Latest news

Born to Procrastinate?

No comments

Would you call yourself a procrastinator?  I don’t know too many people who can force themselves to start a task that is really unpleasant, boring or just plain annoying. So many of our students tell us that they procrastinate whenever they face a challenging assignment. And it is not just the kids who procrastinate!  What about the parents?  I have closets that need cleaning and journal articles to read, yet these tasks never seem to get checked off of my “to do” list.

A headline on the morning news last week announced the findings of a new study that links procrastination to heredity. Great, another thing that children can blame on their parents!  However, before I accept the blame for my children’s struggles with procrastination, I believe that we also have to think about the role that the environment plays. According to the study, genes only accounted for half the cases of procrastination; for the other half, the environment was still a culprit.  So, it turns out that this latest round of research confirms much of what we already know.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to conquering procrastination; it takes hard work and diligence.  We know that parents can struggle with procrastination just like their children, and that we need to help our students set up environments that foster productivity.  BUT, we also are painfully aware that this is hard to do!!!

Here is one suggestion that we find helpful.  If your child finds multiple distractions at home and cannot seem to get started on work until late at night, try having him go to a library right after school.  Also, some students have reported that they can really focus at a Starbucks where they can sit with their computer and use the noise to mask any distraction.  The idea is to avoid the procrastination triggers at home by setting a specific amount of time to be in another environment. And don’t forget to reward your concentrated effort by going home and PROCRASTINATING (only for a predetermined amount of time)!!

smortoBorn to Procrastinate?

The 2016 SAT: New and Improved?

1 comment

By Gillian Knoll, Director of Educational Mentoring

Last week the College Board unveiled their plans for a redesigned SAT, with some important changes that are scheduled to go into effect in 2016. We’ve been reading up on the new test in the Washington Post and the New York Times, and our overall impression is a positive one.

Of course, we wish none of our students had to deal with the SAT. It creates a tremendous amount of anxiety for students and it distracts them from what they should be focusing on: working hard in school and developing skills to last a lifetime. But until all colleges adopt a test-optional policy, we’re stuck with standardized tests.

We were pleased to see that some of the most tedious and pointless elements of the SAT are being omitted or replaced with fairer, more practical ones. Here are a few highlights:

  • No more mandatory writing section—the essay is now optional! Instead of giving students only 25 minutes to respond to a broad and vague philosophical question, the new essay gives students 50 minutes to analyze how an author makes a specific argument.
  • No more “SAT words” that have little to no real-world application! The new test focuses on words that students might actually encounter in college—or at least on planet Earth! And instead of obscure sentence completions, students will be asked to identify words in the context of how they’re used.
  • No more penalties for wrong answers! Students no longer have to waste time worrying about whether it’s worth it to gamble on an answer they’re unsure of. Now they can focus on giving their best effort and responding to every question.

The College Board claims that the overall goal of the redesigned test is to align the SAT more closely with what’s being taught in schools. If the new test really lives up to this promise, it will be a definite improvement on the previous version. We work with students every day on understanding words in context, supporting opinions and ideas with evidence, and developing problem-solving strategies, all of which are skills that the new SAT is designed to target.

Of course, there are plenty of skeptics who have questioned the College Board’s motives, and we were interested in their concerns. Perhaps the most common criticism is that the College Board is trying to make their test more like the ACT, which has edged out the SAT in popularity in the last couple of years. There was an interesting piece in last week’s Washington Post blog identifying this competition as the primary reason for the revamped test. I especially liked their comparison between the ACT/SAT testing industry and the competition between the makers of Coke and Pepsi.

So: Do we really think the new SAT is a fair test that predicts students’ success in college, careers, and beyond? Certainly not. After teaching English courses at the college level for a decade and working with Thinking Organized students of all ages year after year, I can tell you that academic achievement has no correlation with being a good test taker. But if our students are forced to take a standardized test on their road to college, the new SAT is a step in the right direction.

smortoThe 2016 SAT: New and Improved?

Helping the Hands-on Learner

No comments

Last week, in the middle of all that snow, I saw a student who was in eighth grade. His mom brought him even though they live an hour away.  She said that she did not want to miss the appointment because she and her husband have tried many different strategies and nothing has helped their son.  This boy is very talented with his hands and is mechanically gifted.  Academics, on the other hand, are his Achilles heel.

As I spoke with this young man, I saw a student who talked about the challenges of school, but what he was really saying was that he had no idea how to help himself succeed.  So, instead of working on all of the issues that were difficult, he opted to speed through work, make many errors or just not do the work at all.  I believe that he was not motivated to improve because he felt defeated.

We have seen many students who struggle in school, but this young man struck me because he would have a much easier time learning academics if he could do so under the hood of a car or riding a tractor on a farm.  Now, I know that there are many schools that do focus on a kinesthetic approach to learning, but that is not the norm.  So, how can we help?

What I plan to do is work with this student on how he can build models for himself in order to use his very strong kinesthetic modality to attempt less exciting academic material.  We will have to be very creative to engage this youngster, but if we can motivate, encourage and help this student, then we will be on the way to give him strategies that he can embrace and expand on his own.

smortoHelping the Hands-on Learner

Simple Steps to Get You HIRED!

No comments

This week, I met with two young men who recently graduated from college. I have worked with these wonderful young men throughout their high school careers and kept in touch with them through college. Both of them went to great schools, one majoring in physics and the other majoring in psychology.

Like most recent grads, they are now struggling with securing a job.  They are both very bright and would be valuable assets to any company, so why, you might ask, are they having trouble. Both young men are great at thinking and understanding the global picture but details, time management and the organization of small, incremental steps are the problems.

To find a job, one must be systematic, sequential, punctual and persistent. This is hard for anyone with organization challenges.  Here are some of the suggestions we worked on together that may help you:

  1. Create a list of the areas in which you might want to work.
  2. Keep a positive attitude; it is not easy to undertake the job searching process.
  3. Go to your college career center and see what they have to offer.  Many career centers are very helpful with ideas for jobs, how to interview and how to fill out applications.
  4. Try online sites for jobs that are in your field.
  5. You can try or Career Builders, but they do not have everything that you might be looking for.
  6. Some have been successful on Craig’s List, but be careful, make sure the job is real and that you know the specifications of that job before you accept an interview.
  7. NETWORK AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.  Ask parents, teachers and friends if they know anyone in your field of interest and set up as many informational meetings as you can.
  8. APPLY, APPLY, APPLY.  You cannot get a job by applying to a handful of places; you need hundreds!!

Happy Hunting and keep us posted as to when you find a new position!

smortoSimple Steps to Get You HIRED!

Snow Days Are Not Days Off

No comments

Snow_Day_ButtonWe’ve seen our fair share of snow and even celebrated some “snow days” already this season. It’s important to remember that an unexpected day off, especially in the middle of the week, can be distracting for a student. Just because schools are closed doesn’t mean it should be a day off from learning.

Incorporating education on a snow day (or during the holiday break) doesn’t have to be boring! In fact, your child probably won’t even realize he’s learning.

Here are three easy, fun ways to keep learning on a snow day:

  1. Go online. There is a wealth of educational games available on the Internet. For example, children can share their opinions on books with the peers on sites such as or log on to’s great games section. provides mathematics activities for the beginner on up to the algebra student.
  2. Read the paper. You can read a newspaper or magazine with your child while enjoying hot cocoa. Ask your child to chose a few articles that seem interesting. Then read one together and discuss it. This may lead to keeping track of a particular subject, or a football or hockey team for a week or longer.
  3. Bake cookies. Involving your child in cooking a meal or baking will help build his confidence and take pride in helping the family. Meanwhile, cooking incorporates measuring, calculating and lots of fractions, not to mention sequencing skills. To add an extra challenge, ask your child to double or halve the ingredients in a recipe.

This winter, turn those PJs inside out, bundle up and enjoy these fun activities together!

smortoSnow Days Are Not Days Off

Games can be fun…and educational!

No comments

The holiday season is right around the corner and many of you have already started shopping for gifts. This year, I want to encourage you to look into fun and educational games for your child.

While we are immersed in a digital world, traditional games are a great way to spend time together – and sneak in a little learning too.

Here are 10 of my favorites to consider, in no particular order:

  1. Monopoly is a classic game that can help your child with math, in addition to teaching him how to manage money.  The game involves strategy and thinking ahead, which can be challenging for our students.
  2. Chess is a great game to encourage strategy and planning.
  3. Memory now comes in your child’s favorite characters and helps to improve short-term memory and attention.
  4. Rory’s Story Cubes is a pocket-sized creative story generator that allows your child to use his imagination while focusing on literacy development, and speaking and listening skills.  We use this game to also work on memory and flexibility.  Try it, the kids like it!!
  5. Scrabble and Scrabble Jr. provide an opportunity to work on spelling and reading skills and planning.
  6. Pictionary focuses on the meaning of a word through drawing, without using letters.  It also works on categorizing familiar items.
  7. Penguins on Ice is based on ancient Greek Pentomino, featuring puzzle pieces that shift in order to fit into place. With simple challenges for beginners to complex puzzles that will test experienced players, this game is a fun way to develop logical thinking skills and spatial reasoning abilities.
  8. Likety Quick is an amusing game where each player must use clues to come up with a word before one of the other players.  It focuses on word building and spelling pattern skills, and it requires a LOT of flexible thinking.
  9. SET is a witty card game of quick recognition and deduction.  This game requires patience and perception.  I’ve played it with students as young as fourth grade and as old as high school!!
  10. Duple is a quick-thinking game of symbol matching and word-finding.

This time of year can be hectic. Take a break with your child and play some games. He won’t even realize he’s learning!

smortoGames can be fun…and educational!

When is five minutes late, on time?

No comments

I am working with a young adult who was recently fired from her job.  The overall reason – she was never on time. Unfortunately, she isn’t in the minority. Time management is one of the biggest issues that I see in both children and adults.

My client’s job started at 6 AM (yes, very early) and she would arrive “a few minutes” after 6 AM daily.  “That doesn’t make me late!” she said. Yes, it does. In fact, arriving right at 6 AM makes you late. Why? Because the job STARTS at 6 AM, which means she should have been seated and ready to go at that time – not arriving at that time.

From the kid not ready to go to soccer practice to the adult who blames the metro, we need to switch our mentality. Being on time doesn’t have to be difficult and we don’t need to go to our arsenal of excuses every time we are five minutes late.

Typically it’s not an outside force that holds you back. In most cases, we tend to think that we can always fit in just one more thing before we leave the house. But that “one more thing” is destined to make you late. So, put it on your to-do list for after your appointment and arrive five minutes early – or, on time!


smortoWhen is five minutes late, on time?

Dealing with a difficult teacher?

No comments

Dealing with teachers can renew old fears and make parents want to defend their children against the world. Most teachers want to help, and recognizing this will prepare you to be an integral part of the team that contributes to your shared goal – helping your child to get the best education possible.

In school, as in life, sometimes you “click” with a teacher and other times you may struggle to maintain civility.

Email is often a convenient and helpful way to communicate with your child’s teacher, but you should follow the same guidelines as for any other professional communication.

  • Be aware that teachers get many email messages–and have many other responsibilities during their day–and may not be able to respond immediately to yours.
  • Identify your child and sign your name. Include a phone number where you can be reached.
  • Be diplomatic. You can’t take back an email message and email can be easily forwarded. Be calm, choose your words carefully and avoid criticizing the teacher. Don’t write and send an email when you are angry.
  • Stick to school-related matters. Don’t forward chain mail, jokes, or frivolous information.
  • Don’t forward someone else’s email, including a teacher’s, unless you have their permission.

If your student is having problems with his new teacher, try to implement the following:

  • Encourage older students to be their own self-advocate. It is usually best for the student to try to talk to her teacher first to resolve a misunderstanding or conflict.
  • If it is necessary for a parent to step in, treat the teacher as your adult partner in helping your child succeed and listen carefully to his or her concerns and expectations. Be positive, and work toward resolving conflict.
  • Do not argue with or criticize the teacher in front of your child.
  • Finally, if your student is achieving academically but dislikes the teacher, the experience could serve as a good life lesson in dealing with different personalities. Unless the environment is emotionally stressful, it may be best to help your child learn how to survive the next school year with a “difficult” teacher.
smortoDealing with a difficult teacher?

How Toddlers With Autism Behave

No comments

While we typically do not work with toddler-aged children, I found this video to be valuable and encourage parents with children of all ages to watch.


From, To The Max Blog
How Toddlers With Autism Behave: A Helpful New Video

Given the prevalence of autism these days, both statistically (about 1 in 88 kids has it) and in the news, it’s natural for new parents to watch their babies for signs of autism. Now a new video on the early signs of autism is available free to parents, and it’s very insightful.

Developed by autism researchers at Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute, the nine-minute Bringing The Early Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder Into Focus video includes three clips of 1-year-olds who are developing in a typical way, and compares them to videos of children the same age showing signs of autism spectrum disorder. The video is divided into three parts: Seeing social opportunity through play, making social connections, and effective communication and sharing enjoyment.

Knowing the early signs of autism spectrum disorder is important; early intervention during a child’s critical developing years can make a tremendous difference, whether for autism or other special needs. Researchers say signs of autism can be spotted in infants as young as four months old; check out this month-by-month guide of autism signs. But watching children in a video can be particularly eye-opening—take a look, and do not hesitate to check in with your pediatrician if you have any concerns.






smortoHow Toddlers With Autism Behave

The Summer Brain Drain

No comments

I was pleased to see the article, The Cure for Summer Brain Drain, run in the On Parenting section of The Washington Post. The article focused on the importance of summer learning and area teachers provided activities for parents to consider.

My response to the article below offers a few additional suggestions to help make summer learning fun and feel less like summer school.


Thank you for covering this topic. The statistics around the “summer brain drain” are troubling, with most students losing more than 2.5 months of math and more than a month of reading skills over their summer vacation. As a certified speech and language pathologist and an organizational specialist, I have seen firsthand how summer learning loss affects children when they begin their new school year in September, as well as the effects playing catch-up has on their self esteem.

I enjoyed reading the suggestions offered by the area teachers helping parents discover fun and easy ways to keep their child learning throughout the summer. I wanted to offer a few additional activities the parents and students I work with enjoy that help make learning fun and not feel like “summer school.”

– Start a store: Use math skills and organization to plan the store and “sell” goods.

– Explore “Going Green,” your carbon footprint and whether recycling is all it’s cracked up to be: These activities involve not only math skills, but applying research to higher level critical thinking and analysis.

– Visit a different country every week: Use a globe/atlas to discover a new country, then hit the library for a collection of age appropriate books about the new country, learn a basic assortment of vocabulary (how to say “hello” and “thank you”) and prepare a meal that children in that country would enjoy.

– Be the editor of your family newsletter: Practice journalistic and writing skills, including interviews, news, pictures, advertisements and even cartoons.

– Grow your own food: Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as gaining knowledge about nutrition and healthy eating.

I hope that parents reading this article heed your advice in order to avoid the repercussions that falling behind over the summer may have on their child, both emotionally and mentally.


I was alarmed by many of the responses that accompanied mine. I thought I’d see more parents on board with the topic. Instead, there was a bitter tone of summer learning vs. summer vacation.

There shouldn’t be such animosity towards the thought of continued learning. I’m not advocating 12 months of school or a structured learning environment throughout the summer – and either was the reporter. Enjoy summer and everything that goes along with it! But please do your child and yourself a favor and incorporate learning into your summer fun so you aren’t playing the not-so-fun game of catch-up in September.

smortoThe Summer Brain Drain