Executive Functioning: What IS It, and How to Improve it!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I got a chance to go to OCALICON this past week. If you don’t know what OCALICON is, well, let me fill you in.  OCALI is the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence, and each year for the past 10 years they have held a conference. The conference is three days long and filled with amazing leaders in autism, behavior management, and all sorts of special education best practices and more! If you are lucky enough to every come to the OCALICON jump at the chance! I promise you won’t regret it!

While at the conference, I got a chance to see Brenda Smith Myles. If you don’t know who she is, she holds her doctorate in education, was presented over 500 times, and written more than 150 articles and books on Autism. She was also the co-chair of the National ASD Teacher Standards Committee, and has received many awards for the work that she does.

I was delighted to be able to sit in on her session! She talked about executive functioning, and I gained some good knowledge and techniques I’d like to share with you about it below!  Executive Functioning are sets of skills that everyone uses to organize and act on information.

For Example- You ask a student to go back to his locker and get his assignment book. He leaves and returns with a book, a pencil, and a water bottle. You don’t understand how on earth he managed to leave and return with everything but what you asked him to get!

Want to know how he returned with those items? Well this is what happened in his head?

“I need my assignment book” walks down the hall, walks right past a water fountain. “Oh, I’m thirsty. I need my water bottle” Keeps walking. “getting my water bottle from my locker.”   Keep walking down the hall. He spots a pencil on the floor. Picks it up. “New pencil for me.”  Walking to his locker and finally gets to his locker. “What was I supposed to get?...  I’m thirsty. Water bottle! Wait, I feel like there is something else I was supposed to get. I’m in English. It must have been my book.” He walks back to class. “I’m back. Why doesn’t the teacher look happy?”

The student lacks the ability to organize his thoughts and planning and organizing.
Students with executive functioning issues are likely to have 8 skill deficit areas and may struggle with the following things.

1.    Flexible Thinking -  this allows students to be able to adjust to unexpected events like fire drills, early releases, and a second recess!
2.    Emotional Control – helps students to not overreact in a situation. It helps them keep their feelings in check.

3.    Self-Monitoring – this allows students to look at how they are doing. Students with a weakness in this area may be upset up bad feedback in an area.
4.    Planning and Prioritizing – this helps children set goals and help plan to meet them.
5.    Task Initiation – this helps your student get started on a new task.
6.    Impulse Control – Helps students think about something before they act on it! I have lots of students who struggle with this.
7.    Organization – this helps students keep track of things both in their minds and things in their world.

8.    Working memory – this helps students keep key information in their mind while they carry out a task. Think students who struggle with following directions, even though you’ve told them a 1000 times!

So, what are the tips on ways to improve Executive Functioning in students?

1.    Help Students Work on Visualization Skills
When students read a book or listen to a story, ask them to create pictures in their mind. Or draw pictures. I have my Reading For Sets that I use to work on this. We read the passage, and uses the pictures to sequence the events in the stories in order, then answer the questions that go along with it. This has greatly helped my students with reading.

2.    Have Students Teach Each Other
When a student has to know a concept well enough to teach it to a peer they have to be able to think through HOW they do it in order to teach it the right way to a peer. This lets them start working on information right away in the right way to help both themselves and a peer.

3.    Do the Chunky Monkey!
Okay, well it’s not TECHNICALLY the chunky monkey. But Chunking information is ALWAYS good! Teaching information in small bites makes it easier to remember. Also, using a graphic organizer is a huge help too.

4.    Multi-sensory Magic
Ever had a song stuck in your head? How is it that you can remember the lyrics to every N*SYNC song from 2004 but you can’t remember what you ate last night for dinner. Well using songs, dances, movement of any kind to help teach a concept helps students to better remember what they are learning. I used to teach the ABC’s by writing the letters on paint chips and putting them on the floor. We would then hop around the room saying each letter as we jumped on them. Movement and even singing the ABC’s while we did it!

5.    Connections for Success
Help students connect new concepts to things they have already learned. Making connections with the information will help to grow the student’s abilities to recall information.

I’d love to hear ideas from you on how you help improve your student’s Executive Functioning Skills! 

Lastly several SPED TPT Teachers have joined together to bring you $1.00 deals for TODAY only! Click the picture to check out the great resources! I have my Christmas Reading For Set on sale too! 


Community Resources for the Sped Classroom

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Life skills are a crucial part in many of our students days. We must balance academics with them though, even though we all sometimes wish, life skills could be a bigger part of our students' days. 

So how can we combine life skills and academics?! 

Well, I've got a few ideas for you below! 

1. Grocery ads. 

Yes. These are free my wonderful sped friends! I use real grocery ads and use them in a few different ways...

I complete worksheets for students to complete. It asks them to look up the prices of certain items. 

I also, give a student $50.00 and ask them to buy groceries for so many meals. They have to use the ads to figure out the amounts, add it up and work their way back to what they will have left over.

Another way, I give a student a recipe, and tell them to use the add to determine how much money we will need to get the ingredients to make the recipe. 

2. I go to banks and beg. 

No, not for money, or a money tree... but for blank deposit slips, and empty check registers. Many times they will freely give them out to you. Little known fact... many banks actually have a responsible financial literacy program. Check to see what they typically go over and if it would be a good fit for your students, but sometimes these classes are amazing for our special needs students! 

3. Take public transit to learn about maps. Walking field trips are great when learning about maps and street sign introductions. But taking public transit teaches many skills our students don't typically get by riding the big yellow school bus, including that transportation isn't free, transportation also doesn't magically show up outside of your house or school unless you schedule it, and many other crucial skills. Taking it one step further, take transit to the store, to buy the ingredients your students budgeted to make a meal or snack the following day! SO MANY LIFE SKILLS! :) Want to prepare for it? Check out my adapted book! 

4. School based jobs are great, but an actual business work experience is even better. Partnering with local businesses gives your students work experience with a "real" employer, gives them more experience than your typical, clean-your-cafeteria school based job, and allows the community to see that your students are a valuable resource to the community. Of course, you shouldn't just send 'em and forget 'em. A parapro or job coach should go too. 

5. Lastly there are many community resources for students who have a disability. Many states have boards of developmental disabilities, or vocational rehabilitation services, that can help explore career interests and be a partner past what a teacher is able to do in the typical work day. Of course, rules are likely different in each state. In Ohio, we aren't allowed to refer students anymore. So, we make sure our parents understand why it is so crucial to get connected to these resources. 

Do you have any other favorite community resources? I'd love to hear about them! 

Organizing for IEP's at the Beginning of the Year

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

If you've read my blog before, you know I'm all about working smarter, not harder. That's why I've stream lined the process I use in organizing and planning for IEP's. 

I'd like to think at this point I'm a pro at IEP's. I've written countless and in the past 2 years have sat through more than 150 IEP's each year! Yes. You read that right. That is 300 in the last two years, if you have Summer brain like me and don't want to do the math. I did it for you! =) 

How do I keep them all straight?! Well, I'd have to say that organization- early and often! 

Of course every district is different, so what works for me, may or may not work for you. But I do have a few tips to help smooth the organization of your IEP's. 

At the beginning of the year, I ask parents to tell me their preferences for IEP meetings.

Would they like morning or afternoon, Monday, Friday, or any other day in between? I use that to help set up meetings well in advance. This helps everyone to assure they can attend. I know at some districts the dates and times are assigned. At other districts, the teachers are left planning the days and times and handling their own case management, and that can make things a bit dicey. Having everyone scrabble at the last minute trying to finish their part or get parents / admin to attend to make sure the IEP is done within the window can be nerve wracking! 

Once I know preferences, I work with admin to get that date in their book right away. Many admin fill up their calendars many months in advance, so this ensures a time line and makes sure that you will not be missing any time lines for the IEP legal process. 

Once I get the date firmed up, I send a calendar invite request via our school email to get the IEP on everyone's calendar. Once I know that specialists and admin can attend, I send out a form that notifies parents. Below is the form I use. I've attached it, so you can use it too, if you'd like!

Sometimes I have a parent who requests a different time or date, and I reschedule. Knowing that they have this date down way ahead of time, parents who need to, request off of work, or schedule appropriately. 

About 2 months before the scheduled IEP, I send home a parent input form. The form asks for parent input on a multitude of areas. This gives me a clue as to what kinds of things the parents want to see on the new IEP. 
When I send home the Input Form, I also send home a Formal IEP invitation. Still some parents will request at this point to have the meeting changed, while the majority do not. I think over those 300 IEPs, we changed 10 meeting dates from the request of parents. So it is very unlikely that a parent will need a change. BUT on the off hand chance they do, you have 2 months to move it to a date that will work for everyone again. 

I always put a "Please Return By" date on the parent input form. I typically give the parent 2 weeks to return the form completed. Once I receive the parent input, I start to draft the IEP. Occasionally you won't receive an input form from a parent. In that case, I still start to draft the IEP on the date that the parent was to send the input form by. This gives you plenty of time to complete the IEP ahead of time. For a copy of the Parent Input form click below. 

I aim to have the IEP draft ready two weeks before the IEP meeting. At this point, I send home a draft copy of the goals to parents to help them go over the goals ahead of time. Parents will sometimes read and return with their thoughts, or ask you to take off a goal, or make changes to it. Doing all of this ahead of the meeting helps to really speed the meeting up, and helps to make sure that the parent feels they were given ample opportunities to give their input. 

DO remember, that you cannot pre-determine any part of the IEP before the team meets. Don't tell a parent their child is going to be in the resource room full time from now on. That won't fly. You should be meeting as a team to discuss those parts. For the goals, be up front, and tell the parents, this is what I would like to see Johnny work on this year. What are your thoughts? From your input form, I think we are on the same page.

This goes a LONG way with parents. Many really appreciate the time you spend trying to get their input.

Once you get parent input, tweak it, then just wait for your IEP date to come up, in your "cool as a cucumber" attitude. What you won't do, is be at the school until 9:30pm still typing an IEP, only to drive home, remember something you should have added, log back in, and see the whole entire IEP had disappeared, and start freaking out before your 7:30am IEP meeting. #TrueLife #ProcrastinatorsUnite  #YesThatHappened!

No one wants this to be you....

So, while, upfront it's a bit of work, it is SO WORTH IT in the long run!

Does anyone else have an IEP mad dash rush story? I can't be alone, right?

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