Focused Thinking

Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP
Beth Lawrence, MA, CCC-SLP

Borrowing a page from Dr. Mel Levine's "The Mind That's Mine" and Maria Garcia Winner's "Superflex" curriculum, I've been using the terms, "Vacation Brain" and "Focused Brain" in working with some of my students on active listening skills and language-mediated problem-solving.  We all need to focus and to take brain breaks at different times.  Being able to flexibly switch from one state to another is important. The person who cannot turn his "Active Brain" off at night can have significant difficulty falling asleep.  But, for the person who is  unaware that listening involves active participation and constant self-talk for monitoring oneself, this frank discussion can open up a world of awareness  and metacognition.

I work with many students on my caseload who really struggle with reading and listening comprehension, remembering steps of directions, holding onto all the steps needed to solve a math word problem and simply keeping up with conversation.  For many, teaching these strategies to improve reading comprehension and working memory is enough, and the students eventually learn to  spontaneously apply the skills to new situations.  However, a few of them learn the techniques and memory strategies, but shift into "vacation mode" while in class, or even in our one-on-one sessions because they are unaware that there needs to be a distinct effort made.   Diagnosed with ADHD or not, this awareness and practice with self-identification of their brain-state has been very helpful for these few students.Working Memory

Starting with a frank discussion (and drawings of the brain and frontal lobe activation) of what is happening when someone is using language to monitor, comprehend and keep track of steps, students are introduced to the idea of Vacation Brain and Active Brain.  I role model what my brain is "saying" inside when it is actively engaged in a reading comprehension task (e.g.,  "I can't believe Bob is going to open the door, doesn't he know the robber is in there? Be careful, Bob!") or while doing a math word problem (e.g., "Okay, so I know that the candy costs 25 cents each, 25 cents for each candy, okay, and I want 5, so that's  five at 25 cents. Okay, I'm gunna write that down, 25 cents times 5 equals....")  I then demonstrate the same comprehension and word problem activities while being overtly "quiet" (failing to "engage" my brain.)  The student sees and hears this, and I point out how easy it was to switch to "Vacation Brain", which was obvious in my eyes and on my face (vacant look).

I then have the students actively engage in these types of activities, prompting them with the kinds of things they could say to themselves.  They practice saying these utterances aloud, and I point out how alert and awake their faces appear.  Sometimes I provide them with a mirror or videotape them using my iPad so they can see what "active engagement" looks like.  I label this behavior, "Active Brain" and point out that they are really comprehending the story/on the right track with the math word problem and that their frontal lobes are activated. Once they practice this and we role play what "Vacation Brain" looks like, Day Dreaming Childand how hard it is to answer comprehension questions when we read in this state, we now have a label for a desired behavior that can be used throughout our therapy sessions.  Parents can follow through with these labels as well.

Metacognition is so important!  Students need to learn about it in an overt way so that they know what is happening inside the minds of good and active  listeners.  Without this overt discussion and practice, I don't believe these students would have made the progress that they have made in speech-language therapy.


A Dyslexic's Mother's Day Essay

Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP
Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP

Get the tissues ready.  Anyone who parents or tutors a child with dyslexia and/or language-learning differences knows what a struggle it can be and will appreciate this.

I got a text message from my high school senior while I was at work this morning.  She had a school paper she left at home. I want you to grab the paper on my bedside table.  My first thought was - what paper? and why didn't she remember to bring it to school with her.  I drove home at my first break a little annoyed wondering how long it would take me and when would she ever learn.  To my surprise I  found a MLA-style paper on the kitchen table.  It was entitled "A Mother's Day Project."  Here's what it said:flowers

Dear Mom,

First off, I want to tell you how sorry I am that I didn’t do anything for you on Mother’s Day especially since you are the most deserved mother in this world to receive above and beyond gifts.  As you can probably tell, I wrote this letter like I would for school and I did this because I want this letter to be the very last paper I write in my high school years.  Yes, yes…I underlined high school because I know when I go off into college I’ll have endless papers to write.  I feel like it’s an appropriate way to end my chapter in high school because the reason I was able to flip the pages was because of you.  I don’t want this Mother’s Day Card to be all about me, but I want you to realize how much you mean to me and how much of a difference you can make in a person’s life.

 I owe you everything and more.  I would not of gotten through high school without you.  Every time I wanted to give up and listen to the voices in my head that were telling me I couldn’t, you would step in and make your voice louder telling me that I could. When I left Friendship School, I remember feeling so lost.  I did not prepare myself for the challenges I would have to face, but you did.  Even to this day, I still have my moments of wanting to give up and sometimes I would even find reasons to blame you for my mistakes which was stupid because you were the only person holding my hand through every challenge.  You are so special to me because you and I are always going to have a connection that no one will ever understand or ever dare to come between.  You understand me when it comes to my dyslexia, which is something I could not explain to anyone.  I was sensitive when it came to my dyslexia because I didn’t want to be different from anyone else, especially my younger brother or older sister.  I used to think that no one would be proud of me when it came to school or academics, but I realize now that you are.  I also realize that being dyslexic will not define me.  You are always picking me up when I fall down and you make me work harder because you know what I am capable of.  Every second that it takes for me to walk across the stage, get my diploma, shake hands and move my tassel to the other side of my cap…will all be for you.

            You are my number one supporter, you are my cheerleader, you are the voice inside my head telling me that I can overcome any challenge, you…you are my mom.

Happy Mother's Day - I LOVE YOU.

After I dried my eyes, I realized she really had been listening to me all these years.

...All the times I asked how her paper was going and she rolled her eyes...

...All the many topics we brainstormed ideas for and she wanted to give up...

...All the nights I nagged her to keep going and working...

...All the times she rolled her eyes, said "Oh, Mom!"

...All the "You Can Do It" pep talks and the "No, I can't" responses...

writinggirlShe listened. She appreciated the journey and she gave me the best Mother's Day present she could possibly give me....an essay of her thanks.  She gets an A++ from me.  You can bet I'll be jumping up and down at her graduation hooting, hollering and embarassing both of us.  It was worth the journey...


Ways to Make Vocabulary More Meaningful

cropped-round-logo-copy.jpgIn working on our vocabulary pilot study for the summer, we've been researching vocabulary techniques.  With finals just around the corner for high schoolers, it's a good time to improve study skills for vocabulary.705_3540881

Beck and McKeown have just updated their book Bringing Words to LIfe, Robust Vocabulary Instruction, and it is one of my new favorite books for vocabulary.  They have some tips you might find useful this time of year.

  1. Don't just use synonyms or antonyms; use word associations to learn vocabulary terms.  If your child/student is trying to learn the meaning of "gregarious," instead of focusing on the fact that gregarious is the opposite of introvertedthink about a character on TV that typifies "seeking and enjoying the company of others." I think of Mandy on Last Man Standing on ABC.  She is the outgoing, middle child who enjoys spending time with friends more than spending time with her school books.
  2. Put vocabulary into the context of experiences.  You can say, "Describe a time when you or one of your friends was gregarious."  
  3. Use idea completions.  The popular girl was more gregarious than I was at the party, because...

51A6CaPvaULBasically, the meaning of vocabulary words "stick" when the meanings are clear, in a student-friendly context, and involve thinking about and using the meanings right away.

More to come....