Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Executive Functioning- the Struggle Is Real

Confucius said that a journey of 1000 miles begins with one step.  That is all well and good, but for someone who struggles with Executive Functioning, even that first step can seem like a thousand miles. The technical definition of Executive Functioning (EF) is, "the cognitive processes that help us regulate, control and manage our thoughts and actions." It includes planning, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, cognitive flexibility, initiation of actions and monitoring of actions. A person with excellent EF skills will not have problems creating a plan, organizing, sticking to it and shifting gears, if necessary. Those who lack EF skills will certainly have trouble when they enter school especially when they get older and need to become more independent. Projects can seem overwhelming. There is so much work to be done, and yet, they don't seem to know where to begin. Once they do begin, they can struggle to keep on task, stay organized and be able to adjust and change directions. The struggle for them is real.

Even the brightest of kids can struggle with this because it is no way connected to ability or intellect. It is not an innate ability. It must be taught and developed. Even at a very young age (as early as toddler years), children can be taught the necessary skills to have excellent EF skills later in life.  Games as simple as peek-a-boo and hide and go seek use working memory, attention span, and concentration. These are your building blocks. They teach focus and problem solving.  As the child grows older, they will benefit from participating in sports, doing chores, playing strategy games and playing a musical instrument.

Because it is a learned and acquired skill, students who struggle with EF skills can get on track with strategies that make sense to them.  The caveat is that it is not a one size fits all approach. From my years in education, I know that kids learn differently, and what works for one won't work for all. My advice is to first figure out what kind of learning style the student has.  Is he or she a visual learner? Auditory learner? Kinesthetic learner?  All of these influences can affect which strategy you employ.  

For visual learners, I am a huge proponent of project boards, sticky notes, and paper or electronic calendars.  The more color coding the better.   For visual students, I recommend color coordinating their books, notebooks, and folders. Visually, they will be able to grab what they need based on subject. I, personally, am a visual learner.  I have a huge whiteboard with sticky notes and different colored markers for different projects I am working on.  This is how I operate and organize.  It makes sense in my brain.

Auditory learners organize things quite differently.  Those kids benefit from setting alarms on phones or timers to keep them on track. Noise reduction headphones or conversely, music can help tune distractions out that will cause concentration issues. It can also be helpful to leave voice reminders for themselves on their phones.  You will often hear these kiddos talking to themselves to remind them of the steps needed to do a task.  My son did this while learning to drive.  He gave himself directions on how to parallel park. It was funny and slightly disconcerting at the same time.

The kinesthetic learner will benefit from scratching things off their lists.  This gives them a sense of accomplishment and keeps them on track.  They can also benefit from moving around while doing a task. Pacing is a normal thing while working on a project or studying. It keeps them focused. Another thing I have found that helps an active kid stay on task is an organization app.  Habitica is an app that works like a video game awarding kids with gold coins for completing a task.  For every task they complete, they check it off their list and earn rewards. They can also compete against their friends to earn points. Wunderlist is another app that allows kids to compete against their friends to check things off their to do lists.  It is a great way to motivate kids that need some movement.  These apps will also help students who are social learners and like to work with others to accomplish a goal.

These are just some of the strategies that I use while working with students with Executive Functioning deficits.  The good news is that these are skills that can be developed at any time so they do not have to struggle. Look for future posts regarding specific ways to engage students based on learning styles.

Blog post by Amy Darpel, former teacher and educational consultant, Director of ExploreMore Enrichment

We are proud to be participating in this month's Blog Hop on Hoagie's Gifted Page.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Reading: It's a gift that keeps on giving

I see a love of reading as one of the greatest gifts we can give our children and students. A person who reads for pleasure will never be bored. There can always be a magazine, book, or cereal box around for the moments of downtime. In recent times, parents are more likely to hand a child a screen rather than a book when there is a need for a distraction. But there is a much greater benefit when the printed word serves as the time filler during those unfilled moments.

Research shows that a habit of regular reading – twenty minutes a day – yields significant benefits, particularly for preschool and school age children who are expanding their vocabularies.  The difference between students scoring in the 90th percentile in reading and the 10th percentile is literally how many minutes a day that child spends reading. This mastery exceeds by far the vocabulary gain from any direct vocabulary instruction like a vocabulary workbook.


Creativity and the world of imagination is also enhanced more through reading than through viewing stories on a screen. When we create our own pictures in our brains, the imagery if far more developed than that of seeing someone else’s imagination on a screen. Every good writer was first an avid reader. The two skills are linked which is supported by a 2005 National Center for Education Statistics study.

Students who read a lot often seek books written at a higher level that might contain more mature content.  Librarians have long explained that in a book, a child will comprehend information based on prior experiences. If the child has not cognitive or experiential basis for a description, he or she will often pass over it unawares to get to the next adventure. Many adult readers have told me tales of rereading a book first encountered in middle or high school.  With more life experiences, they marvel that they missed the intent or additional messages aimed at a more mature reader. The same is not true when these stories and scenes are viewed on a screen.

The gift of reading has never been more timely choice.  Americans are reading less.  The National Endowment for the Arts report To Read or Not to Read (2001) reported the following facts:

  • Less than one-third of the thirteen-year-olds are daily readers, a 14% decline from twenty years earlier.
  • The percentage of thirteen-year-olds who read for fun on a daily basis declined from 35% to 30%, and for seventeen-year-olds the decline was from 33% to 22%.
  • On average, Americans ages fifteen to twenty-four spend almost two hours a day watching television, and only seven minutes of their leisure time on reading (that was in 2007- with the increase in the number of smart phones, the amount of screen time has certainly increased).
And the saddest of these findings:
  • Nearly half of all Americans ages fifteen to twenty-four do not read books for pleasure. 
Turning such trends around can have a significant positive impact on the overall language skills of our youth. Students who engage in free voluntary reading on a regular basis improved test scores in reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling, and also have a lifelong gift of entertainment, fascination, and discovery that comes with losing ones' self in the printed word.  Let's all give the screen a break for a little while and go enjoy a good book!

Blog post contributed by Sheila Gray, English and Reading teacher at Covington Latin School

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Emotional Intelligence..... It Does Exist!

       Understanding emotions may be similar to trying to find other life forms on Mars, but the reality is they exist! Before I dive into why emotional awareness is important, let me address what emotions are. This may seem like a simple phenomenon, but is it? Think about this for a moment; when a person asks you, “how are you doing today?” and your automatic response is fine, what does that mean? What is ‘fine’ in relation to how you are actually feeling. That answer comes automatically for various reasons, but it isn’t the truth. The Miriam-Webster dictionary defines emotion as “a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body” (An Encyclop√¶dia Britannica Company). This definition is loaded with complex terms. If we break it down emotions are the reactions we have to a certain event. The movie “Inside Out” by Disney Pixar is a fairly accurate picture of emotions. The movie presents the concept of basic emotions which can be dated back to the first-century (Burton, 2016). Paul Ekman, Professor Emeritus in Psychology at UCSF and leader in psychology, identifies six-basic emotions; joy, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise. My graduate professor went as far as to eliminate surprise and disgust stating that those fell under fear and anger. These four or six emotions are the control center of our mental state and behaviors.

            Now that we understand that there are four or six basic emotions, we can look at why it is importance to have emotional awareness. As a school counselor, I am teaching emotional understanding and awareness to my students. Emotional awareness is the first step in emotional regulation. A high school teenager has a lot of emotions they are dealing with due to their biology and psychology. Neuroscience studies show that the adolescent brain doesn’t look like that of an adult’s until early 20s. Teenagers are constantly reacting to their emotions instead of regulating them. There are many risk factors during this age, because they have not developed the ability to control impulses or plan ahead (National Institute of Mental Health, 2011). You add hormones to the mix and there’s bound to be a lot of emotions! I believe that our thinking (Rational) controls our emotions (Emotive) and our emotions control our (Behaviors). This is the reason I teach emotional awareness and regulation to my student. Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy is the theory that I use in educating students. Once a student can identify their emotion then they can identify the thought associated with that emotion. Then we can use a variety of techniques to help them regulate their emotions. Mindfulness is a great tool to use as well, because it forces the student to stop thinking about the future and focus on the moment. What does this look like in action? For example, when a student is worried about a test or assignment I have them go through the following steps:
Step 1. Identify the emotion
Emotion: worry = fear.
 Step 2. Identify the thought that is causing that emotion.
Thought: “I won’t do well, I’m going to fail, and if I fail I won’t graduate…” these thoughts continue to make the student feel worse and distract them from focusing on studying.
Step 3. Refocus, Mindfulness Technique
I have the student take a moment to refocus by breathing and “clear his head” by mentally wiping away his thoughts. That way we can start with new thoughts to negate the previous ones.
Step 4. Making Irrational Thoughts Rational, Role Play
During the last step, I would have the student write down thoughts that would make his irrational thought, “I’m going to fail”, rational. The student could come up with a variety up thoughts that would lessen his/her anxiety. They don’t have to be positive, but they have to be neutral. For example, “I have studied and prepared for this test. I’m going to do my best! Even if I do not get the grade I want, I will not be a failure”. This would be an example of making an irrational thought rational. This isn’t a Band-Aid technique or approach. It takes time to teach the student to do this on their own.
Our adolescents and pre-teens have a lot of anxiety in this high pressure filled society. They are expected to excel in every area of their life. As social beings, we naturally compare ourselves to one another and idolize people who have achieved greatness. The need to measure up, work harder, and be better puts a strain on our student’s mental health. They need to have the proper tools to be able to endure this mental stress. This article hasn’t taken into consideration student’s who have a mental illness. The mental health of our students is vital! That is why it’s importance to understand, have awareness, and advocate for Emotional Intelligence.

-Heather Couch, School Counselor at Covington Latin School

For more articles regarding Emotional Intelligence, check out Hoagies Gifted page!


An Encyclopædia Britannica Company. (n.d.). Emotion. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from Marrian-Webster Dictionary: marriam-webster.com/dictionary/emotion
Burton, N. (2016, January 7). What are Basic Emotions? Retrieved October 11, 2016, from Psychology Today: psychologytoday.com
Ekman, P. (n.d.). About. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from Paul Ekman: paulekman.com
National Institute of Mental Health. (2011). The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Acceleration- Skipping to Succeed

The age old question in education is what to do with our over-achieving children who become bored in class.  Are they the child that is disruptive because they have finished their work early? Are they the daydreamers or the absent-minded professors?  What can you do for them? There has been a constant stream of contradictory research as to what is best for these absorbers of knowledge. Our gifted journey started off as most do, a quest for knowledge.  We saw issues regarding our son and the school recommended testing.  What I had prepared for was a diagnosis of dysgraphia or sensory integration disorder. My background was teaching and I knew I could handle those diagnoses. Those diagnoses were confirmed but what I didn't anticipate was a diagnosis of profoundly gifted.  I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.  My first instinct was to question the results.  After all, this is a kid who makes armpit noises.  But as I listened to the psychologist, I began to wrap my head around the results.  Most people would be happy to hear that their child is gifted but knowing how school systems can fail these kids, I had a lot of anxiety of what could potentially happen. Would he do well in school? Sure.  Would he test well? Absolutely.  But would he succeed? Would he ever understand what it meant to work hard? Face adversity? Learn from mistakes? I knew I had to advocate for him and put him in a place where he could thrive but also learn the importance of hard work. We tried homeschooling but I couldn't keep up with his thirst for knowledge.  I knew I needed to find something more for him.  After reading A Nation Deceived, I quickly realized what the solution was.  I needed to find a school that would allow for his acceleration.  He needed to be with kids who love to learn. He needed to be with kids who were like him and would appreciate his intellect. Luckily, we have a local school whose hallmark is acceleration.  Students at this school can accelerate one to two years starting in the 7th grade. We jumped at the opportunity to see if this was the answer we were looking for.  Research is great but does it work in the real world?

I remember on the day that he shadowed, he came bouncing out saying that he had found his people. What an amazing feeling to see your once unhappy, hated-to-go-to-school kid want to be in a place where he felt he belonged.  This sense of belonging is something I have heard from many a parent who made the leap with their child.  It makes you wonder, how many kids are like my son? How many could benefit from acceleration? Why don't we, as educators and parents, advocate for this? My son completed 8th-12th grade at Covington Latin School and he blossomed from a quiet, shy, awkward kid to one that participated in a ton of activities, played in a rock band, and traveled abroad. No one can believe the transformation he made in those 5 years.  What confidence he gained from being with like minded students who he fed off their intelligence.  He no longer had to hide who he was, what he was.  He was able to flourish.  He was challenged.  He definitely learned how to study. He definitely learned how to overcome adversity and ask for help.  He is now a college freshman and finds it to be a piece of cake because he learned the skills necessary to be successful. Was accelerating worth it? Absolutely!

Blog contribution from a former parent of Covington Latin School. 

For more information on acceleration and other topics regarding gifted education, go to Hoagie's Education Page.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Listen to learn: Hearing is believing!

Let's face it, most of our kids have some sort of electronic device or another.  Why not put them to good use?  We give you.... the podcast. It's probably one of the least used features on the smartphone. We love podcasts because they are especially useful for our auditory learners.  Auditory learners can remember an amazing 75% of what they hear so they can be a fantastic resource for them. We have listened to hours and hours trying to find the best ones for your child. The podcasts that we feature vary in length from 15-35 minutes which is a perfect amount of time- not too long, not too short. All of these podcasts can be accessed through Apple, Android or through the website listed. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Here are Covington Latin School's top picks:

Tumble Science Podcasts for Kids
Tumble is a science podcast for kids to be enjoyed by the entire family.  They tell stories about science discoveries with the help of scientists.  Join Lindsay and Marshall as they ask questions, share mysteries, and learn what science is all about. We recommend this for kids 3rd grade and up.

Shabam is a new type of science show that blends fictional stories with real science.  If you love science but hate those awkward scientist interviews that involve graphs and confusing metaphors, you're in luck.  First off, Shabam! is an audio program- so no graphs.  And second, through the magic of sound effects and music, you'll hear stories that reveal the awesomeness in the world around us- like cellphones and vaccinations. We recommend this for kids 3rd grade and up.

The Book Club for Kids
This is a podcast where young readers meet to talk about a book.  The show includes a celebrity reading from the book.  Plus, the author joins us to answer your questions. We recommend this for kids 4th through 8th grade.

Shakespeare Retold
Ten of William Shakespeare's most famous plays become the inspiration for a collection of stories by leading children's writers and read by some famous voices.  Writers include Frank Cotrell Boyce, Pamela Butchart and Jamila Gavin; readers include Simon Callow, Shirley Henderson and Julian Rhind-Tutt.  We recommend this for kids 6th grade and up.

Stuff You Missed in History Class
This podcast is from the authors of HowStuffWorks.  The hosts of this show look at stories from history that you may not have heard about in class.  We recommend this for kids 6th grade and up.

We hope you enjoyed our selections. What podcasts do you and your children listen to? We would love to hear from you!

Travel to Learn- To Go or Not to Go?

Traveling abroad can be one of the most amazing and beneficial experiences a student can have. Where can I start with the importance of travel? As a young girl, my parents’ goal was to take our family on a vacation once a year. For them, going to the beach was the obvious get away. Being the history-minded person that I am, I knew that I needed to see and experience more places. The opportunity arose at the end of my senior year of high school to go on a trip with other students to five countries.  I begged my parents to lend me the money because I might never have the opportunity to go abroad again (My parents had never been out of the country so I thought it was very abnormal to go overseas). When l I got to London in June of 1999,  I realized how many people from America really do travel. I fell in love with the city. It was similar to the US in that we spoke the same language but totally different than anywhere I've ever been.  I was in culture shock- cars driving on the other side of the road,  the accents, the palace,  the changing of the guards.  I couldn't believe that this actually happened in the world!  I thought these were things that only happened on TV! From there we went to Paris, to Switzerland, to Austria and Germany. I learned a lot from that trip- not only did I learn how to keep my passport safe,  but I learned to budget money, use an ATM, have an open mind, try new foods, and be flexible with my plans.  I learned how to behave not like a tourist. By that, I don't mean wearing a fanny pack and white gym shoes. I mean to be confident, polite, and walk into a restaurant or store like I knew what I was doing.  Being immersed in a different culture and language takes you out of your comfort zone and it builds confidence that you didn't know you had in you.  

I then had the opportunity to travel abroad at the end of my senior year of college. Someone came to talk to our class about student teaching abroad and one of the places they mentioned was England- so of course I had to bite at the chance. I was very nervous though since I would be the only student going abroad from the University. Again, it was very expensive, but I knew again that it would be worth it. I lived on a college campus and made a network of friends for life.

When I started teaching, I wanted my students to have the same opportunity that I had so I started planning our first trip. Teaching in an accelerated school full of bright students, I had a unique opportunity to expose my students to more than what they could ever learn in the classroom.  I knew from experience that exposure to other cultures and languages can give students sensitivity and globalization that cannot be gained by reading books alone. I knew these kids were ready and able to take their classroom learning to the next level. Our first trip was a success! We visited London, Paris, and Rome. It was amazing for me to see the students’ eyes light up before Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, and the Coliseum. Even my breath was taken away by the Coliseum, since I was teaching ancient history at the time and had never been to Rome. That trip added value to my classroom as a teacher. I learned a lot from that trip about deadlines, tipping guides, being on time, keeping people on time, but mainly about how unique it is to be able to see the world. From the people on that trip, I know that out of the 24 students that went with me, 20 studied abroad in college. Two even live abroad now. I hope they remember the respect for cultures that I taught (and also to tuck their passports---inside joke for anyone that has been on my trips).  Most of all, I hope they remember to take someone else abroad one day to give them that love of travel. Where would I be without my teacher taking me back in 1999? I have taken 5 trips abroad with students (and am starting to plan my 6th for 2018). I don’t think I’ll ever stop the love of learning that comes with the love of travel. 

Stephanie Tewes is the Dean of Studies at Covington Latin School, an accelerated school in Northern Kentucky.  She is also a history and speech teacher.