Monthly Tips

Each month, a Thinking Organized tip is emailed to our growing list of educators, parents and students who want to improve their executive functioning skills.

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smortoMonthly Tips

How to Make Writing Fun!

Writing is one of those academic areas that often elicits groans, moans and sometimes tears. Some students dread sitting in front of a blank computer screen or piece of paper and really have no idea how to begin. Often, children put off writing assignments until the last minute and then scramble to get something on paper, not leaving time for edits and revisions, and settling for a lower grade.

Elementary school children are brimming with creative ideas and imagination. A “writing assignment” sounds like work, but games and projects are approached much more willingly.

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smortoHow to Make Writing Fun!

Tools to Help Students Read Online


As parents and educators, we understand the importance of encouraging our children to be active, rather than passive, readers. When reading stories to young children, we ask lots of questions, fostering text-to-self connections, predicting and inferencing. Teachers often have their emergent readers draw pictures to illustrate their comprehension and opinions about a book.

When students make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn,” they are shown many techniques to help them more fully understand written language. They are taught to use text features such as titles, subtitles, bold and italicized words, pictures, captions, bullets and sidebars to introduce and predict the subject matter. We set a purpose for reading and teach the students to monitor their own comprehension by asking questions, making connections, and forming opinions. Most importantly, as the literature and textbooks grow more dense and complex, students are taught to constantly highlight, annotate, draw in the margins, use sticky notes to mark questions about specific content – in other words to fully engage and interact with the targeted material. Using visual, kinesthetic and cerebral processes while reading helps students put information into memory more effectively, as well as pinpointing content that needs more explanation or evaluation.

How then, do these skills translate to 2014 and beyond, when a high percentage of the reading our students do is electronic rather than with traditional books? The good news is that more digital note-taking features are available every day. The bad news is that it takes a little getting used to, requiring motivation for those of us used to good, old-fashioned paper/pencil/post-it methods.

For students reading online, there is a wealth of tools at their disposal.

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smortoTools to Help Students Read Online

Keep Your Resolutions Small in 2014


We hope that you had a very happy and restful holiday, and we wish you a very Happy, Healthy and Productive New Year!

For some of the college students, you are still on break. Enjoy it and know that you have NO schedule that is pressing at this time. However, for the rest of us, whether we are students, parents or just employed individuals, it’s time to get back on track as the New Year begins.

We hope you did not make BIG resolutions for this New Year. Why, you might ask? We think it is very hard to keep those resolutions; little, small step resolutions are better to make and manage. So here’s a list of examples of how to make those New Year’s resolutions become reality, the Thinking Organized way.

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smortoKeep Your Resolutions Small in 2014

The Text’s the Thing

It happens every year. Some unsuspecting student reading Shakespeare or poetry will whine, “But how am I ever going to need this in real life?” A couple of older students roll their eyes as I pull out my soapbox for a familiar lecture.

Passionately and convincingly (I hope) I explain to the innocent youngster that reading and analyzing written language is one of the most important skills she will learn in school. How do I know? I probably cannot even fathom the occupations that most of our students will pursue in the future. Certainly jobs that are popular today, such as app designer, social media manager or sustainability expert, weren’t even conceived of when I was in school. However, the ability to comprehend what you read is a necessity for any job. Separating what’s important in a text, scanning for key points, deciding what is believable and citing relevant information appropriately are all skills that are used for a lifetime, not only in academia.

Furthermore, learning to think critically and analytically is important for citizens of the future to be able to understand the important issues facing our planet and devise creative solutions. People who don’t use critical thinking skills tend to understand things superficially, never delving below the surface for the real or implied meanings. Individuals who have learned how to think are much more likely to identify bias, consider all relevant factors, make complex comparisons, problem solve and achieve a desired result. Critical thinking is at the root of all human progress. I could go on all day.

As parents, how then do we encourage students to attack all textual material with a critical, analytical eye? Several research-based techniques can enhance these skills with both younger and older readers.

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smortoThe Text’s the Thing

Balancing High Expectations


I am guessing that you, like most parents, have high expectations for your child. You know how smart your student can be. You see all the little “aha!” moments of exceptional brilliance, social adeptness, athletic prowess and/or perceptive insight. You know deep in your heart that if he just applies himself, your child could set the world on fire.

However, we’ve all seen and heard about children who are pushed too hard. Leah goes from soccer to piano to dance to religious school and barely has time for homework. Steven is taking online classes to graduate a year early, and loses sleep because of his academic burden.

How do we know how hard to push? When does “just enough” become “too much?”

Like most things in parenting, a careful balance is the key to a high-achieving student who still makes time for social events, family functions, relaxation and old-fashioned fun. You know your child best, so the first priority is to trust your instincts. If you feel that your child is spending too much or too little time on homework or extra-curricular activities, say so. Have an honest talk with your student to figure out what goals he has for himself, what requirements and obligations he currently maintains and what can be juggled to achieve a reasonable schedule that combines academic achievement with other objectives. Help him look at his calendar and specifically list all of his activities. This will give your child a visual of whether or not he is balancing all the balls he has in the air.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to express your high expectations to your child. Letting him know the goals you have for him will set the bar and give him something to strive towards.

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smortoBalancing High Expectations

Motivating Students Towards Academic Achievement

Now that your child has about a month of the new school year under his belt, it’s time to talk about how to keep him motivated throughout the school year. While some children don’t know how to meet their academic goals, many just lose the motivation to put in the time and effort that good grades require.

Here’s where you can help. Instituting a system of behavior modification – the awarding and withholding of privileges and rewards – can encourage students to do their best.

Psychological research has proven that behavior that is rewarded or reinforced tends to be repeated. Unacknowledged behavior tends to diminish or disappear. The principles of behavior modification are simply a formal method that observes behavior and seeks to shape it in positive ways.

Communication is an important part of the process. Students need to know exactly what is expected of them. Each goal should be specific, realistic and achievable. When children encounter failure, show them how to correct mistakes and move on, being quick to praise positive results.

The reward does not have to be expensive or edible in order to be effective.

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smortoMotivating Students Towards Academic Achievement

Start the School Year Thinking Organized

Nothing beats the newness of back to school: fresh, blank pages in pristine, colorful notebooks, sharpened pencils, and ambitious minds full of resolutions. However, with a little pre-planning now, you can establish systems to help your child maintain that feeling of organization throughout the school year. Effective structures for managing two key aspects of life – materials and time – are essential for working smarter, reducing stress and thinking organized.

Everyone has experienced the panic of not being able to find something crucial (like the car keys) minutes before you have to run out the door. Or the sinking feeling you get when you’ve forgotten something important. Help your child avoid these issues by setting in place systems of effective material organization.

Time management is one of the biggest problems I see in my practice, both with children and adults. Many individuals have not learned how to estimate time appropriately, struggle with beginning difficult or boring tasks, find themselves wasting large amounts of time or are constantly running late. Instituting strategies to organize obligations will help your child learn the importance of dividing, allocating and using time effectively, a skill that will prove invaluable throughout his life.

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smortoStart the School Year Thinking Organized

Reinforce Time Management Strategies Now!

Time management is one of the most pervasive problems seen in the Thinking Organized practice. Adults who struggle to organize their time effectively often feel that they are running on a hamster wheel every day, dashing from one “emergency” to another, leaving them feeling ineffective, panicky and stressed. Students experience similar anxieties when they make mistakes in estimating how long an assignment will take or putting off a task or project. Most of us remember the feeling of having to “pull an all-nighter” to cram for an exam or finish a paper. Not fun!

However, many parents don’t realize how valuable the summer break can be for reinforcing time management strategies. After all, organizing time is not just an exercise for school, but a lifelong skill that can affect every hour of every day. During the more relaxed days of summer, practicing time management techniques can be accomplished without major consequences for mistakes; therefore, it is a safer time to let your child be in charge.

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smortoReinforce Time Management Strategies Now!

Fun Ways to Sneak in Summer Reading


Summer vacation is upon us. While that realization has students jumping for joy, it leaves many parents anxiety-ridden, wondering how they will ward off brain drain and help their children accomplish their summer reading requirements. Nagging and setting strict daily requirements can leave everyone feeling stressed and resentful. Fun, on the other hand, helps you sneak in that daily dose of reading while boosting spirits, morale and brain power.

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smortoFun Ways to Sneak in Summer Reading

Let Your Child Make Some Mistakes This Summer!

If you’re like most parents, a number of “standards” start to be compromised at the end of the school year. Wise moms and dads know to choose which battles are worth the effort. With the pressures of exams and end-of-the-year projects, parents might find themselves taking on some of their children’s responsibilities or helping them with schoolwork a little more than usual.

However, your overall goal as parents is to raise an independent individual who can effectively negotiate the rigors of life as well as academics. To do this, children need to develop executive functioning skills, the cognitive processes that control and organize goal directed behavior. Everyone utilizes executive functions, with varying success, to negotiate not only long term or multi-step projects but also activities of daily living. Once an objective is set, executive functions regulate the ability to initiate, plan, prioritize and monitor the steps toward goal completion.

Summer, when the stress of school is out of the way, is a wonderful time to work on improving your child’s executive functioning skills. When a test or exam is looming, it is hard to not step in and help your child prepare for that test. However, outside of school, the stakes are not so high. During the summer, it’s fine to let your child make mistakes and learn how to persevere until a strategy is mastered.

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smortoLet Your Child Make Some Mistakes This Summer!