Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Coaching As I See It

I remember a time when I was between jobs and wasn’t working outside the home. At a cocktail party I was asked the defining question, “So, what do you do?” In all seriousness, I reached for some business cards my husband had printed for me which stated, “Domestic Goddess.” You can imagine the lively conversation which followed. Now my business card says, “Learning Coach” and it promotes conversation as well, because most people don’t quite know what that means.

Simply put, I work with clients on a 1 to 1 basis with the aim of ultimately helping them improve their professional, scholastic or personal life. Some clients need help with changing some behaviors, improving self-perception and/or increasing achievement by learning some new skills.

A good coach helps the client to identify areas which need working on and then set goals for himself. We also discuss former roadblocks to progress and barriers to his learning. This is important because the last thing a coach wants to do is present the client with the same strategies which obviously didn’t work in the past.

A Learning Coach must design a plan for the client to help him achieve better results in such a way which compliments him. Every client or student doesn’t learn in the same way so identifying the learning style of the client and basing strategies from that vantage point, gives you the greatest chance of maximizing his learning potential.

In the case of a client wanting to improve upon or learn a new skill, I approach it from a “Constructivist” point of view. Constructivism applied to learning theory states that learners learn best when they construct knowledge for themselves. As a coach, I guide and facilitate the process by providing the client with activities to participate in. He is no longer a passive recipient of information but a creative explorer. The client engages in hands on learning where he can test his ideas and draw his own conclusions.

Taking a Constructivist approach taps into the client’s natural curiosity and helps to keep him engaged and motivated. In the end what I’ve really done is help the client learn how to learn.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reading Comprehension

Life beyond chicken nuggets and Wii!

While the eleven weeks of summer vacation is a break from school, it doesn’t have to mean a break from learning. In terms of reading, once students learn decoding, they can decode anything but they can’t understand what they read if they have a narrow view of the world. Let’s face the fact that the entire purpose of reading is comprehension. So this summer, let your focus be helping your child gain “knowledge”—specifically “knowledge” which ultimately can be applied to reading comprehension.

Beyond, sounding out words and properly identifying new vocabulary, being able to bridge gaps in reading by making connections to the subject matter is crucial to comprehension. When authors write they leave out information and expect the reader to fill in the blanks with acquired background knowledge. To test this element of background knowledge being tied to reading comprehension, a study was done with preadolescent children. One group was made up of poor readers who knew about baseball and the other group was made up of good readers not having much background knowledge about baseball. The study revealed that the group of poor readers having background knowledge about baseball did far better than the good readers did when answering comprehension questions about the reading passage.

That brings us to the question “How is a student supposed to acquire all of this background knowledge?” One way to acquire knowledge is to turn off the TV and the computer and explore the world. Parents might be surprised to know that on average only 5% of the classroom time for a third grader is spent on topics of Science and 5% of classroom time is spent on topics of History. That means much of the learning your child needs to acquire about life, needs to come from home. You are your child’s best teacher.

This summer, make it a weekly ritual to visit your local library and select books on a variety of topics. Read books to your children as well as have your children read to you. Select books which expose your children to Science, History, Geography, Music, Art, Civics, Theatre and the like. Plan a field trip once a week to give your child a more hands on experience with learning. The experience doesn’t have to cost much to be educational. For example, take a walk in the woods and see how many different types of leaves you can identify. Go to a zoo and make your own scrapbook with photos your child has taken and factual data he has collected. Explore a different culture by locating the country on a map, learning some of its history and points of interest for tourists, then finish by making an ethnic meal. Who knows, maybe your children may actually like eating Spanakopita, wearing a toga while discussing what days were like for children in ancient Greece!

There is a whole world to explore out there beyond chicken nuggets and Wii. Your children may experience initial symptoms of withdrawal from life as they know it, but isn’t it worth creating a life to be experienced and remembered? Here’s to the summer of ’09! Read well and prosper!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009



ADHD as we know it is a condition making it difficult for children to stay on task (inattention), control their activity level (hyperactivity) and limit their behavior (impulsivity) in age appropriate ways. In response to these markers of ADHD many parents investigate putting their children on meds to counteract the hyperactivity and inattention. What many parents don’t realize is kids with ADHD also have deficits in the area of Executive Functioning and those deficits are much less responsive to pharmacological intervention and they need explicit instructional training.

Some of the skills associated with Executive Functioning involve planning, sequencing, prioritizing, and time management. Imagine trying to navigate successfully through life when these skills are impaired or non-existent. That is why as the parent of a child with ADHD it is your job to understand what executive functioning deficits your child might have and then work to find real opportunities to teach and reinforce these necessary skills.

If we look at the skill of organization as a part of Executive Functioning we don’t have to go far to see that the typical ADHD child has a difficult time managing his things whether it be in his backpack, his desk, his binder, his folders or his own bedroom. So, when helping the child with ADHD acquire skills in organization both “static” and “dynamic” organizational systems and skills must be taught. Static Organizational systems and skills are structured by doing the same thing, at the same time, at the same place, in the same way. We break down tasks and ask kids to complete defined components of that task at a certain time and place. Dynamic Organizational systems and skills are more complex in that they involve constant adjustment to priorities, workloads, time frames, tasks and places and the decision making is left up to the judgment of the individual.

When we ask a child to put his Lego blocks back in the bin we are fostering his Static Organizational systems and skills as a part of the task of “cleaning up.” But many times parents don’t understand the developmental leap it takes the child to carry out the directive of “clean your room.” This is a more Dynamic task in that the child must create an overall plan, know how to organize each sub category, be able to sequence properly, prioritize as well as manage his time.

Follow this step-by-step plan with your child to help him clean his room and strengthen his areas of weakness.
#1 Clearly define what needs to be done. Put all the elements of a clean room in checklist form. This helps your child learn how the skill of planning works. Then prioritize the list and sequence what is done first, second, third etc.

#2 Develop a system for motivation. A token in a jar can be given for each sub-task done, i.e. making bed, vacuuming carpet etc., and tokens can earn privileges like playing video games.

#3 Prepare the environment. Introduce your child to the tools he will be using, i.e. pledge furniture polish wipes, windex wipes, vacuum cleaner, clothes hamper/bin for whites and one for colored clothing etc.

#4 Break down the tasks into smaller chunks. The overall task might be make the bed, but the steps include: pulling up the top sheet, pulling up the blanket, tucking in sheet and blanket, placing the pillow down and pulling up the quilt, then placing stuffed animals on the bed. Assign a time estimate to finishing the task so that your child gets a concrete feeling of time management.

#5 Use visual aids to help with instruction. You will need to show by demonstrating how to do each one of the cleaning and organizing tasks. Talk through the process and allow your child to repeat the important information out loud to show that he is creating the inner dialogue to later help him with self-regulation. Finally, take a photo of what the finished task looks like. Laminate the photo of the clean and organized closet so that the child has something later to compare his work to.

#6 Praise a job well done! There is nothing like good home training to foster life skills, responsibility and self-confidence.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call at work from a Mother with a hunch. The conversation begins with a simple request about services I provide as a Learning Coach. Then I probe a little as to specific areas of her concern and then the floodgates open. I get a litany of symptoms and observable characteristics about a son or daughter having trouble in school. Her child might not have a formal diagnosis but as a Mother she is able to articulate what her child experiences, describe the extra help her child has been given and tell me what is not working.

Who is this child? This child is healthy and one of average to above average intelligence. This child has no unusual socio-cultural factors or unusual socioeconomic hardships to deal with. This child attends an above average school given appropriate and adequate instruction by a teacher with a Master’s Degree. The curriculum is taught comprehensively, systematically and explicitly.

This child has gone to preschool or daycare providing a language rich environment, promoting literacy with the fundamental building blocks of reading, writing, math and science. This child has attended a Kindergarten where lessons were presented to enhance phonemic awareness and children get phonics instruction so that they integrate the concept that letters and letter groups represent the sounds in spoken language. From 1st to 3rd grade this child is immersed in decoding strategies, spelling lessons, vocabulary acquisition, sight word attack as well as attention to skill development in reading comprehension and fluency.

As this Mother tells me more about her child’s situation she says that despite having the best of circumstances AND EXTRA HELP AT SCHOOL her child is struggling. He is beginning to doubt his own abilities and has started to use the “S” word. Yes, he is beginning to refer to himself as “stupid.” In her gut this Mother knows that there is a way to reach her child but it is not by giving him more of the same approach. She wants to know if I can reach him via his strengths, using her child’s gifts and talents as a doorway into his style of learning.

This Mother with a hunch, this Mother who trusts her gut and is willing to think creatively and out of the box, sometimes seeks the road less traveled. This Mother is the hero of her child because she took the first step to setting his feet on his path to success.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Brain Scans Shed Light On Dyslexia

New brain scans reveal more about how the minds of people with Dyslexia work. The key problem seems to be a mismatch between seeing the letter and connecting it to the sound it represents and vice-versa, said researchers from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands.

Previous studies have shown differences in the way the brains of dyslexic individuals are “wired,” as compared with the brains of “normal” people. In particular, past research has shown a “disconnect” between being able to identify the sounds within a word and matching them with letters.

The University of Maastricht study involved 13 dyslexic readers and 13 non-impaired readers. The study subjects were shown visual letters and listened to auditory speech sounds corresponding to single letters. The researchers conducted functional MRI while the participants performed a series of these experiments.

Dyslexic participants had less activation of the superior temporal cortex region of the brain which, among other things, is involved with processing sound.

Researchers looked at what happens when people with and without dyslexia try to integrate visual representations with sound representations, and even though that’s been thought to be one of the areas that’s a problem, this is novel, because they have used brain imaging technology to show it,” said Guinevere Eden, director of the center for the study of Learning at Georgetown University. A typical person has an augmented response in this part of the brain, and in dyslexics, they’re not seeing that augmentation, suggesting that there does not seem to be a system in place to show that there’s an association (between visual and sound) that’s going on. This is an important step, and it raises the potential for exploring the effects of clinical interventions and for investigating different subtypes of reading challenges.

Ron Davis, the co-founder of the Reading Research Council in Burlingame, California says that dyslexics have visual, multidimensional minds which are less predisposed to word-based thinking. “This causes dyslexics to not easily recognize printed symbols such as letters of the alphabet and written words, and have difficulty with teaching approaches, which emphasize phonics only.”

Mr. Davis said if control be gained over perceptual disorientation by using simple mental processes, and language skills taught with methods adapted to picture thinkers, then dyslexics would be able to read and write without problems.

Mr. Davis speaks from personal experience as a dyslexic and can attest to helping thousands of adults and children with dyslexia see their way of learning as a talent and to enhance their natural creative ability.

Saturday, April 4, 2009



According to Department of Education figures, 30% of students leave college in the first year and 50% never graduate. While some students cite financial reasons as to why they leave school they also list other factors such as distracting interpersonal issues, lack of life preparation, poor study skills and overall feelings of dissatisfaction.

No data that I have been able to find tell us what portion of those students really wanted 4 years of college-level courses anyway. I mention this because when you look at the reasoning of why students attend college most often it is not the love of learning or a passion for a specific vocation that they refer to. Most young adults admit they are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. .Could the dropout problem be connected to a mismatching of students to the type of post-high school training they are receiving?

Large numbers of those who are qualified for college go to college because their parents are paying for it and college is what children are supposed to do after they finish high school. But what if going to a 4-year academic institution is not the best fit for them. While many of those students entering college, have the ability to understand the material presented to them, they just are not interested in it. Maybe some students would be better off getting post-high school vocational training where their career interests could be met directly and swiftly.

For a few occupations, a college degree still certifies a qualification. But a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology, economics, history or literature certifies for nothing. The degree itself does not qualify the graduate to do anything in particular and with today’s economy employers can not afford the time to train a candidate for hire. On a positive note, there is an increasing demand for craftsmen. Finding a good painter, electrician, plumber, hairdresser or HVAC technician can be difficult. Also many of their jobs can not be outsourced to India.

My wish for all young people out there is “FIND YOUR PASSION.” Discover who you are. Break free from the stereotyped answers to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My wish for parents is that they place equal value on all kinds of occupations and not show bias. Your child might become a superb cabinetmaker instead of the CPA you dreamed he’d be. College is not meant for everyone and be open to the fact that vocational training is just as valid an option. Get real about your gifts and talents and go from there.
Then hang on for the ride!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Engaging The Senses

With only two months left in the school year, parents all over the country are brainstorming ways to help their children keep up their academic skills during the summer. When evaluating potential programs or curriculum for at-home use, look for a multi-sensory approach. By fully engaging the senses, we can fully engage the child.

Research by William Glasser M.D. tells us we remember/learn:
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
75% of what we discuss with someone else
85% of what we personally experience
95% of what we teach to someone else

As a Learning Coach I try to help many struggling readers with fluency and comprehension. Most of my clients are visual-spatial or kinesthetic learners so I ask them to engage their senses while they read. When they read for meaning I have them stop after every sentence and tell me what they see or feel. They lay down meaning from what they read frame by frame as in a movie.

Consider this sample reading passage: “Then the drought came and stayed. The land begged for water, but even Pecos Bill couldn’t make it rain.”

To check comprehension I begin by asking the child, “What does the word drought mean?” Many times a student can decode a word but not understand what it means. I suggest that we can get a clue from other words in context. I ask the student, “What did the author mean when he wrote that the land begged for water?” To use all of his senses I might ask the child to demonstrate or act out the scene in order to try to make the sentence more concrete. I might say, “Pretend you are the ground and beg for water.” Then I have the child think about why the ground would beg for water. My hope is that the child would draw the conclusion that the ground would beg for water if it was dry or “thirsty for rain.”

It would be safe to guess that the word “drought” used in the first sentence meant “a long period of dry weather, with little or no rain. To check our prediction, we look the word up in the dictionary to see if we are correct. This gives the child another skill to use if he can not get clues in context. By using the dictionary, the child can integrate the spelling of the word, the pronunciation of the word as well as the definition.