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

School-Based Professionals Using Microsoft OneNote

As I have always said, Microsoft OneNote far out shines its free counterpart, Evernote.  I use OneNote for all my documentation needs. In fact, I wrote about it in my book, ‘Using Rubrics to Monitor Outcomes in Occupational Therapy.’  OneNote acts as a notebook or file folder.  Each notebook can have an infinite number of tabs [sections] and pages.  The best thing is that you can carry all your files, well organized, on a thumb drive [USB Drive].  Student work samples can be scanned into OneNote and other work samples can be printed into OneNote.  I can enter a page from any program or website. For me, the best feature of OneNote, and the one that makes it so much more flexible than Evernote, is the ability to create templates that can be used in every notebook.  Templates are universal.  That saves much needed time, as I do not have to redo the template for each of my students. OneNote conserves your energy since you never have to take large files or notebooks home.


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.