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Executive Functioning and Music

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By Colette Hapi

As parents, we are always looking for different avenues to help our kids develop skills that will promote success as they grow into their adult lives; this is especially true for parents of kids who have ADHD. As parents, we become quite well-versed on academic-based strategies that can help our children, but there are also non-academic avenues that should warrant our attention, like learning to play an instrument. Your kids can do something they enjoy while simultaneously developing and fostering critical executive functioning skills; sounds like a win-win situation! 

You might be wondering: how does playing instruments help with executive functioning? Well, it’s been said that musical training strengthens the brain’s critical tasks, such as processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, and problem-solving. For children to play an instrument, they need to:

  • Focus their attention, set goals, prioritize practice over other activities, and plan how to learn a piece. Skills strengthened: Inhibitory control, planning, and prioritizing
  • Process multiple stimuli at once, such as keeping in mind what they just played to know what comes next, or remembering the new information that the conductor or teacher tells them and incorporating it into the piece. Skills strengthened: Working memory
  • Be flexible enough to switch back and forth between tempos and styles. Skills strengthened: Cognitive flexibility
  • Measure how they are currently playing a piece with how they want it to sound. Skills strengthened: Self-monitoring

These habits draw heavily on executive function skills, so for those parents who have already enrolled their kids in musical training classes, kudos to you! To those who haven’t, this might be a good way to help your kids along as they are engaging in something that they, hopefully, enjoy. 

P.S.: Stay tuned for our upcoming tip as we go into more detail about the workings of the brain as people are learning instruments and how it helps develop executive functioning skills. 

Erica MechlinskiExecutive Functioning and Music

Altering our Math Attitudes

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By Kristin Backert

I’ve never been good at math. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I would be lost without a calculator. And as the prophecy foretold, most of the math that I learned in school hasn’t made an appearance in my adult life.

While this type of thinking is fairly common among parents, did you know that it’s actually detrimental to your children’s feelings about math? A few weeks ago, NPR published an article explaining how a parent’s casual remarks to their children about how they themselves were never good at math “can send a signal to kids about whether they can succeed.” When parents discuss their own dislike of math, they create an excuse their children can latch onto to explain away their own troubles and hinder them from putting forth their best efforts. If their parents don’t understand the material, then how could they possibly understand it?

When our children are having a difficult time with something, we often tell them that everyone has something that they’re not good at. Some people are gifted at playing soccer, some are great at playing the piano, and some are math wizzes. Placing people into these sorts of categories sends a message to your children that there are some things they are simply incapable of succeeding at, and this reinforces a belief that there’s no point in trying at something that does not come naturally to them. It’s important to help your children realize that even if they’re struggling to understand something right now, that doesn’t mean they’ll never get it; they just need to utilize the resources around them and keep an open mind.

It may seem like a small thing, but children’s first role models are usually their parents, so they will often mimic their parents’ attitudes towards particular subjects. Even if you do have negative feelings about math, it’s crucial to project an upbeat attitude about the subject. If your children are struggling to grasp a particular mathematical concept, don’t agree that it’s too difficult to learn; instead, help them pinpoint which elements of the concept are confusing, and encourage them to meet with their teacher for help or to use an online resource like Khan Academy. Creating this positive environment will motivate your children to embrace math and learn that they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their minds to.

Erica MechlinskiAltering our Math Attitudes

Understanding Language-Based Executive Functioning Skills

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Organization skills extend to all aspects of life from a student’s backpack to their writing skills. Language-based organization skills include organizing written language, interpreting information from a text, and effectively categorizing information for note-taking.

Language-based self-monitoring is called metalinguistic awareness. This skill involves using an “internal script” to reflect on and consciously evaluate our own behavior and performance. Language skills are vital to this process. Metalinguistic awareness is essential in following complex directions, editing written work, and determining how well one comprehends information presented to them.

Working memory is the process of temporarily storing and manipulating information for complex tasks, especially language. Working memory skills are critical in understanding spoken and written language, decoding and encoding, and following multi-step directions.

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think flexibly by changing approaches or strategies when needed. It is a critical executive function for learning and succeeding in school. Language plays into this skill as students are increasingly required to interpret learned information in multiple ways. This skill is required for studying, reading comprehension, interpreting abstract language, and formulating written responses.

The reciprocal relationship between language and executive function skills is unquestionable. Both are needed to help students succeed academically and in life. Therefore, a certified Speech Language Pathologist is often the best resource to help parents and students understand that connection, and provide treatment when there are difficulties.

For a printable graphic detailing language-based executive functioning skills, CLICK HERE!

Erica MechlinskiUnderstanding Language-Based Executive Functioning Skills

Guess Actual Timesheet

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Learning how to manage your time is a crucial component of success in any activity.

If you’re struggling to complete your work on time, try using our Guess/Actual worksheet!

First, guess how long it will take you to complete each task on your to-do list.

Then, time yourself to see how long it actually took you each task.

Finally, if there were any large discrepancies between your guesses and actuals, identify why that happened: did you get distracted? Was the task easier or more complex than you thought it would be?

When you can figure out how long it realistically takes you to finish tasks, you can better plan out when you should begin working on something.

Download it here!

Erica MechlinskiGuess Actual Timesheet

What’s TO Reading this Month?

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With thousands upon thousands of books out there, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to decide what to read next. Fiction? Some short stories? A memoir? The complete run of Wonder Woman? Ahh! Luckily, Thinking Organized is here to help. Here’s what’s on our reading list this month; check them out, and let us know what you plan on reading next!

Jessica: I recently read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman after it was recommended to me by my mother, who was suggested to read it by her fellow teachers at her middle school. The fictional book follows the daily life of a middle-aged man who’s a bit of a curmudgeon (well, more than a bit!). Ove is a man of strong principles and strict routines, and he does not hold back when forcing his views onto everyone in his neighborhood within earshot. In each subsequent chapter, Backman reveals more of Ove’s backstory, including the trials and tribulations he faced during childhood and marriage, making Backman’s story much more compelling as you start to have sympathy for the bitter old man by the end of the book. A Man Called Ove is an easy read, but a thoroughly entertaining one at that, and I recommend the book to anyone interested in a pleasant escape from the daily grind of work or home life.

Kristin: I just finished re-reading Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s novel Good Omens. There’s a TV adaptation coming out next year, so I wanted to refresh my memory so I could see how well the show adapted the book. Gaiman and Pratchett have very distinct writing styles, so it’s fascinating to see them combine their talents (plus, it’s fun trying to figure out who wrote which parts). Good Omens follows an angel and a demon as they attempt to thwart Armageddon, but their plans are slightly spoiled when they realize they don’t even know where the Antichrist is. Gaiman and Pratchett create vibrant characters, and I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for something witty and funny.

Mallory: I am reading Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. It is a beautifully-written book about an impoverished, fiercely loyal family facing Hurricane Katrina. Ward writes with a poetic, almost lyrical prose, binding love, resilience, and disaster from the perspective of a poor, pregnant teenage girl. I chose this book because I volunteered in Biloxi, MS post-Katrina and was touched by the courage and resilience of the families I met. Salvage the Bones is moving, at times heartbreaking, and reads like a song.

Stephan: Recently I have been reading a number of novellas by one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. Gaiman has an incredible ability to build worlds that balance fantasy elements with relatable and intensely human characters. Odd and the Frost Giants is the story of a young Norse man who has lost his father and has been permanently injured in an accident. When he leaves his mother’s home to escape his stepfather, he encounters a group of animals who can talk. After discovering that they are gods who have been thrown out of their home, Odd sets out on an adventure to return them to their home and rightful bodies.

Erica MechlinskiWhat’s TO Reading this Month?

What’s TO Reading this Month?

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With thousands upon thousands of books out there, it can sometimes feel overwhelming to decide what to read next. Fiction? Some short stories? A memoir? The complete run of Wonder Woman? Ahh! Luckily, Thinking Organized is here to help. Here’s what’s on our reading list this month; check them out, and let us know what you plan on reading next!

Jennifer: I recently read All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely after one of my students was assigned the novel for summer reading. This book focuses on the topics of racism and police brutality, and it became the most powerful book I read all summer. The alternating perspectives of Rashad and Quinn are explored as they navigate the consequences of a violent event that divides their community.

Kristin: Right now, I’m reading David Quammen’s new book The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life. Quammen is one of my favorite science writers, and I’ve been waiting months for this book to come out. It looks at the development of the concept of the tree of life and the changes it’s undergone thanks to breakthroughs in science. This book gives us a comprehensive look at the scientists responsible for altering our understanding of evolution, as well as what impacts this understanding has on our lives.

Mallory: I’m reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I am absolutely loving this book. It explores the biology and history of humankind, from the Stone Age to the 21st Century. While the content is dense and mystifying, Harari writes with a clear, engaging style. I often find myself thinking about the content hours or days later. I chose to read Sapiens because I am fascinated by the human mind and human behavior. There is even a whole chapter dedicated to the evolution of language, so the nerdy-SLP side of me loved that.

Michael: I’m reading The Mountains of California, by John Muir. It’s a work I’m reading in preparation for my doctoral exams on nineteenth-century American literature. In it, Muir tells about his travels throughout the Sierra Nevada mountains. He explores the land and its history, as well as the wildlife and plants he finds there, and does so in lively prose that does a great job of communicating his own enthusiasm for the natural world.

Tara:  I’m reading Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. It is a social psychology book that explores the way society makes various choices and provides suggestions for helping people make the best possible choices for themselves. I have always been drawn to these types of books, starting with Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. I am fascinated by people’s thought process and the various influences that affect them. As someone who spends a lot of time with teenagers, I am always looking for ways to help my students make the best choices for themselves and their future.

Erica MechlinskiWhat’s TO Reading this Month?

Test Anxiety Tips

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Many students with executive dysfunction struggle with test anxiety. This challenge can manifest itself in both physical and psychological ways, making it seem almost impossible to take an exam. If your child struggles with test anxiety, check out these tips on what to do before and during an exam.

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Erica MechlinskiTest Anxiety Tips

Our Picks: Three Summer Learning Apps/Games for T(w)eens

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Let’s face it—teens love their screen time. But, it doesn’t need to be wasted on Netflix or Fortnite. Check out our top three summer picks for games and apps that will keep your teen interested (while building executive function skills at the same time!).

  1. Pixton
    • This website allows kids to make comics they can print or share online. Pixton is a great tool for practicing creative writing skills and developing social skills. The website is available in any web browser and is very user-friendly!
    • Price: FREE
  1. Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are
    • This is a great tool to prepare your child for the social challenges of middle school! This app is presented as a graphic novel and helps kids navigate the social issues of middle school through stories, tips, and quizzes. Topics include self-esteem, making friends, and fitting in. The app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Nook HD.
    • Price: $2.99
  1. Instructables
    • This app/website is FULL of DIY projects for teens! Many of these projects are great for developing organizational and planning skills, as well as improving attention. Sit with your child and select a summer project.
    • Price: FREE

What are your favorite apps/sites for the summer? We would love to hear your feedback!

Erica MechlinskiOur Picks: Three Summer Learning Apps/Games for T(w)eens

The Process of Decision-Making

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By Kristin Backert

We’re faced with a myriad of decisions every day, and most people prefer to use the same tactic to accomplish any task they encounter. However, it’s important to be flexible when faced with a new task so you can effectively complete it. According to a recent study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “People often take different approaches to decision-making. They might apply different strategies, consider different elements of the problem or assign value to the options differently.” For example, you might decide to study for your Spanish test by using flashcards while you might decide to study for your World History exam by creating a timeline of important events. When deciding how to tackle an issue, you need to take a variety of factors into consideration before you make a decision. With the Spanish and World History tests, for instance, you have to think about the type of material you need to know. If the Spanish test is focusing solely on new vocabulary words, then making flashcards best enables you to recall the information. If the test had been on past and future tenses, then flashcards might not be the optimal studying tool because they don’t allow you to practice creating sentences and envisaging scenarios when it’s appropriate to use a given tense.

Whether you’re choosing a studying method or trying to figure out the best way to travel somewhere, you use past experience to help inform your decision. If, for example, you made a timeline for your last World History test and passed, then it makes sense to use this strategy again for your next test! If, though, the timeline did not help, then the decision you make for the new test will differ because you have learned from your past decision.

The most important thing to remember about making decisions is that you need to be flexible. Instead of stubbornly claiming that there’s only one right way to accomplish something, you should instead consider a variety of paths you can take and weigh the pros and cons of each one. When you’re more aware of your decision-making process, you can ensure that you choose the right strategy for the task at hand!

Erica MechlinskiThe Process of Decision-Making

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

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By Kristin Backert

Picture the scene: You’re at the computer, sitting in your favorite chair. You open Google Docs in one tab and the directions for your paper in another. You put your fingers on the keyboard, the ideas rolling in your head. And then…nothing. You draw a blank, and everything you knew about the topic is off vacationing in Paris. And now, you’re stuck in front of the computer with a blinking cursor mocking you from a blank white page.

Writer’s block is a common yet unfortunate problem that many students have faced. Whether it’s a short response paper, a critical paper, or a dissertation, it can be extremely hard to know how to get started. Luckily, though, there are a few strategies you can use to get past this struggle:

  • Talk it out. Whether it’s to a friend, a relative, or a stuffed animal, talking out loud can help light a spark. It’s important to get out of your head, and by talking it out, you’re better able to focus on the ideas you want in your paper. If you talk to a real person, they can even act as a sounding board and help you clarify the points you want to make.
  • Dictate your ideas. Do you ever have that feeling where you know exactly what it is you want to say but you can’t translate your thoughts to paper? If that sounds all too familiar, then you may benefit from dictating your ideas. You can ask a friend or use a voice software program that will type out what you say, making it easier for you to focus solely on your ideas.
  • Skip the introduction. Introductions are the hardest part; it’s difficult to introduce the main ideas of your paper when you have yet to write the body paragraphs. Instead of trying to write your intro first, jump straight to the body paragraphs.
  • Walk away from the computer. Mindlessly staring at the computer won’t make words appear on the page. If you’re stuck, walk away from the computer and take a break. Go outside or go in another room and take a deep breath; a change of environment can help you refocus.
  • Use a timer. The idea of sitting in front of a computer for several hours to work on a paper doesn’t sound appealing, and that fear can deter you from writing. To make writing more bearable, try using a timer. Work for a short time (15-20 minutes) and then give yourself a 5-minute break.

Writer’s block is an enemy of students, but it doesn’t have to be YOUR enemy. Try using these strategies the next time you’re working on a paper, and let us know how they go!

Erica MechlinskiHow to Deal with Writer’s Block