Posted in Eleanor Cawley

Pushing the Birds out of the Nest

Leaving the nest copyThese opinions are my own based on my personal school-based experiences and recent postings from other therapists on social media 

When is it time to discharge?

This is always one of the biggest questions when it comes down to CSE Meetings and whether or not to recommend services for students next year. Of course, in a school-based setting, the big ‘money makers’ are handwriting and now keyboarding. Before making that decision, I think that it is important to look at the student’s level of function in a particular environment. I feel that when we report progress a rubric is very important but so is the environment or context in which the skill is performed. When I look at either handwriting or keyboarding I look at the following:

  1. Can the student perform the task automatically with my assistance in a therapy room?
  2. Can the student perform the task automatically in the therapy room without my assistance?
  3. Can the student perform the task automatically in a classroom with my assistance?
  4. Can the student perform the task automatically in a classroom without my assistance?

This is an important factor that is left out of documentation on goal progress. Anyone that knows about me, knows that I love to use rubrics. I love documentation to be clear and concise, understood without my being there to explain. So I often base my documentation on the level of self-sufficiency-does the student have the power to perform the task over a wide range of activities and settings. In other words, is the handwriting or keyboarding at the level of being automatic? The DeCoste Writing Protocol is an evidence-based tool with some very good research supporting its development. Based on this research, both handwriting and keyboarding should be at the level of automaticity. If these skills are not automatic, then the focus in on the motor components of the task and therefore the student cannot meet the cognitive demands of the writing task. Basically, we will not know what the student has absorbed because he or she cannot get it on paper.

I remember hearing somewhere that in order to do your best on a test, you should take the test in the same location that the teaching or learning took place. Could that mean that a student may hand write better if he or she is in the room where they actually learned the skill? It is certainly an interesting point and possibly one for a good research study. Our goal is to have the student generalize the skills to all handwriting or keyboarding tasks-to become proficient. The Written Language Production Standards provides us with what is expected of a student with regard to handwriting and keyboarding at a particular grade level. Does your student meet those standards? Do you think that your student is capable of meeting those standards? Why or why not? Is the student capable of meeting those standards in a variety of settings without your support? Why or why not? I feel that I am not doing my job well, if I can’t answer these questions, my student is not performing as expected within the classroom and I have not offered alternatives.

There is also something else to consider and that is the student’s expectations and preferences. Is this student so overwhelmed with handwriting or keyboarding that they have just given up? I use The Student Interview to explore the student’s preferences and understanding of their own skills, i.e., what the student thinks they can do to what the parent thinks they can to and compare that to what I and the teacher see them do. The level of anxiety and frustration that a student experiences with not being able to express themselves on paper should be considered.

So while I would always like to think that OT RULES and I have all the answers, I don’t. What I do know is this, keep the student involved with determining goal progress, assess the skill across settings and keep the student in mind when determining where to go next, if anywhere. If you think that you can discharge a student when they can type 10 words a minute and they are in the 4th grade or above, think again. That student is not ready to handle the keyboard in the classroom.

Posted in Assistive Technology, Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Cost Effective School-Based Assistive Technology Programs

By now, almost every school district has an Assistive Technology Program. Many students have access to graphic organizer, text to speech and word prediction software within their classrooms or at least in a computer lab. But, that is a BIG BUT, does the district have to provide computers for home use?  Not in my opinion!

School districts are switching over to Google and Google Apps for students to use while at school.  This allows the student to have a school-based e-mail with access to Google Drive.  Documents created in school with Google Apps can then be opened and worked on at home.

Companies, licensing assistive technology software to districts, provide a number of options for sharing this programming for the students to use at home.  This may come in the form of a web based version or an actual disc or thumb drive that a parent can use to load the software onto their home computer.

If students can access work from school at home and then have the assistive technology software available on their home computers, there is no reason for students to have a device to carry back and forth from home to school.

It is my belief that students should have two e-mail addresses to access between home and school.  One, of course, should be their g-mail account through Google and the other should be an Outlook account through Outlook.com.  One might think that a g-mail account would suffice.  It might if the student has no executive function issues and is very well organized. However, that Microsoft Office Suite that we know and have grown to love, has the best digital notebook program EVER!  Yes I mean, EVER!  Microsoft OneNote comes with every version of the Microsoft Office Suite.  If you have the Microsoft Office Suite, you have OneNote. School districts have had this programming forever and never knew it!

If you create an Outlook account, you have OneNote!  There is a modified version within your Outlook account, along with Word, PowerPoint and Excel. What is not to like?  Then the absolute best thing is to download the the free OneNote App.  Yes, that’s right, I said free!  With this app, a student can have access to his or her notes anywhere there is an internet connection!

The absolute best case scenario is to have the Microsoft Office Suite on your home computer.  Create your notebooks at home and store them within your Outlook account.  When you create your notebook, choose the web option as the location to store your notebook.  Under web location, log in with your Outlook log on and password.  You will use the same log on and password to open your notebook within the app on your iPad or Android device.

Setting up your notebooks from your home computer through the Microsoft Office Suite provides many more options, with my favorite option being the template feature.  This saves oodles of time.  Just add the template to your notebooks from your home computer and their will magically appear on your other devices. You can scan handouts and homework assignments into the notebook at home or photograph them with your tablet or phone when in school or in the community.  The best part about this program is IT IS AN AUTOSAVE PROGRAM!  If you forget to save something, no big deal, once you put it in a notebook, it is there until you take it out.

Microsoft OneNote is a life saver.

  • Parents never again will have to run to school with a forgotten assignment, as long as, the student put the assignment in their OneNote Notebook.
  • Is it time for a notebook review by your teacher?  Share the notebook with your teacher!
  • Left your notes in school and you have a test tomorrow?  Access your notes anywhere there is an internet connection.
  • Organize your OneNote Notebooks just like you would your paper notebooks or binders.  You can easily add tabs for sections and add new pages to each section.

I like my OneNote notebooks better than Evernote. There are organizational features in OneNote that Evernote cannot match. OneNote is easy to use. Open your notebook to where you need to add a new assignment then either use a scanner (if your at home) or take a photo of the assignment. It will go right to the place that you have open. Nothing could be easier.

So going back to the original topic of cost effective assistive technology, with the availability of a number of free options that work across platforms (PC or Mac), there is really no reason to provide each student with a device to take home. Students are entitled to a free and appropriate education but not necessarily a free computer.  If assistive technology is needed, then absolutely provide it. Send home the software but not a device.

Of course we all worry about where our tax dollars are being spent and in my opinion, sending home devices with students can be a huge waste of our tax dollars. There is an easy solution and we should take advantage of it. Yes, there are homes without internet or even a computer. Recently, many local libraries have begun distributing free wireless devices for internet access to families in need. Netbooks are a reasonable option, for those students requiring assistive technology, and who are without computers in the home. The netbook can be left at home and returned to the district at the end of the school year.  While there may be some normal wear and tear on the netbooks, there should not be damaged from transporting the devices repeatedly to and from school.

In my opinion, internet should be free and accessible to everyone.  If you need something faster than what is a free connection, then go ahead and pay for the faster service.

With the onset of a new technological age, where technology is the norm rather than the exception, we need to be just as careful about our money as we are about educating our students.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Creating Digital Notebooks

Reduce frustration for you and your child

Organization Group NewsIt is difficult for some students to get through school well organized.  Parents, teacher and even students become frustrated with missing homework assignments, notes out of order torn or even missing altogether.  When frustration ensues, it is easy to become argumentative, which is counter-productive to getting work done.

It is my goal to support your efforts to help your child by taking that task over. Creating digital notebooks with your child, there is little worry about losing important work.

Children with Executive Function Disorder have difficulty performing “activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space. ”

Using technology I can help your child manage all that paperwork and not feel so frustrated.  Just think, once a document is loaded into the correct digital notebook, it will never be lost.  If your child loses a paper document that has been uploaded, all he or she needs to do is print out the document.

When teachers request that the student present a notebook, the notebook can be e-mailed to the teacher.  If the teacher will not accept a digital form of this notebook, the notebook can be printed.

Notebooks will be available, in real-time, on the web allowing access in any location with an internet connection by simply using a log-on and password.

Less frustration for all makes home and school life smoother. Please feel free to call for further information.  631-629-4699

 

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Revisiting The Student Interview

The Student Interview CoverAI have worked with middle and high school students most often.  At this age, a student’s frustrations increase proportionally to the workload.  They are aware of what works and what does not work for them.  When frustrations run so high and parents begin to panic, it is at this time other professionals, advocate and lawyers, become involved.

The Student Interview was developed because of a number of school-based cases that I had been involved in were quite intense.  Every small detail of the case was explored in depth.  I felt that it was imperative that the student have a voice and that I had a document that asked all the right questions. While it is very sad to see the state of the educational system, as it is right now, I feel that the educational system is in transition.  There are always ups and downs when experiencing a transition.

Over the last few years, I have used this interview with many students.  Since this is a form to complete, it is good experience for a student in the transition process.  There is a variety of questions, relevant to the student’s educational, vocational and self-care needs.  Some questions require a yes or no response, while others are open-ended and call for more detail.  The Student Interview serves its intended purpose quite nicely. Since using The Student Interview, I have not had that “uh oh” moment when something comes up that I should be aware of.  At least nothing that I have not at least asked and have a response to.

I really love a student’s surprise when he or she is asked to complete the satisfaction survey.  This is often the very first time a student is asked for his or her opinion on services.  I, now, provide each student with this interview.  I find it an invaluable tool not only as written documentation but also as a basis for a deeper conversation regarding a student’s skills, and their perceptions of themselves.

 

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

Keyboarding 101.5

English: Virtual On-Screen Keyboard for Windows
English: Virtual On-Screen Keyboard for Windows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Keyboarding in early elementary grades continues to work on developing familiarity with the keyboard.  That means knowing all the letters and learning about where they are on the keyboard.  It also means learning what fingers to use to strike each letter.  Another factor is should the keyboard be a virtual [like an on-screen keyboard] or a standard keyboard.  Well, a very small study (N=18) conducted by Brady Cline [http://www.bradycline.com/2013/in/ipad-typing/], showed that, “This small study makes it clear that the perception that students type faster on traditional keyboards is not correct for our current elementary students. In fact, students were slightly faster on a virtual keyboard than on a computer or iPad keyboard. ”  I am all thumbs when typing on a virtual keyboard myself, but I don’t practice much. On a traditional QWERTY keyboard, I can type approximately 100 words per minute if my hands are positioned correctly and the keyboard is aligned with my midline.  For me, if my body and the keyboard are not aligned, my error rate goes well beyond what is considered to be typical (93% accurate). So I believe that keyboarding should begin with learning the right body alignment and hand placement on the keyboard.  About.com [http://video.about.com/familyinternet/Computer-Ergonomics-for-Kids.htm#vdTrn] has a nice little video about proper positioning when using a computer for kids.

Should we forgo handwriting replacing handwriting with keyboarding?  NO!  I am so happy to see that in the State of Utah,

The State School Board voted to approve the additions to the Utah Core Standards that include teaching manuscript and cursive writing and also include building fluency in reading cursive writing.  Handwriting (both manuscript and cursive) is an important skill for students to learn. Teaching and practicing writing allows students to write letters correctly and efficiently. Fluent writers are able to focus on generating idea, producing grammatically correct text, and considering audience. Even when a student moves to a computer or other device, that writing fluency is important to the composing process.  [http://www.schools.utah.gov/curr/langartelem/actions-and-programs/handwriting.aspx]

Keyboarding is handwriting’s complement for 21st century environments, and it is a practice that will become increasingly important for students’ writing success. Children access all types of technology at home—even before they attend school—and schools can provide the developmentally appropriate instruction to bolster their fluency and efficiency in using keyboard-input devices to make them truly “bilingual by hand” (Berninger, 2012).  [WRITTEN-LANGUAGE PRODUCTION STANDARDS FOR Handwriting & Keyboarding (Grades K–8)]

I am so happy to see that Utah embraces the fact that students need handwriting but also need computing skills.  Utah has a wealth of information on keyboarding and reinforces the concepts of computational thinking with computers.  So with all that being said, during the next few years (K-3) children should be focusing on the following:

  • posture
  • familiarity with the keyboard
  • touch typing skills for accuracy [speed is generally not assessed until the end of the 3rd grade or the beginning of the 4th]
  • familiarity with program features, such as spell check
  • Familiarity with a presentation and simple gaming style programming [PowerPoint, Xtranormal, etc].  The program chosen for the student should reflect his or her interest and skill.

At this age, keyboarding should be fun, creative and expressive.  Children should experiment with different fonts, like different handwriting styles.

English: iPad with on display keyboard
English: iPad with on display keyboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Posted in Assistive Technology, Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, Occupational Therapy

Keyboarding 101

Photo Credit:  Michael Maggs
Photo Credit: Michael Maggs

For the purposes of this series on Keyboarding, I will be referring to the standard QWERTY keyboard and 2-button mouse (with center scroll).  The information in this post comes from my memory of past investigations of keyboarding and computer skills.  I researched this topic quite extensively, reviewing the programs of a large number of districts throughout the United States and the standards outlined in ISTE, all of which I found on-line.

The Early Years (Pre-K)

Early computer skills include:

  • Developing accurate mouse skills (accurately reaching and clicking on the target)
  • Activating programming buttons using the mouse
  • Developing attention to the screen and the activity
  • Using ‘POWER’ keys, such as ‘ENTER,’ ‘TAB,’ and ‘SPACE BAR.’
  • Beginning letter recognition by depressing the requested key on the keyboard

When working with little ones, I used to use “Reader Rabbit.”  The kids loved the “Follow Me Theater.”  This is still available from Amazon and has worked on my Windows 7 computers, I am not sure about Windows 8.  This is the type of programming that can support learning, imitation and fine motor movement, in addition to learning mouse skills.  By Kindergarten, kids should be able to recognize and find all the letters in their first name.   He or she should also be able to capitalize the first letter of their name and use lowercase for the remainder of the letters.  Children , at this age, should be able to recognize and identify at least 20 letters [upper and lower case].  It is also a good idea, at this time, to experiment with different fonts–form consistency.

Be very careful not to make the computer the only activity that your child enjoys.  Limit computer time to 10 minutes or so.  Encourage plenty of gross and fine motor activities to prevent your child from developing a sedentary lifestyle.

http://www.rodale.com/computers-and-children
http://www.rodale.com/computers-and-children

 

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L

-Dictation is a Necessary Note-Taking Skill

What?  Dictation you say???

Yes absolutely, being able to take dictation is an important part of taking notes.  After all, isn’t the teacher talking about subject matter, while moving about the classroom?  Isn’t the student supposed to be writing some of the things that the teacher is saying [not all, but some].

Learning to take dictation is simple.  You should start in kindergarten and 1st grade.  Yes, this young.  Remember, taking dictation is a motor response to an auditory cue.  When a child is young, learning to take dictation should be fun.  A scavenger hunt in the classroom, the house or in the backyard is a perfect way to begin.  First, dictate letters [no more than 5], have the child write the letters that you dictate and then have the child locate an item that begin with each letter.  Make sure that you are using the letters and words that have been practiced in class to reinforce what has already been learned.  Also, turn the tables and have the child give you 5 letters [words] and you must also find items.  You may also make the sound of a letter and ask the child to write the letter that he or she thinks it is. While some say that this is too early to learn dictation, it is not.  As long as you are using the same material learned in class and make a game out of it, you will be fine.  ALWAYS follow the child’s lead.  Never push a child to go faster.  The object of this exercise is for the child to write what he or she hears and not speed.  I would also include using a keyboard to type the letters.  First we want to create letter recognition and then familiarity with the keyboard.  As the child becomes more skilled in keyboarding, allow the child to choose the fonts and colors that he or she likes.  Again, this must be a fun activity.  If it is not fun then you are not reinforcing the excitement of learning.  Learning is not always fun and some students struggle immensely.  When working with a parent or therapist, learning should reinforce school skills and be fun.  We do not want the child to lose interest and shut down.

Image

As a child grows and develops additional skills, vocabulary words can be used for dictation. Not only does this increase the amount of handwriting and keyboarding practice that a child gets, it also helps to learn study skills.  If your child is having difficulty with spelling, you can get a parent account on http://www.spellingcity.com to practice spelling and vocabulary with computer games.  They have an iPad app, if you choose.

Increasing the complexity of the task, I would start with sentences in the 3rd grade. Sentences should be very short and be related to the vocabulary being learned in school. You can make a sort of Mad Libs and have the child insert silly words into the dictation. Again, follow the child’s lead and give him or her the time to write what you have said.  The goal, again, is for the child to reinforce what is learned in class and to be able to write what is heard.  By 4th grade, I would take a very short paragraph from the material that is used in the class and dictate from that.  I would also have the child dictate to me.  Again, it needs to be fun, a game.  I might also have the child correct my handwriting, to help them be more observant in making corrections on their own.  Even if you are perfect, make some mistakes that your child has already learned for editing their own work.  If you are at a loss for material, many of the local newspapers are written on a 3rd grade level.  Pick an interesting human interest or sports story and dictate a very short excerpt.

By the time a child reaches middle and high school, I work on dictating and entire paragraph from the newspaper, often something related to a DBQ [Document Based Questionnaire] that they are working on in class.  I have them either type or write the material and begin to improve speed.  Up until this point, accuracy has been the focus of the dictation and not speed.  I would also practice using the prompt words for note-taking and have the child take down the important points [based on my prompts].  As a therapist, I would be sharing what I would be doing in a session, with the classroom teachers so that they can see the value of the therapy and also follow through.  As a parent, if you have any concerns with handwriting, spelling, listening skills, etc., please discuss these with your child’s teacher or therapist.