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


Using Microsoft OneNote for Homework Assignments for Students with Special Needs


As you may or may not know by now, I love using Microsoft OneNote with all my students.  There is an iPad app for OneNote  as well as computer applications.  As of this date, the app is free.  Since there is an iPad app, iPads do not need to be sent home with students.  Parents can access the app for their own iPad.  With the Notebook stored on Windows Live, the parent, the student and the teacher can access the notebook.  OneNote comes with any Microsoft Office Suite.  It is more cost effective to buy the suite than just OneNote alone as you then have access to other programs.  If you click on the image, you can enlarge it to see all the notes that I have written.  If this assignment is going to a number of students, you can e-mail the page so that it can be opened in each student’s notebook.  This is my notetaking program of choice for all my students.

Posted in Occupational Therapy

To all the Lefties Out There! Yes, Our President is a Lefty!

Check out the President's position.  His paper is set up for a right-handed writer.
Check out the President’s position. His paper is set up for a right-handed writer.


Recently we celebrated Left-Handers Day.  There were a number of articles written about those who write with their left hand.  Some articles talked about the psychological differences between lefties and righties.  Other articles discussed the statistics of lefties vs. righties. BUT what about the functional aspects of handwriting for lefties?  This is really a world made for righties!  Just look at notebooks and binders.  The rings of a binder and the spiral of a notebook are all on the left side of the book.  The left handed writer must learn to navigate around and through these obstacles.  Do you see how this young woman is attempting to write in a binder awkwardly navigating her hand through the rings of the binder?

Lefty with binder

There are a few ways to solve this problem without having to torture your students:

  • Flip the binder around so that the rings are on the right side (upside down to a righty).  You will be writing on the backside of the righty page (front side for a lefty).
  • OR Take a page or two out of the binder to write on then replace them when you are done.  Some times it helps the quality of the handwriting by having a page or two under the one that you are writing on.
  • OR Use a loose-leaf pad for notes and (easier to carry than a binder) then place the notes in the binder at the end of the day.

If you must use a notebook, you can use the following tips:

  • Start at the back of the notebook instead of the front.  Particularly if you use one of those wire spiral bound notebooks.
  • Use a notebook that has the spiral at the top instead of down the side.

Spiral on the top Notebook


Stay organized.  Keep your binder neat and tidy so that you can use it as a slant board.  A slant board will help extend that wrist a bit.  By extending that wrist, you can prevent smudges and fatigue from that lefty flexed wrist.

lefty on a slant board


Lastly, if you are a lefty, elevate the corner of that paper.  This may also help you extend that wrist a bit.

Lefty paper position


Happy Belated Left-Hander’s Day!


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.


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 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.

Posted in Assistive Technology

-Using OneNote to take Notes in Secondary Schools and College

Another of my favorite therapy areas is teaching students how to take notes.  Taking notes is not easy.  Students must be able to respond to auditory cues with a pen/pencil or a keyboard.  Some students feel the need to take down every word, while others can take down the highlights.  Since I am an occupational therapist, my job is to teach students how to respond to environmental cues with movement.  So I would like to talk about taking notes in my favorite note-taking program, OneNote.

There are a number of reasons to set up note – taking templates or forms in OneNote.  For example, this T-Chart can be used for a number of different classes and discussions within a class.  Prompts that may indicate that a T-Chart should be used are:  Compare/Contrast; Conversely; Vocabulary Words/Definitions; Pros/Cons, etc.  This note-taking template can also be used for pre-algebra/algebra or anywhere where there is a rule and a sample.  The Cornell style of note-taking also uses a asymmetrical T-Chart for cues and notes.

Simple T-Chart created from a table and saved as a template
Simple T-Chart created from a table and saved as a template

Much of the job is already done for the student.  The page is already formatted for the student.  I find that formatting is often part of the delay and disorganization in taking notes.  If you click on the date, a little calendar appears and the date can be easily changed (calendar will indicate the correct date).  The same can be done for the time. Rows can easily be added to the table by clicking on the appropriate icon in the ribbon at the top of the screen or by right-click and then click on Table.  The color of the page and print can also be changed to address any visual concerns.

The real trick is learning the verbal prompts so that the appropriate form can be identified and opened.  The great part of this system is that this is an auto-save program!  If the student closes the program before saving, the work will still be there.  Another factor to consider is keyboarding speed and accuracy.  Figure out if the student can take dictation on the keyboard accurately before recommending this method to any student.

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

Working on a New Book

I am currently working on a new book called “Mom, Do I Have to Take Notes?”  This will be a humorous look at note-taking skills for students in grades 4 through college.


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

How Important is the Content of a Referral When Evaluating for Occupational Therapy?

When conducting an evaluation, in my case either an occupational therapy or assistive technology evaluation, is the quality of the referral important?  In my opinion, absolutely!

Occupational therapy [and assistive technology] cover a huge array of skills in an infinite number of areas.  When conducting a school-based evaluation, it is prudent to know what the student’s difficulties are.  For example, if a student is unable to take notes, I would explore a variety of skills in detail [visual tracking, handwriting, orientation to sound, etc.].  I would need to know that the student is having difficulty in this area and this is an area that the school would like to address.  I would also need to know what the student thinks:  Is writing notes the problem or is something else.  Students need to provide feedback during an evaluation.  Their feedback provides insight to strengths and limitations that professionals might not see.

If I were evaluating a senior citizen, I would need to know what current and future living situations are being discussed and what the expectations of the patient and possibly the family might be.  For example, does the patient and or the family expect that this patient will cook or shop independently?  Although I would surely conduct a global assessment of this patient’s skills, I would definitely expand and focus on the skills that the patient is expected to be able to do.  In the case of cooking and shopping, my evaluation would focus on handling utensils, navigating the kitchen, energy conservation and safety, including fall prevention, both in the kitchen and out in the community, the patient’s ability to follow written and verbal directions, generating a shopping list, etc.

The referral asks the questions that the patient and his or her family need answers to.  Having a referral focuses the evaluation on the client, the student, the patient.  It shows the person being evaluated that his or her needs are important and valued.  This helps develop a rapport with the client that can support the therapeutic process so that the client has a vested interest in participating in therapy.

So, in addition to the diagnosis, the client needs to learn what an occupational therapist does and what he or she can assist with prior to the evaluation.  My next blog will cover “Just What Does and Occupational Therapist do?”