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

So Why Should Occupational Therapists Bother to Write Rubrics?

Mostly, therapists read my posts on social media and then move on. Some comment positively and others, not at all. But then there are those times when there  is that one person who challenges you. I must say, that one person tends to get my fight on! I feel that I have to prove my work all over again. But I really love the debate. To those of you who feel that rubrics are not necessary, that’s okay. However, I feel they are.
Rubrics have been around for a very long time. During my research for my book, “Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy“I found that rubrics actually began not in the educational field but in the medical field, decades ago. I feel that rubrics were lost in the shuffle in part due to the changes in the provider/client relationship, moving from power over to power with and ultimately to power through our clients. Now that we are searching for ways to become more ‘client-centered’ as a profession, I feel that transparent, understandable documentation is the key.

It has always been our premise, as occupational therapists, to have our clients engaged in purposeful activity. With the increasing intrusion of third-party payment systems into what we do with our clients and the struggle to become ‘client-centered’ having a method of recording progress becomes increasingly important. Yes, of course, we need to get paid for our work but we also have an obligation to our clients, any one receiving our services.

We all have those people, who question what we do.  I am sure that each and every one of us has had this experience.  Sometimes we can explain what is going on, through statements based on clinical knowledge, but then there are other times that we need real data.  Some challengers will accept the “+” or “-” system of data collection [“+” yes the client was able to perform the task or “-” no the client was not able to perform the task]  while


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others want more information.

So rubrics offer us a method of documenting some of our thought processing with regard to critical thinking, clinical reasoning and judgment. Sharing rubrics with clients and caregivers provides them with a tool to engage them in the treatment process in a way that is greater than just sharing goals.  By encouraging clients to monitor their own progress they become more vested, more engaged and more accountable to themselves and to us, their service providers, ultimately leading to greater gains.

Rubrics may be initially time-consuming to learn and to write, just like any other skill, the experienced therapist will soon be developing rubrics a lightening speed and have at their disposal a wealth of data and documentation supporting our services.  In my humble opinion, if a therapist chooses to use or not to use rubrics, it is okay, it’s their decision.  I choose to use rubrics, engage my clients in progress monitoring, and have data specifically highlighting the client’s progress.  In my opinion, how can I expect my clients to make the best progress if I do not share my expectations with them. I feel that I empower my clients through the use of rubrics, because I want to, not because I have to.



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

-Taking Notes from an Occupational Therapist’s Perspective


Taking notes is a very complex skill rooted in abilities developed in infancy.  While sitting in a classroom, a student is expected to have appropriate cognitive and motor responses to the teacher providing the lecture.  That is easier said than done!

As an infant, we are supposed to alert to a sound, respond to that sound with head turning in that direction, differentiate pleasant sounds from unpleasant sound and learn to express pleasure or displeasure.  Visually, we are expected to respond in a similar way: alert to a visual stimulus, respond by following that stimulus by turning our head to follow it, differentiate pleasurable from displeasing.  Infants are expected to demonstrate a motor response to the stimulus, i.e., eye opening, finger splaying, and activation of limbs.

Just as an infant is expected to display a motor response to stimuli, a student is also expected to respond motorically to stimuli provided by the teacher.  Students learn to respond to certain cues, i.e., “This is important,” “Conversely,” repetition of the information, etc.  It is very difficult for student to respond if he or she lacks the prerequisite skills.  Alternatives for taking notes should be offered to the student.  The least invasive is to have the student copy notes from the board (far point).  Some students have difficulty with visual skills such as pursuits and saccades (visual tracking and changing fixation from one target to another) making this difficult.  First a slant board (often a binder) can be used to address this issue.  If that doesn’t work then maybe copying from near point will work.

The next more invasive intervention might be providing the student with some form of prepared notes, i.e., Cloze Notes.  Cloze notes are fill-in the blank notes.  Students are only required to add one or two words to a statement rather than copy the entire statement.  The next level might be providing the student with a copy of teacher generated notes prior to the class for the student to highlight during class.  The next level might be having the student attempt whatever he or she is able then giving a copy of notes to the student, usually a copy from another student who takes very good notes.

Another strategy is to use on-line notes for a site like  You may be lucky enough to find course notes similar to class notes with flash cards. is a site where you can buy electronic textbooks (usually at a reduced cost), this site also provides lecture (from the book), study materials and social networking for studying. is iPad friendly.  Along with programs like Evernote with Penultimate, this maybe all the student needs to be in class.  A student could photograph handouts and never have to carry another piece of paper.  Assignments could be entered into Everstudent (a digital assignment book/agenda).

One of the last options would be to type notes on a laptop or a computer.  If the student lacks the prerequisite skills for note taking, they cannot be expected to be successful if you give them something to type on even though they can type at a good speed with good accuracy.  A sixth grader is expected to type at a speed of 25-30 words per minute with 93% accuracy.  If a student has only handwriting concerns, is able to meet all the prerequisite skills for note taking, can type 25-30 words per minute with 93% accuracy then maybe the option for using a keyboard or laptop is the answer.

Posted in Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, New Beginings, Occupational Therapy

Should Middle and High School Students Participate in the Evaluation and Annual Review Process?

Should Students Have a Voice?

Absolutely!  Most students at the middle and high school level are looking for a sense of independence.  Students of this age are often at a point where they want to know why they should continue therapy, and if they continue, why they can’t decide what they need to work on.  In a school setting, the goals need to relate to a student’s educational and/or vocational needs.  There is so much more information that a therapist needs to know to determine a student’s perception of his or her abilities and further determines whether or not a student really needs to continue.  Standardized test scores, although important, are only a snap shot of the student’s abilities at the time the student participated in the assessment.  It is not a clear and thorough picture of the student’s ability to function in a classroom.

I have often found that a student will provide more information if the questions are presented in a written format, particularly with sensitive areas, like activities of daily living, presented in checklist format.  Students will review the document, quickly at first, check an answer [which the therapist or teacher can expand on later] and then move on.  The written format provides a canvas, if you will, to create a dialogue with the student.  For example, let’s say that the student checks off that he or she can make a sandwich, ask the student how he or she makes that sandwich and you will get a better idea if he or she really is capable of making that sandwich.

I have developed a written interview, which I began using with some of my students over the last few years.  I was able to better assess a student’s abilities and perceptions of being able to care for him or herself and support classroom skills.  It prevents that ‘oh no’ moment when something is revealed in a CSE meeting that you should know but don’t surfaces.  When interviewing a student verbally, many of those items are glossed over and the interview proceeds.  A written document is a bit impersonal and the student may just answer more truthfully and feel more comfortable in doing so.

Let’s go back to that sandwich; a student checks off that he is able to make a sandwich.  Later, when reviewing the interview with the student, you ask, “How do you make that sandwich?”  The student lists all the items that he needs for the sandwich but is unable to describe how to actually make that sandwich.  This may indicate that a student has a form of dyspraxia or apraxia that has been addressed in other areas through years of therapy, but not yet in the area of self-care.  In very basic terms dyspraxia (problems with) or apraxia (unable to) refer to sequencing the steps to perform a skill.

This is enlightening and indicates other areas need to be explored.  When evaluating a student, all methods of gathering information should be used.  Standardized and non-standardized testing is important but so is the interview of the student and the teacher and authentic assessments, such as a rubric, to provide a balanced assessment of the student’s abilities.

A school-based assessment includes a reason for the referral [the problems that the student is having in the classroom], and his or her motivation for educational activities.  In my opinion, motivation can be broken down in to at least two components:  skill and desire.  If a student has limited or no skill in a particular area, there will be no desire to engage in the activity.

Motivation becomes a particularly important factor in the middle and high school years.  In order to encourage participation in therapy, students need to participate in and feel part of the evaluation process.  For one reason or another, a student may become disillusioned with therapy.  Comments may be made by peers, making the student uncomfortable with being pulled out of class.  Pushing into the class may not be an option either and may further target the student for comments and potential bullying.  At this point, if the student is so resistant to the therapeutic environment, consults may be the only option other than discharge.


Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, E. (2013). Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy. Huntington Station: Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L.

Posted in Assistive Technology, Eleanor Cawley, M.S., OTR/L, New Beginings, Occupational Therapy

When Is It The Time To Recommend Assistive Technology For Note-Taking?

I must state, before anyone reads this, that I am a HUGE fan of using assistive technology.

I recently read a comment about a piece of technology not being “cool.”  I realize that there are students who will never feel “cool” when using assistive technology.   I also feel that students must be taught touch typing and the basics of functional programing before being asked to take notes using assistive technology.  It always boggles my mind when some recommends a piece of assistive technology, such as an Alpha Smart, without ever considering if it will really work for the student.  Many students consider an Alpha Smart to be ‘uncool’ for the following reasons:

  1. Looking different from peers
  2. Not knowing how to use the device
  3. Still not being able to keep up
  4. Fumbling with the technology in front of others

In my humble opinion, students need time to learn how to use such a piece of equipment or a program.  One of the reasons that a student might need the technology is due to an inability to handwrite legibly.  Another might be difficulty organizing thoughts and motor movements.   Assistive technology needs to be worked on privately with the student or in a very small group with other students using similar technology.  Every aspect of using that device and the skill that it is supposed to support needs to be worked on prior to giving this device/technology to the student to use in the real world.  For example, when providing an alternative keyboard to a student to use to take notes the following needs to be explored:

  1. Can the student take notes without the device even though his or her handwriting may be illegible to others?
  2. Does the student know the verbal cues that would trigger him or her to start taking notes?
  3. Is the student capable of taking dictation either written or using a keyboard?
  4. Can the student use those verbal cues to format notes?  If a student hears the terms “Pros and Cons” or the word “conversely” does the student know that this may be a great time to use a T-Chart style of notes?
  5. Can the student attend to the instructor long enough to follow the lecture?
  6. Is the student familiar enough with the keyboard to type at least 30 words per minute over the length of the class for note taking?
  7. Can the student use punctuation to help the notes make sense with any degree of success?
  8. Is the student comfortable enough with keyboarding in a room full of other students, who are not using a keyboard, to be successful?

Obviously, I could ramble on and on.  We need to think, “When is an alternative device or program better than the low-tech copy of notes provided to the student?  The technology that we supply is only as good as the support that we give to the student.  If we jump to provide assistive technology to a student without looking at the student’s overall ability to succeed without the device, then are we sabotaging the student to dump the device or program and throw in the towel?

I feel that note-taking should be a skill taught in every school, to every student.   A task analysis of note-taking skills needs to be completed and the student assessed using that analysis before providing a device.  The organization of the page should come before the thought of using an assistive technology device or program.  The language that we use in the classroom should trigger a particular format of notes.

There is so much learning that needs to be done by each and every student.  Students are getting frustrated and need to have a place, a structure to go back to.  At that point, once the structure has been taught and reinforced and the student is not yet successful, then and only then should a device or program be considered for taking notes.

I know that every teacher that I come in contact with is working day and night to help all the students learn everything they need to.  I know that many provide notes, study guides and review materials to students, hoping that somewhere, sometime, something will work at some point.  I think that those of us working with students need the structure, the organizational hierarchy, to assess a student’s abilities just like our students need to learn.