backgrounds can have dyslexia.  One thing we have to make sure they’ve been given access to appropriate instruction.  We wouldn’t want to label someone with a disability if they haven’t been exposed to an appropriate opportunity to learn the skills.  This is why several states are using a Response to Intervention or RTI approach to identify specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia.

There’s so much more I want to share about dyslexia, but I think this is enough on the basics to hopefully dispel any myths you may have heard and give you a broader idea of what it actually is.  I encourage you to check out the International Dyslexia Association’s website for more information.  Also, check back in the future more specific information from me on dyslexia.

School Psychology

Gifted or High Achiever?

December 12, 2017

What do we mean by gifted?

Children who are gifted are able to perform significantly above their peers. This means all children their age not just the children in their class, school, district, state, etc. You can be gifted intellectually, creatively, artistically, or in a certain field of study. Giftedness is not federally recognized so the criteria and services vary from state to state. Some states evaluate for intellectual giftedness. When we consider intellectual giftedness part of this relates to their cognitive ability or IQ. Often we look for children with cognitive ability around the 94th percentile or higher. This means they scored the same as or higher than 94% of the kids their same age.

It can be challenging on a surface level to determine if the child is just a high achiever or are they gifted? You might want to consider if the child is in the top 10 percent when considering national norms, but this can also be tricky. Often bright, high achieving students can perform better at school as they are teacher pleasers and hard workers. Our gifted students often have challenges that high achieving students do not. Also, gifted students can be high achievers, but sometimes they are underachievers.

Just as all of you are teachers or educators you share many similarities, but you also have several differences. Therefore, the following examples won’t always tell you if a child is gifted or high achieving, but they can help form your thought process.

A bright child will often know the answers whereas a gifted child will ask the questions. The high achiever has absorbed, memorized, and understands the content. The gifted student already knew the information and understands it at a more complex level. For example, a high achieving child may know animals are able to adapt, but a gifted student may question if humans are adapting slower or quicker than medical advances.

The high achiever has to work to achieve, whereas the gifted student knows or doesn’t need much effort to understand concepts. High achievers are very motivated by getting good grades and pleasing others, but a gifted student may not care about their grades. I’ve also found from personal experience that high achievers don’t really care about what they are learning they just want to do well on it, but gifted students will often be disinterested or want to know the value of learning something.

This takes us to our next point that high achievers like school, but gifted learners will engage in self-directed learning. This can be linked to their curiosity. A bright child will be imaginative but a gifted learner has original ideas.  High achievers are interested while gifted students are very curious. Our high achievers pay attention and have good ideas, and gifted students are mentally and physically involved and their ideas are wild and silly. Hopefully, this information helps you compare and contrast gifted learners from high achieving students. Please see below for a few more comparisons:

High Achiever Gifted
Works hard Plays around, yet tests well
Answers questions Elaborates and goes into detail with answers
In the top group Doing work above the rest in the top group
Listens with interest Has strong opinions and thoughts
Learns easily Already understands and knows
Needs 6-8 repetitions Needs 1-2 repetitions
Understands ideas Is able to create abstractions
Prefers peers Shows a preference for adults
Understands the meaning Able to make inferences
Completes assignments Creates projects
Receptive Has intensities
Copies Creative
Enjoys school Enjoys learning
Absorbs information well Manipulates information well
Memorizes Guesses well
Preference for straightforward tasks Prefers complex tasks
Alert Keen observer
Pleased with personal success Critical of self-performance
Morale Motivation

You’re a Human – The Importance of Self-Care

November 23, 2017

Yes, you’re a professional who has a job with responsibilities, but you’re also a human. Sometimes things that go along with being a human, like getting sick or having a family emergency, don’t go so well with your professional responsibilities. It’s hard to find balance because our personal and professional lives are both important, but sometimes one takes priority.

I am blessed to work with great people in an understanding and supportive district. I have a wonderful work family who completely gets that I’m a human first. Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept this and not feel guilty when I need to take a sick day or deal with an urgent family matter. So I’m writing this post to remind you guys that you’re a human first, and you shouldn’t feel guilt about that. I also want to let you know if you don’t feel like you work with understanding people or don’t have support from your district there are others out there that will understand and support you.

But you have to do your part too. You need to be professional and put time into growing in your career. You can’t abuse the system and slack off and expect a lot of support and understanding when you need extra help because of an unexpected life circumstance.

Sometimes taking a sick day is a difficult call. You might be able to push through, but you might get others sick and struggling through the day might make tomorrow even worse. Also, mental health days are a thing. Unfortunately, there can be a stigma about this, but the only way to decrease this stigma is to be more open and honest about the need for them. You might need to take a sick day for your mental health if you’re so distracted by something that you’re overcome with anxiety. Taking a day to address the issue could be best. If you’ve been neglecting taking care of yourself you might need some time to recharge and regenerate to your full self. If you need to go see your doctor or therapist it’s appropriate to take a sick day. If you had the flu no one would think twice about you staying home, so if you are battling depression, anxiety, etc. no one should think twice about you getting help from professionals.

Part of being human is sometimes we are selfish. Please remember we all need each other, and one day you will need to lean on others. Don’t be afraid to lean on them or ask for help, but when times are good for you take time to seek out others who need your help. Do what you can and sometimes just being willing to listen does more than you think. Also, sometimes people need financial support and while our personal finances are important please donate what you can when you can. If everyone gives a little it can add up to a lot for someone less fortunate. You can also donate time by helping around their house, watching their kids for free, or helping them with various tasks at work.

This post is also a gentle reminder that you don’t know what someone is experiencing in their mind or when they go home after work. So next time when someone seems to snap at you or forgets to do something important try to be more understanding and kind. It might be an inconvenience to you or it might seem like they didn’t care or poorly planned, but they might be dealing with a loved one passing away or going through a divorce, etc.

Don’t forget yourself either! Self-care is vital and not selfish- it’s smart and proactive. If you struggle in this area you might need to make a self-care goal or plan it in your schedule. It can be as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood, finally calling your friend for a long chat, or taking a bubble bath.

Utilizing technology can help you take care of yourself. I recently downloaded a few apps that might help you. For meditation try downloading the Calm or Simple Habit apps. If you want to incorporate some exercise into your routine look into the Sworkit, YogaTime, or a couch to 5k app. To make healthier food choices try apps like LoseIt, Mealtime, or MyFitnessPal. There are even apps like, Thought Diary or Stigma, to help you track and manage your feelings and thoughts. For your financial self-care apps including GoodBudget and Mint can help you plan.

So yes, you’re a human, and we all are. We need to remember that more for ourselves and for others.

School Psychology

Gifted Anxiety

November 13, 2017

As we all know everyone has strengths and weaknesses. For our students who are gifted they have many strengths, but they can also have weaknesses. Just as there isn’t one perfect definition of giftedness- there isn’t one profile of strengths and weaknesses in every gifted person. However, around 20-25% of gifted students have emotional difficulties. This can look like anger, boredom, isolation, depression, poor social skills, perfectionism, stress, underachievement, and anxiety. We will focus on anxiety for today. While this is written from the perspective of a gifted child- they are still a child so these ideas can apply to any child who struggles with anxiety.

Some gifted students have superior social adjustment while others struggle with social skills and self-esteem. It could be their strengths like imagination, creativity, and higher level thinking increases their understanding of the world which causes them to be more sensitive and empathetic. If they are a perfectionist with an increased sense of justice this creates the perfect storm for anxiety to grow. These kids are able to see the world more in depth- both its wonders and faults. This makes me think of an ecard I saw online once that said something like “I’ve been overthinking about my overthinking again.”

Anxiety can be difficult to observe because it’s mainly experienced inside someone’s mind quietly, but some observable signs can include: irritability, poor concentration, worrying, upset stomach, carelessness, competitiveness, insomnia, withdrawal, anger, and underachievement. It’s important to note that we all experience some of these on occasion but for some people, the frequency, intensity, or duration causes significant distress to their lives.

One way to determine this is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is it excessive or not typical for the age or developmental level of the child?
  2. Is it a frequent occurrence of an inappropriate or extreme reaction for the situation?
  3. Has it lasted for several weeks or months?

How can we help children who are part of the 20-25% who struggle with emotional difficulties like anxiety?

  1. We can validate their fears. If you’ve ever been upset and someone told you “everything will be okay.” It probably did little to comfort or stop your fears. We don’t want to increase their anxieties, but we want them to know we hear them and care about their feelings.
  2. Children are like little sponges so they pick up when we model how to deal with problems and anxieties. Be open about how you problem-solve and verbalize how you deal with difficulties.
  3. Help them reframe the problem and their anxiety into something physical and concrete. This will help them gain power over their anxiety by taking it out of their mind and into something in the physical world they can manipulate. Examples of this are creating a worry monster or a worry jar.
  4. Give them an outlet to channel their anxiety. Just like adults we all have our ways of channeling our feelings- like going for a run, cleaning, or cooking. Help them find a way to express themselves.
  5. Utilize books for children ages 7 to 12 like “What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety” by Dawn Huebner. For children over 13 consider “The Anxiety Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal with Anxiety and Worry.” For children, 4 to 8 “Wemberly Worried” is a picture book to help children with anxiety. Parents might enjoy reading “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents” and “The Opposite of Worry.”
  6. Inside of the classroom having clear expectations, predictable routines, reducing time constraints, quiet workplace, peer buddies, avoid unexpected situations, time for relaxation, calm down areas, and special jobs can help anxious students feel more comfortable.
  7. Consult with the mental health professionals at your school if you think a child needs professional help or more emotional support at school. Your colleagues can also help you express concerns to parents.
School Psychology

Processing Speed’s Link to Anxiety

November 3, 2017

A few posts ago we discussed process speeding and exactly what it is and how to help students who struggle in this area. So please feel free to refer to that post to speedily reprocess what processing speed is.

A weakness in processing speed can occur in isolation, but often it is linked with something else. Sometimes children with ADHD and learning disabilities can struggle with processing speed. These kids can also have weak executive functioning skills causing difficulty with planning, goal setting, and organization.

Today we will focus on how processing speed and anxiety can be linked together. Sometimes slow processing speed causes anxiety. The earlier we notice this is occurring the earlier we can intervene which could help decrease the chance of an anxiety disorder developing. For a child who struggles with reading we know it’s likely they will feel some anxiety during reading class, but since we process information all the time children with weak processing speed can face an anxiety-provoking situation at any time.

But what came first – the slow speed or the anxiety? It’s a little bit of a cycle- I’m anxious so I freeze which makes me take longer or I’m taking a long time so I start to feel anxious about being slow. Similar to what came first the chicken or the egg? Also, we learn from our previous life experiences. So if I’ve realized I normally take a long time I could begin to feel anxious because I’m worried it’s about to happen again.

So what can you do to help kids who are anxious about the speed they are processing information or completing work?

  • Advocate for the student by helping them understand they are capable but just take longer.
  • Sometimes students don’t share their emotional feelings so be careful with your words- like don’t tell them to “hurry up.”
  • Ask them how they feel if you’re not sure.
  • Make sure to share with your class that all students work at a different pace and that’s normal.
  • Be thoughtful about what you give them to do and how much time it will take that student. You can build in extra time or shorten tasks to help alleviate and prevent anxiety.
  • Help them advocate for themselves by giving them examples of what they can say to another adult or student about how much time they will need. For example, explain to them they can ask for more time or to finish work at home.
  • If the student was anxious about something discuss the situation with them afterwards. You can acknowledge that it was upsetting but then talk about ways to prevent it from happening again.
  • Again seek professional help if their anxiety is causing significant distress and impairment
  • Helping them feel understood and cared about creates a trusting relationship that can lead to decreases in anxiety
School Psychology

Anxiety In Children

October 23, 2017

Imagine if you constantly worried? Imagine if you dreaded coming to school every day?  Imagine if you felt trapped inside your own head? This is how some students with anxiety feel.

Anxiety is commonly experienced by adults and children. It serves to alert us to danger mainly through worry which causes fear that something bad will happen in the future.  In many situations it is a normal reaction to stressful events.  However, for some this worry is so extreme in relation to the actual situation.  Children who are anxious are more likely to view small events as threatening.  For example, giving presentations makes us all a little anxious but to a child who suffers from anxiety they may think it will be a total disaster.

In order to deal with this extreme anxiety children who are anxious will exhibit avoidance behaviors where they will withdraw, pick easier tasks, and avoid tasks and situations where they may fail.  They may feel uncomfortable in socially new situations, avoid socializing in groups, and avoid talking to others.  These students can worry about how they are viewed socially and fear that others do not like them.

What are children anxious about?

Around ages 2 to 8, Anxiety is mostly related to fears of strangers, new situations, animals, the dark, loud noises, falling, and injury. These are all specific events or triggers.

Around age 8, children start to become more anxious and worry about more social and abstract issues including, friends, social acceptance, the future, moral issues, etc. The majority of students will cope with these issues; however, some develop severe anxiety.

Is your student’s anxiety typical or not? Use the following 3 questions as a start:

  1. Is it excessive or not typical for the age or developmental level?
  2. Is it a frequent occurrence of an inappropriate or extreme reaction for the situation?
  3. Has it lasted for several weeks or months?

A child with anxiety may exhibit some of the following characteristics: difficulty concentrating, worry, lack of participation, fidgeting, irritable, perfectionistic, physical complaints, flushed skin, rapid speaking, or sleeping problems.  If you feel a student is struggling with anxiety reach out to your school’s mental health professionals, including the school psychologist or school counselor.

Around 3 to 20 percent of children and adolescents have anxiety disorders.  This is when a student has a pattern of anxiety that is causing them significant distress and impairment.  Anxiety disorders can be linked to genetics, brain differences, temperament, family factors, life events, etc. For elementary students, boys and girls are just as likely to have anxiety disorders, while in adolescence girls become more likely than boys to have an anxiety disorder.  There are several types of anxiety disorders including:

  1. Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) – this is specific to children and consists of being afraid to leave familiar people, most often parents. They may refuse to leave home or go to school.
  2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – this consists of high levels of anxiety over many different situations (i.e., there is no specific trigger). It is the most common anxiety disorder for children.  It is likely to continue into adulthood.  These students may be very perfectionistic and concerned about doing things correctly.  They may worry about very minor things and can appear stressed most of the time.  The majority of these individuals needs professional intervention.
  3. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – this is associated with anxiety caused by a traumatic event (e.g., violent crimes, car accident, home fire, natural disaster, domestic violence, physical or sexual abuse, etc.). Some symptoms are avoidance, withdrawal, sleep difficulties, anger, flashbacks, and difficulty with concentrating.  Some students diagnosed with ADHD may truly have PTSD.
  4. Social Anxiety Disorder- this consists of an excessive anxiety and fear of social situations where one is evaluated by people. Typically this is not diagnosed until adolescence or early adulthood; however, signs of shyness can be observed around 2 or 3 years of age.  There is normally not a specific triggering event.

While receiving outside treatment is vital to many students there are many things we can do at school to support students with anxiety.  In the classroom, establishing a predictable routine, setting clear and reasonable expectations, and breaking tasks down can help alleviate anxiety.  Pairing an anxious student with a confident and supportive peer but giving them time to relax when anxiety is increased.  These students need practice and rehearsal and try to avoid unexpected situations.  These students may perform better in a quiet setting with less distractions.  Timed conditions often increase anxiety so limit time constraints.   As your student’s teacher you are their number one advocate at school so do not hesitate to contact the mental health professionals in your building for guidance and support.

School Psychology

Work For Your Memory

October 15, 2017

Short-term or Working Memory? I can’t remember.

Often the processing areas of short-term memory and working memory are used interchangeably, but there is an important difference.  Short term memory is the ability to hold information in your memory and immediately repeat it.  For example, if I tell you a phone number and you immediately repeat it back to me.

Working memory is part of short-term memory.  The first step is getting the information in your short-term memory, but when you process it in memory and then formulate a response it becomes working memory.

We all have a natural limit to the amount of information we can hold in our short-term memory AND the amount of time we can hold it there.  If a student has a weak working memory it can lead to difficulties processing complex material.  This student will need more time and energy to learn new information.  Information has to make it to working memory before it can ever go to long term memory.  Thus, it is vital for learning to occur.

Often people will stay they are a visual or auditory learner, but the truth is we use our entire brain and all senses when learning.  Current research supports utilizing multiple pathways through multisensory teaching.  This allows students to create multiple pathways in the brain strengthening connections and making it easier to recall information.

It is important to consider the limits of working memory because around 1 in every 10 individuals struggles with working memory.  So how can it impact academic achievement for these students?  Students may struggles to learn letter names, letter sounds, and identify words.  When reading long passages weak working memory skills can impair a student’s ability to remember all of the details.  In math, solving problems with multiple steps can be difficult.  In writing, a weak working memory can have a negative impact on spelling, formulating thoughts, and sequencing.  These students may struggle with following directions given orally, not due to defiance or lack of motivation, because of their difficulty to remember the information.  It can also impact their ability to verbally express information and their thoughts.

If you read the comprehension knowledge post last month you know that’s an area that can grow.  However, unlike comprehension knowledge research has not found any method to increase working memory.  However, there are several strategies and accommodations that can support children who struggle with working memory.

For example, writing information down, making it meaningful, and making it memorable are key components.  These students need to practice more and have information repeated more often.  They will need information broken down into manageable tasks as well as to spend more time with it.  Anytime you can create a hands-on experience or personalize information it will be more meaningful making it memorable.  Thoughtfully placing the student in an area with minimal distractions can help them focus their attention.  Make sure you have the student’s attention before giving directions.  Break down directions into steps that are given orally and in writing.  You can have the student paraphrase the directions back to you to ensure understanding.  A peer helper can repeat information or explain directions to the student.  Highlight or underline key information in text for struggling students. Providing students with copies or notes rather than requiring them to write notes or copy from the board. An alternative is to use a cloze method and have student fill in the blank in provided notes.  Use a song or rhyme to help a student remember rote information.  These strategies will help your students get the most out of their memory.

Featured School Psychology Uncategorized

Mindfulness Vs. Meditation

October 7, 2017

Often these terms are grouped together, and while they are both positive strategies to better your well being they are very different.  These tools can be used in your personal life or you can incorporate them into your classroom.  Lately, I’ve seen several great ideas on how teachers and schools are using meditation and/or mindfulness during the school day.

So what is mindfulness?

This practice is all about living in the moment without judgment or worry.  It’s simply allowing yourself to experience the moment as it is, and then letting it float right away.  Practicing mindfulness can allow you to better enjoy your life without worrying about the future or focusing on the past.

A simple way to begin being more mindful is to quietly sit still for 5 minutes and just observe your surroundings.  What do you see?  What do you hear? What do you smell? Often we get caught up in our daily mindless routines, and instead of being in the moment we are stuck thinking in our minds.  This is a good opportunity to practice being more mindful.  When I’m on my way to work I try to enjoy the scenery or enjoy the feeling of the heat on my feet rather than worrying about a meeting I have that day or facing my to do list.

So what is meditation? The biggest different is meditation is about calming your mind and taking a break from what is going on around you while with mindfulness you are taking in everything in the current moment with acceptance.  Meditation helps you quiet your worries and thoughts and just be with yourself in a calm state. You can individualize your experience.  Some people may like to mediate standing outside in a garden while some may like to sit inside in their favorite chair.  It’s finding a quiet and private place you can be comfortable in.  There are many types of meditation, and it can be done in 10 minutes or you can mediate for an hour.  There are no strict rules.

Often meditation involves a body scan of any tension or pain with deep breathing to help relax and center yourself.  The goal of meditation is not to stop thinking but it’s to guide your thinking.  Positive affirmations can be used during meditation where you repeat a positive phrase about yourself.  You can find apps or videos with guided meditation practices that can be helpful for beginners.

With anything that’s new it takes time and practice so be patient and kind with yourself if you give meditation or mindfulness a try.

How can mindfulness and meditation impact students?

Similar to the positive benefits for adults, children can experience decreased anxiety and increased self-awareness.  These practices can help us better understand our thoughts and give us a positive coping strategy to use when we are upset.  It can lead to a better ability to focus, decrease attention problems, increase social skills, and help overall well-being.

The internet has lots of great ideas for incorporating mindfulness and mediation at school.  You can even use the apps or videos with guided meditation practices.  You can listen to calming music and have children focus on their breathing or take a mindfulness walk where children observe certain things in nature.  Blowing bubbles or balloons can help children focus on their breathing and be in the moment.  It’s important to explain the purpose of the task in a developmentally appropriate way so they will learn how to more effectively use it.

I hope this brief introduction to mindfulness and meditation will help improve your well-being as well as your students’.

School Psychology Uncategorized

Visual Processing

September 30, 2017

This month I’ll be telling you about the cognitive area of Visual Processing.  This is exactly what it sounds like; it is how you brain interprets and processes visual information.  There is a lot your brain has to process to interpret what we see.  You have to be able to perceive and think about visual patterns, visual sequences, and see letters and symbols as they really are.  Of course if you have a vision impairment this will impact your eyes ability to see; however, when we talk about visual processing we are talking about what the brain is doing not what the eye is able to do.

If a child struggles in this area they might struggle to orient themselves in their own space.  It might seem like they have difficulty paying attention to where other people or objects are.  This is because they aren’t able to use the visual cues around them to help guide where those things move.  Let’s meet Jimmy who is a student who struggles with visual processing.  As you can imagine, if Jimmy is walking around bumping into objects or standing too close to someone this can impact him socially.  Also, imagine him in gym class!  He isn’t the most athletic student.  Academically, visuals like graphs, models, diagrams, and charts might be confusing for him.

Let’s let Jimmy tell us more about how his is visual processing weaknesses impact him…

If I’m not perceiving words, letters, and numbers as being separate that will make me very confused too.  I might struggle to go in the right direction when I’m solving a math problem or reading something.  This makes it even worse when letters and numbers look alike! If I see a p I might not know if it’s a p or a q very quickly.  When I’m solving 6 X 2 I might glance and think it’s 9 X 2.

Especially, when I’m reading I’m likely to be inconsistent with recognizing words, symbols, and letters. When I see a picture I might not be able to see all of the details and everything might blend in together with the background.

I might dislike writing because it’s hard for me to organize my thoughts on paper.  Then if I have to look at my book and answer questions on a worksheet or type on my computer. It’s hard for me to transition between the two.

When I do math I get lost trying to find information in my book when I’m looking at number lines, graphs, and charts.  Even if I’m doing an activity on my computer, it can be hard.  The hardest is when I have to write my math problems on my paper all by myself.  I just can’t seem to keep everything lined up in a neat row.  It’s so hard for me to compare objects in math problems.  I try to picture it, but I can’t.

Luckily, I have a teacher, Ms. Brown, who understand these things are difficult for me, and she uses all these tricks so I can understand better.  She used tape on my desk at the left side so I know where to start all my work.  She taught me to use my finger from left to right under the words when I read so I don’t get lost as much.  She also put a helpful chart on my desk to help me remember which letters and numbers I confuse so now I can use it to see that it really is 6 X 2.  My favorite thing Ms. Brown did was give me graph paper to write my math problems on!  Now I don’t have to worry as much about lining them up neatly!  This year we were able to learn to write in cursive, and that helped me out a lot since I don’t have to pick up my pencil as often.  Ms. Brown even gave me this cool grip I put on my pencil that makes it easier to write! Even though those tricks help me a lot, when Ms. Brown gives us a long writing assignment she gives me the option of typing it up or writing on paper.  I’m always so excited to use the computer because I’m able to write more of what I know quicker.  When Ms. Brown gives me notes she highlights the important stuff just for me! That way when I go to study it’s not so overwhelming.  Sometimes instead of highlighting it she’ll let me fill in the blank.  I love this because I can focus more on what we are learning instead of freaking out about trying to write everything I hear down.  Charts and maps still get confusing, but she lets Matt, my friend who sits beside me, work with me on them.  It really helps when Matt explains what the chart means to him.

I hope Jimmy’s story of his visual processing struggles helps you work with Jimmy and his friends this school year!

Organization School Psychology

Organized Chaos

September 14, 2017

Since I have two offices instead of one classroom I can’t give you any classroom organization tips, but I do want to discuss the importance of organization and offer some ideas for how to organize information for students of concern for both teachers and school psychologists.

Sometimes I miss the stress of graduate school because if I wasn’t organized or procrastinated on something it only impacted my life, but now if I do that it impacts a child’s life!  This is why being organized is so vital in our jobs as educators.  If I misplace a referral packet for a child, that could delay me picking the best assessments to give that child.  Or if you forget to fill out the behavior rating scale on time that can cause a child to not get a more appropriate intervention sooner.

One thing that helps me with this is to give myself, and sometimes others, due dates.  When I give parents or teachers evaluation forms to complete I often give them a date I’d like them back by.  Sometimes they even thank me for giving them a deadline!  But to help myself a little more I write their due date in my planner so I know on that day to check to see if I have it back, and if not I can check in to see if they need any help.

The main piece of advice I have is get yourself a good planner.  Some people like to use technology or old fashioned paper.  I use it to keep up with every little thing!  Like if I fax something or send something home to a parent I make sure I write in my planner for the next week to check on it.

For students of concern I recommend keeping an individual folder on them and make sure to keep notes with dates on anything new that happens.  For a teacher this could be something like on 8/10 I started working with Caleb in a small group on short vowels using XYZ intervention.  For a school psychologist it could read something like on 9/10 I spoke with Ms. Brooks about changing Caleb’s small group intervention to add a phonological awareness component.

As a school psychologist, it is important that we have documented everything that has been in place for a child before we jump into testing them for a disability.  Of course every case is different, just like every child is different.  Legally and ethically, we need to make sure we do everything we can within general education to meet a child’s needs.  This is why being organized and documenting these efforts is so important to determine if a child may need to be evaluated for a disability.  For teachers I can imagine sometimes this is frustrating because your gut might be telling you this child will need more intensive services, but we have to give them a chance.  If we jump from A to Z we have no idea if D or J might have worked for them.

Most school psychologists work at 2 or more schools and serve more students than the National Association of School Psychologists recommends.  So it is very helpful if you can bring data that interventions and researched strategies have been used with a student, and they are still struggling with specific skills.  For example, when I hear a child is struggling with reading I don’t really know where to start.  However, if I hear that your student who is in reading intervention is struggling with reading words with blends and diphthongs but can understand material that is read aloud I have a better idea of what we need to do next.

Another tip I have is don’t put off simple organizational tasks.  I am required to track all of the students I test in an Excel sheet.  I have to put what school they are at, grade, date of permission, etc. It’s not a hard task, and I could put it off and then go back and enter all of that data months after the fact.  However, it is so much easier if I keep up with it on a daily or even weekly basis.  It does take a little more effort and time, but when it’s due all I do is submit it instead of having to take a few hours to go back and add everything all at once.  I’m also less likely to forget something or make a mistake when it is fresh on my mind.

I love to make a good to do list!  If there is a new procedure or something you’re always forgetting to do.  Make yourself a checklist for it and put it somewhere you’ll visually see to remind you.  Once you use it a few times you will get in the habit of it!

Hopefully, some organizational tips from a school psychologist translate to meaningful organization in your classrooms!