Dallas Speech Language Therapy Blog

Dallas Reading and Language Services

When Children Plant the Seeds

When Children Plant the Seeds

By Rachel Betzen, M.S., CCC/SLP

What if every child felt that he or she was:

  • Valued and Important
  • Supported as a student and teacher, able to learn and able to teach
  • Unique, a collaboration of culture, community and individual talents, strengths, and interests
  • Connected in overlapping circles of family and communities
  • Empowered to Plan and Write the next Chapter of their lives

AchievementThe School Archive Project was founded by Bill Betzen (my father in law)at Quintanilla Middle School in 2005 as a dropout prevention plan, and has grown significantly to include more students in both junior high and high school throughout the Dallas area.  The foundation for this growth sprouted from a simple, yet powerful truth: “A real focus on the future helps students understand why they should stay in school”.  Beyond this, future-focused children are more likely to develop skills which will serve them well throughout their lives, in spite of major obstacles such as poverty.  Planting seeds builds the patience and foresight required to plan for their futures.

What is this program “tapping into” for these children, and how can we take these lessons and apply them as part of “whole child intervention speech-language therapy”?  When longer-term thinking becomes connected to shorter-term behaviors, our students become aware of how their behavior affects their future development of skills needed to meet long term goals.  They can more clearly delineate how their day-to-day work brings them closer to, or farther away from, the path they want, and the future that they and their families wish for them.

Beyond the affirmations of value given from their families and teachers, these students are building Executive Function skills important for higher level education and personal development.  Goal directed persistence is both a product of, and an outcome of, grit.  This encourages a lot of Planning and Prioritization of what is really needed to get the job done.  Students have to contend with Emotional Control when things get tough, and develop enough self-awareness for Response Inhibition when things really get out of control.  Revisiting progress often will help children begin to self-evaluate and build their Metacognition skills as they learn to check-in with all the little steps along the way.

When children plant the seeds we give them permission to both flourish and fail.  It’s not all about grades when failure is an accepted part of the learning process, within and beyond school.  The main risks of failure at school are with Timing and Dosage- as kids have to be able to work through the process quickly enough to keep up with their grades, and overdoses of failure really put kids at risk for getting far behind and getting into trouble.

Planting seeds is both personal and for the greater good.  It requires planning and laying out our intentions, but also encourages experimentation, collaboration, and building on hopes and dreams, for today and tomorrow.  When children plant the seeds, they are empowered to create their own destiny, as they Plan and Write the next Chapter of their lives.

Executive Functions – Part 4

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” – Part 4

By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

Note: This is the fourth part of a 4 part series. Start at Executive Function – Part 1

 

R head shotAs children progress to higher elementary grades and middle school, in addition to the expectation of reading to learn our students are required to manipulate information and give written responses.  Our junior high and high school students are expected to independently plan and write essays that clearly explain concepts with good written composition.

We want our students to have the skills needed to plan ahead for projects, and hold the important information in mind while further organizing new and previously learned information.  When addressing task initiation and building working memory, we still need to assess the foundation of skills our students need, and help them organize their learning in a way that makes sense to their learning modality.

The next two executive function areas are important skills to help children and adults meet their full potential. These skills help us begin difficult and complex tasks, and integrate new information while holding in memory other relevant details.

The Executive Functions

  1. Response Inhibition
  2. Organization
  3. Task Initiation
  4. Working Memory
  5. Emotional Control
  6. Flexibility
  7. Sustained Attention
  8. Time Management
  9. Planning/Prioritization
  10. Goal-Directed Persistence
  11. Metacognition

Task initiation:  The ability to begin a task without excessive procrastination and the ability to plan smaller steps needed for task completion. This skill area can be influenced by many factors, such as personality, learning challenges, high distractibility (including ADHD), social skill weaknesses (with group projects), emotional overwhelm, or experiences of failure.

The Executive Skills workbook describes two kinds of task initiation: beginning a task right away when it is requested, and planning when to complete longer term projects. Environmental modifications in the child’s homework area include the child making visual reminders and marking a calendar with steps for task completion. The child may need many reminders at first which can be faded over time, and lots of reinforcement as the child is following through with their plans. These same strategies can be applied to adults.

Working Memory: The ability to hold information in mind while performing complex tasks. This incorporates the ability to past learning or prior knowledge that applies to the current project.

This skill area will be affected for our students that have language processing delays, and some of our students that have language disorders. When children are not able to hold all of the details in mind and create accurate visual imagery, this will show up with their working memory. Improving overall language skills often boosts this area, however for our older students they may need more direct intervention.

Modifications include storage devices like calendars and notebooks, or use of calendars on smart phones or electronic devices. Auditory cues and reminders will probably still be needed as our students develop this skill.

Executive Functions – Part 3

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” – Part 3


By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

Note: This is the third part of a 4 part series. Start at Executive Function – Part 1

R head shotAs children enter the higher elementary grades and middle school, there is a shift that happens as they begin to take more responsibility for their education. Students in third through grade are expected to have learned to read, as they are required more and more to read to learn. At Dallas Reading and Language Services, our junior high and high school students are expected to analyze and explain concepts with a much larger emphasis on essay answers and written composition.

Children who have language delays or disorders are more at risk for experiencing learning challenges. We can help our students understand that they are smart, even though their weaknesses may make learning harder now. Our children benefit from figuring out how they best learn through the therapy process. Becoming independent learners is all about building the foundation of skills our students need, and helping them structure their learning in a way that makes sense for their strengths and learning modality.

Language is the basic foundation for individual growth and academic success, particularly written language. Children who are below grade level with decoding skills will have a much harder time learning independently. Reading is a precursor of academic success; we need to make it a priority to help these kids become independent decoders.

As we look at skills which are supported across all main executive functions, we need to help children build a strong foundation for each area. Our therapists explain to our students and their parents what areas we plan to target and how we think this will make learning easier for them. After introducing a skill area we plan to target, we help the children identify how we will help them practice needed skills during therapy.

Executive functions are the beginning of meeting one’s full potential, because these skills help people to accomplish difficult and complex tasks with the determination not to give up, even when faced with many challenges.

The Executive Functions

  1. Response Inhibition
  2. Organization
  3. Task Initiation
  4. Working Memory
  5. Emotional Control
  6. Flexibility
  7. Sustained Attention
  8. Time Management
  9. Planning/Prioritization
  10. Goal-Directed Persistence
  11. Metacognition

Response Inhibition:  The ability to think before one acts and to delay or stop impulsive responses.

Children who exhibit impairments with this executive function tend to be very active and impulsive, and the goal is to have them inhibit responses that get them in trouble or interfere with learning. At Dallas Reading and Language Services we have had some success with helping students monitor their sustained attention, and then praise them for bringing their attention back to task. This area also applies for pragmatic skills as we want children to respond, rather than react to, social situations. Teaching them to pause and reconnect with breath has been helpful for our student’s behaviors, so they can inhibit a negative response that may get them into trouble.

When there are behavior issues or a lot of impulsivity, our therapists teach the child a skill that needs to be replaced, and help the child practice in multiple contexts. Increased supervision may be needed, and cues for controlling impulses are helpful. Immediate reinforcement of new skills is really important.

Organization Ability to design and maintain a system for keeping track of information, and creating and using templates that make learning easier and more concrete.

Students struggling with this executive function need more than an organized backpack or homework folder. When kids struggle with learning, we need to help them understand how to structure information. Our students benefit from sentence structure organization for understanding important details through asking “wh” questions (who, what, when, where, why) and use of the structure words. They better understand the main idea with the structure given for who? Did what? And what happened?

Each week we will look at one or two areas of executive functions and how to help children become independent learners by teaching needed skills and giving them tools to improve each area.

Note: Proceed to the “Executive Function – Part 4

Executive Functions – Part 2

Rachel’s Resources
“Executive Functions and Speech-Language Therapy” – Part 2

By Rachel Betzen, M.A., CCC/SLP

Note: This is the second part of a 4 part series. Start at Executive Function – Part 1

Executive functions are the beginning of meeting your full potential. These skills strengthen our ability to observe our own thoughts and feelings, to empathize with R head shotothers, manage multiple responsibilities, and work toward long term goals. Executive functions are important life skills that will continue to develop throughout our lifespan.

Executive functions refer to “the cognitive process that regulates an individual’s ability to organize thoughts and activities, prioritize tasks, manage time efficiently, and make decisions. This is huge for the children that we work with and our goals for helping them to become socially aware, compassionate and independent learners.

The following definitions are a combination of descriptions from the book Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare and insights from our clinical practice at Dallas Reading and Language Services.

1.  Response Inhibition:  Ability to think before one acts and to delay or stop impulsive responses

2.  Organization:  Ability to design and maintain a system for keeping track of information, and creating and using templates that make learning easier and more concrete

3.  Task Initiation:  Ability to begin tasks without excessive procrastination and to meet set deadlines

4.  Working Memory:  Ability to hold information in mind while completing complex tasks; this also involves using prior knowledge and experience

5.  Emotional Control:  Ability to manage emotions as needed in order to accomplish goals and complete daily responsibilities

6.  Flexibility:  Ability to respond to changing circumstances and revise plans due to obstacles, mistakes, and new information

7.  Sustained Attention:  Ability to maintain attention to tasks during distractions, fatigue, or other learning barriers; this also includes awareness of attention or lack thereof

8.  Time Management:  Ability to estimate the total time that one has, and allocate tasks with prioritization for completion and meeting deadlines

9.  Planning:  Ability to create a graphic organization for all the steps needed for task completion and maintain focus on what is most important

9.  Goal-Directed Persistence:  Ability to make short and long term goals, follow through toward completion in spite of distractions or other interests

10.  Metacognition:  Ability to self-monitor from a big picture perspective, and observe one’s own thoughts, problem-solving, and continuous development of one’s own executive skills.

 

Note: Proceed to the “Executive Function – Part 3

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