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How to Identify “Shut-down” learners: What parents need to know

 Struggles in school?  See the following article from the Greatschools website, about kids who are struggling at school 

 The article notes that “Shut-down learners are children who become academically discouraged and disconnected from school over time”.  The early warning signs range from academic issues, such as “dislike of reading” or “hatred of writing” to more behavioral and emotional manifestations such as “increasing anger toward school” or “a sense that the child is increasingly disconnected, discouraged, and unmotivated”.

 Seven points are noted for parents to help prevent shut-down learners:

1.       Trust your gut

2.      Know what you are targeting

3.      Take the heat out of the interaction

4.      Turn down the [emotional] temperature

5.      Find someone to connect with and mentor your child in school

6.      Maintain a sense of equilibrium

7.      Support your child

Is your child showing any signs of shutting down?  Trust your gut!   Then, get support for you and your child.  The first step might be a consultation with an educational services provider like ILD:

At ILD, here’s what you might expect at an initial consultation: You will meet with a psychologist, educational specialist, or language specialist to review their child’s educational background and developmental history, and to find out the main concerns.  This consultation is the first step to understanding their child’s unique situation and is the beginning of a relationship with the whole family.  You’ll be asked to complete a questionnaire to bring to the meeting, along with other relevant information, such as report cards and samples of student work.  Your concerns will be heard, specific questions will be addressed, and suggestions will be made for next steps.

Outside support, in collaboration with your child’s team at school, can also help you through the process of understanding your child’s needs and targeted strategies to help your child succeed.   A full service provider includes psychologists, as well as reading & math specialists, speech-language therapists, learning disability specialists, and executive function coaches.

Check out ILD’s full range of services, including comprehensive neuro-psychological assessments, remedial instruction, strategy instruction (educational therapy), executive function coaching, and counseling:



Help for parents to avoid the back-to-school slump after winter vacation!     

In this New York Times Parent-Teacher Conference blog, Jessica Lahey  noted 7 tips to help parents deal with the “January humdrum”:

 1.       Reassess rules

2.       Talk about work space and study habits. 

3.       Check in on long-term projects. 

4.       Make reading a part of your daily life. 

5.       Set new goals. 

6.       Get outside. 

7.      Give in to the season. 

 As you read Jessica’s tips, keep in mind some of the key executive function skills needed to succeed at school and in life such as Goal setting, Thinking flexibly, Organizing, Memorizing, Self-correcting.  Each of these helpful tips reminds us of the importance of executive function skills in school and at home.  For each of Jessica’s tips, there is an executive function connection.   Executive function processes are a part of every goal-oriented behavior in school and out of school! 

 ·         Following  rules requires working memory and  self-monitoring. 

·         Cleaning up a work space requires children to break down big tasks into smaller ones, and organizing materials or time.

·         Studying and completing long-term projects involves planning and time management.  

·         Reading is a complex process which includes decoding, as well as remembering, organizing and synthesizing.    

·         Setting reasonable goals requires self-reflection, thinking into the future, planning how to achieve those goals in small steps, and self-monitoring.

·         Lastly, the need to get outside and give in to the season is so important for all kids, but especially those who struggle with attention, learning and executive function difficulties.  Physical movement and time spent with activities they enjoy are crucial. Children with learning differences work harder than others to self-regulate and cope with changing schedules throughout the year! 


If your kids are struggling to get back to school after the holiday, they may need extra help.  Check out ILD’s full range of services, including executive function coaching, educational therapy, and neuro-psychological assessments:


How does my Executive Function function…

…in different situations?

(Part 1)

donna_kincaid-133x200By Donna Kincaid, M. Ed., Educational Specialist, Coordinator of Professional Development

Last year, we were lucky enough to have Dr. Tom Brown, PhD join us at ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference. Dr. Brown is a clinical psychologist, an assistant clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine and the director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders. His words have stuck in my head since then. I related to Dr. Brown’s points in his talk on the role of Motivation and Emotions in Executive Function.  He reminded me that EF difficulties are “situationally specific”.  Individuals can have great executive functioning in some settings but perhaps not in others.  This shows how important it is to look at the conditions under which one is working.  Our students here at ILD are courageous in the way they confront their learning differences and develop strategies so they can reach their potential. But, the relationships they cultivate are also a crucial part of the process; we are here to help them build self-esteem and realize their goals. Often, they succeed within the therapeutic environment of our office. His talk reminded me that we must continue to ensure that the strategies they learn here are flexible, so that their successes can extend beyond the walls of ILD

One piece of that extension, about which I’m quite proud and upon which we’ve worked very hard for the last few years, is the creation of our SMARTS curriculum. SMARTS allows students everywhere access to many of the strategies we teach right here at ILD. It is the natural extension of our many years of clinical work and expertise. We hope that with its launch last year, and our continued workshops with teachers and educators throughout the country, we will be encouraging the creation of strategic classrooms that allow for and encourage those flexible approaches to learning. This is one small way for us to cultivate safe, therapeutic environments that extend beyond our walls.

ILD Student Named Read Naturally’s Star!

Now that the end of the school year is in sight, it seems especially appropriate to highlight one of our ILD Students, Katie, who was recently chosen as Read Naturally’s Star Student. Her Educational Therapist, Wendy Stacey nominated her because, through their work together, Katie jumped nearly three reading levels. Here is what Wendy had to say:

Wendy_smTwo years ago, I evaluated Katie and determined that her reading skills were below grade level. As a result, she qualified for an IEP and began receiving reading support twice a week in school. I also tutored Katie once a week outside of school at our Institute. I chose to use Read Naturally because Katie needed reading fluency practice, which she wasn’t getting in school, and I knew she would be motivated by charting her progress. 

She has continued to amaze me with her progress over a relativelKatie S(1)y short period of time. She started with Level 0.8 and is now on Level 3.5! Not only has the program helped improved her reading skills, she is also writing 5-sentence summaries with ease. Now, she also no longer qualifies for an IEP!  I am really proud of Katie’s drive to improve and willingness to stretch herself with more difficult passages. She is quite a super star!

We are thrilled for both Wendy and Katie that all their hard work during Ed Therapy sessions at ILD was so fruitful. We are continually inspired by the immense progress that both hard work and the therapeutic relationship here at ILD can produce.

Check out the original Read Naturally post here!

The Dreaded F

How can I support my child through a failed test?

MichaelBy Michael Greschler, M.Ed.,

Educational Therapist, ILD and Director of SMARTS, ResearchILD 

While there is no way to take away the sting of watching your child suffer from poor grades and dashed hopes, there are ways you can help you child cope with failure in a constructive and resilient way. This list provides tips on how to respond that will be productive and help your children develop resilience, rather than fear.

“I can see you’re feeling frustrated about your report card this term”

  1. Acknowledge negative emotions–It does not feel good to fail at something. Acknowledge that negative emotion in whatever form it takes (sorrow, anger, hopelessness). Maybe relate a time when you failed at something and how that made you feel.

“What can we learn from this?”

  1. Turn failure into an opportunity to learn life lessons— Failure is important. When we fail, we have the opportunity to learn what we can do differently to be more successful. This is key tenet of Carol Dweck’s Mindsets, and this philosophy has been reiterated by countless famous scientists, celebrities, politicians etc. While step one is acknowledging the hurt that was caused by the failure, step two is encouraging your child to see their poor grade as a learning opportunity. A poor grade is not a ‘good’ thing, but it is an ‘interesting’ thing. You can relate this to the story you told your child about failures you have faced, or you can think of an example pertinent to your child’s interests (sports, music, etc.)

“Let’s look at the items you got right and those you got wrong.”

  1. Try to understand what went wrong— Do a simple analysis. What did the student do well? Where did the student miss points? You can create a checklist and tally up repeated errors. This is much easier if your child has to do test corrections, hopefully for credit, but it is worthwhile regardless. FullSizeRenderAt ILD we call this strategy the Top-3-Hits. We make a list of the 3 most common errors a student makes. We then ask students to memorize this list using an acronym or a crazy phrase (e.g. if a student makes errors on fractions, absolute values and negative numbers, they could use the acronym F.A.N. or a crazy phrase like Fabulous, Awesome Neptune. (For more on the Top-3-Hits, check out Chapter 11 of Executive Function in Education or check out SMARTS Online, an Executive Function curriculum developed by ResearchILD).

“How would you change your approach next time?”

  1. Help your child understand how to use that knowledge to make changes for the future— Now that you’ve had a chance to look for common errors, it’s time to come up with a plan for how to address them proactively. What can your child do differently on the next test? On a math test, they might need to spend an extra minute double checking to ensure that when they multiplied two negatives they ended with a positive. On a science test, they might need to be extra careful when they see a problem with a diagram. If they can identify the challenging areas beforehand, they have a much better chance of succeeding next time. At ILD, we encourage them to take the mnemonic they created to help them remember their Top-3-Hits and to write it on the top of every test before they begin. This will help them stay aware of their common errors throughout the course of the test.

No one enjoys failing, and we need to acknowledge that, but failure is not fatal. It is a call to be courageous and to learn more about ourselves. Help your child face this challenge, and they will learn a lesson that will not only assist them on their next test, but in all the tests that life sends their way.

Podcasts in the Classroom

lead_960-225x150Encouraging Students to Read More…

By Elizabeth Ross

(The following blog post is a re-post from an April 14th post on the SMARTS Online Blog and our dear friend Elizabeth Ross. Check it out for more great articles!)

For years, we’ve known that listening to audiobooks can be a great alternate learning method for students who struggle with reading, whether they have been diagnosed with dyslexia or not. Recently, The Atlantic posted an article by writer and English teacher Michael Godsey on The Value of Using Podcasts in Class that explores this topic more fully. Godsey looks at how using audiobooks or podcasts in the classroom can help inspire a love of literature in students who, because of their reading level, often find reading to be an arduous and stressful task.

Research has shown that many students actually learn most effectively when listening to an audiobook or podcast while reading along with a transcript. Furthermore, Godsey noted that his students found podcasts more engaging than books because podcasts usually have a variety of speakers who speak directly to the listener, making the material seem more immediate.

I asked each of my own students to write down what they’d honestly like to do for the rest of the semester: read a good book together, listen to another podcast, or listen to a podcast with the words on the screen. Sixty-two voted for the latter, while just two voted for podcasts alone, and one for reading alone.

The reasons were as varied as they were compelling. Many of them said that reading along with the audio helped with their focus and kept them from “spacing out” while listening. Others, paradoxically, wrote that they were able to multi-task—they could take notes or write on their worksheets and could keep up with the story even with their eyes off the screen. Some explicitly recognized that they could look back and re-read something they didn’t understand when they first heard it; others said they read slightly ahead and then could write down a quote while they listened to it. A student with eyesight problems said he appreciates the ability to take reading breaks without stopping his enjoyment of the story. A few students learning English as a second language wrote that they like how they can read the words and—as one student put it—promptly “hear how they’re supposed to sound.”

Godsey points out that the benefits of listening and reading at the same time are not confined to audiobooks and podcasts:

A similar situation in India was observed on a much larger scale when—starting in 1999—certain networks started supplementing some of their television shows with “Same Language Subtitling” (SLS), and the country’s literacy rates soared. The Boston Globe reported on the phenomenon in 2010, claiming that “in the last nine years, functional literacy in areas with SLS access has more than doubled. And the subtitles have acted as a catalyst to quadruple the rate at which completely illiterate adults become proficient readers.”

Drawing conclusions that sounded very similar to my own students’ reflections, the SLS study found that “one’s ability to anticipate the lyrics,” combined with immediate validation through the audio, cultivated “a steady stream of successful reading events”—presumably scenarios in which students read with accuracy and enjoyment. In this way, the SLS contributed to “a nonthreatening reading environment in which to embark upon, confirm, practice, and enjoy one’s developing reading skills.”

Listening while reading helps students experience several successful and engaging reading events in a row, which increases confidence and makes reading a positive experience that students want to repeat.
Have any of you had experience using podcasts or audiobooks in your classrooms or at home? What works and what doesn’t? Let us know in the comments!

The Lifecycle of a Test

Using EF Strategies to Beat the Odds

ElanaThe following blog post was written by Elana Snow Ed.M. for the SMARTS Online blog and posted (in a slightly varied form) on March 1, 2016.

Mark, a student facing a very common problem, comes home to his parents brandishing a red “C” on the top of his test, feeling devastated, frustrated, and hopeless. He tells his parents that he always studies really hard. Yet, again and again, he has little to show for it. Each time he thinks he’ll do well, but when he struggles to get the A or the B, he is shocked.

Mark is like many of the students we see at ILD and ResearchILD. When asking these students what ‘studying hard’ means to them, they may answer: “Well, I went through the review packet my teacher gave me. It took me a really long time.” But what these students do not understand, because it is rarely taught in school,  is that simply filling out a packet or reviewing class notes is just the first step. By itself, a review of the material on the test is not an explicit study strategy.

Luckily, we have developed some concrete strategies that can truly help students move past the passive “study strategies” with which they have become comfortable. Since test preparation and test-taking have become such challenges for so many students, we have made them the topic of our presentation at this year’s 31st annual Learning Differences Conference. On Friday, March, 11, Michael Greschler, Ed.M, Wendy Stacey, M.S. and I will be reviewing the life-cycle of a test and addressing some explicit strategies students can use to help them maximize their studying efficiency and recall throughout the process. Specifically, we will help attendees learn to teach their students to:

  • Plan: If it’s a big test, waiting until the night before is not a good strategy. How can teachers/parents help their students to look ahead and create a reasonable study plan that breaks up the studying across multiple days?
  • Prioritize: Students waste a lot of time studying the information they
    Tool: Students can create a tool with various images or memory strategies, like the Triple-Note-Tote, to help them with information recall.
    Create a Study Tool: Students can create a tool with various images or memory strategies, like the Triple-Note-Tote, to help them with information recall.

    already know. How can teachers/parents help their students determine which information is the most important to focus on?

  • Create a study tool: Creating their OWN study guide with priority information and remembering strategies will enable students to truly recall the information they study. What are some proven study tools that can aid in this step of the process?
  • Quiz themselves: This is a tried and true part of the process. What are some ways students can effectively quiz themselves?
  • Analyze previous errors in order to prevent similar mistakes in the future: Looking for patterns of errors in previous tests can help students avoid those same errors again. What are some strategies for analyzing and recording errors so that students can effectively remember and avoid them?

Looking to find answers to these questions? Join us for the presentation! ResearchILD’s Learning Differences Conference is held yearly at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and it is a fantastic way for teachers, administrators and parents to learn both about the science behind and concrete approaches to helping children with learning differences. If you’re interested in attending or learning more, check out our conference website *Mark’s name has been changed. But if you have a child or a student, like Mark, who feels endlessly frustrated with fruitless studying strategies, consider coming to our session!

Behavioral Challenges Causing Conflict and Frustration at Home?

Think:Kids, says Dr. Elizabeth Pierce, Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. Elizabeth Pierce by John Kramer

ILD’s status in the Learning Differences community means many opportunities for partnership and collaboration. Connecting with other passionate practitioners and educators who are trying unique, innovative approaches to help students who are struggling to find success makes us better at what we do. While the kids we usually work with have difficulty succeeding in school because of executive function, attention and learning difficulties, many kids struggle because of emotional or behavioral challenges. In collaborating with practitioners who specialize in these arenas we are often heartened and humbled by the overlap in approach. Unsurprisingly, the most successful approaches put the child at the center, a notion which has been our goal for over 30 years.

One such practitioner is Elizabeth Pierce, Ph.D.  Dr. Pierce has had over 25 years of experience practicing the Collaborative Problem Solving approach, and is certified as a practitioner and trainer in CPS by the Think:Kids program at Massachusetts General Hospital. According to the MGH website, Think:Kids “ teaches a revolutionary, evidence-based approach called Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) for helping children with behavioral challenges. Through training, support and clinical services, [it] promote[s] the understanding that challenging kids lack the skill, not the will, to behave well …Unlike traditional models of discipline, the CPS approach avoids the use of power, control and motivational procedures and instead focuses on building helping relationships and teaching at-risk kids the skills they need to succeed.”

Since becoming a Certified Trainer, Dr. Pierce has organized groups for parents hoping to learn this method. She utilizes the Think:Kids 8-session curriculum. This curriculum is unique in helping parents to understand the lagging cognitive skills behind their children’s challenging behavior, and in giving parents a practical, structured, 3-step approach to solve very specific problems in the home.  It is also distinctive in its respect for both child and parent concerns, allowing parents to effectively communicate their values and point of view to their children.  It avoids the pitfalls and negative side effects that can sometimes occur with standard behavior modification approaches (behavior charts, time out etc.) The group is rich with information, including a slide presentation each week, videos demonstrating the approach, and handouts.   There are opportunities for role-plays, review of homework assignments to facilitate learning, and discussion amongst group members.

According to Dr. Pierce, parents who have gone through the group report that they felt accepted and comfortable, free to raise their struggles with parenting without feeling judged.  They also expressed that their learning of CPS challenged, in a positive way, their usual ways of thinking about discipline and about how to help their kids.  They experienced improved interactions with their kids, and saw positive changes in their children over time.  They unanimously appreciated the exchange with other parents, including hearing the ups and downs of trying the steps of CPS.

Dr. Pierce will be running a CPS/Think:Kids Parent Group at our ILD offices for 8 Thursdays in a row starting April 28th, 2016 at 7 pm. If your family is struggling because of your child’s behavioral challenges and you are looking for a child-centered solution, we believe you really cannot do better than this. For more information or to register, click here.


Feeling those College Blues?

Get back on track with Semester Off!

Dr. Ilan Goldberg of Semester Off

Last year, ILD began a partnership with Dr. Ilan Goldberg of Semester Off, a comprehensive program designed specifically for struggling college students.  Semester Off aims to empower students to return to college, if they so choose, or to define another, alternative path that is more in line with their talents, future goals, and objectives.

Given the vast overlap between the goals of Semester Off and ILD, a number of our staff members have begun teaching a weekly course, How to Succeed in College, at Semester Off.

Sitting down with Dr. Goldberg, we learned a bit more about why he started this innovative program and the void in post-secondary education which this organization fills.

What inspired you to start Semester Off?

IG: The idea for Semester Off emerged organically from sessions with struggling college-aged students in my private practice. It became clear that these students lacked the resources to navigate through this challenging time and that time away from school was filled with loneliness and stagnation. I believed that the creation of an academically rigorous and comprehensive group experience would teach the skills needed to succeed, while reducing the feelings of shame and isolation many of these students experience. I also wanted to destigmatize the experience of taking time away from college and bring fun and joy into these students’ lives during an otherwise dark period. Our goal at Semester Off became to help students taking a break from college to get back on track and regain self-confidence. 

What distinguishes Semester Off from a “semester on?”

IG: Semester Off students are taking a critical look at why college didn’t work out and learning the skills they need for the next phase of their lives. While we do have lectures, they are interactive ones. But Semester Off offers incredible depth beyond the classroom experience. Students integrate wisdom from Eastern philosophies by participating in meditation and yoga sessions in addition to cardiovascular exercise. They take part in group team-building, group study sessions, and trust-building exercises in order to understand themselves more deeply and bond with their fellow students. They receive individualized career counseling and perform community service. It is our alternative approach to education that makes room for a partnership with ILD as well! Your talented and experienced educators who teach How to Succeed in College present critical executive functioning skills that are reinforced and practiced in countless ways throughout the rest of the Semester Off curriculum. 

What are students saying about Semester Off?

IG: Our students and their parents have been our most vociferous supporters since we began. A former student recently shared what his Semester Off experience meant to him, simply and elegantly:

“Semester Off resembles the training ground for life, and by the end of the program, students should feel capable of making their own decisions and acting upon them.”

Stay tuned for Part II of this blog post, written by an ILD teacher of the How to Succeed in College course!

Ed Therapy at ILD

Why it’s worth it…

Every once in a while we receive a reminder about why we do what we do. Recently we received one such reminder in the form of an email from a thankful parent. What a nice way to celebrate the new year! It seemed an important one to share with our readership, especially that’s partially to whom it is addressed:

To the Staff at ILD – and all potential parent clients:

I am a parent who used the services at ILD in Lexington. 

We have seen more tutors, therapists, educational consultants and neuropsychologists than a family should have in a lifetime – and it was when and ONLY when we went to ILD in Lexington that my son began to make some progress. Not only did he make progress at a very difficult time for anyone (college application pressures, essays, nightmares and college deadlines) – he enjoyed going there and felt totally supported by his tutor, Donna Kincaid.

Never have I seen someone as effective, as patient, as professional, AND as warm and intuitive as she.  The entire organization is run so professionally – yet has the delicacy and warmth of walking into someone’s home. 

ALL the staff were engaged in my son’s progress – and it was obvious that a lot of communication and collaboration occurs behind the scenes between staff to find ways to support your child.  When I came in, it seemed that the entire staff I engaged with were aware and supportive of my son’s progress AND strengths. 

It’s pretty hard when a student is very resistant to help, to find the place of engagement and recognition of that student’s strengths. Staff are only human after all.  I always left feeling so hopeful and so supported. I was incredibly thankful every single time we left – AND even the few times my son just couldn’t make it in.  They were hopeful and had the kind of optimism we all need as parents.

I recommend this organization stronger than I have ever recommended anyone who has helped my son; when a parent finds this treasure, you can’t help but want to spread the word.   Your kids, not even knowing who they are, I’m convinced, would be met with an engaging, professional staff – and most importantly the warm support they thrive on.

Robin, Parent in Lexington MA.

To all of our parents (and potential parents): emails such as this remind us that our work is so critical, not only for the students who benefit from increased self-confidence and strategy use, but also for the families who have suffered alongside them. We are happy to have the opportunity to  make an impact on your lives. You and your children have certainly made a difference in ours!