Tools Your Fellow Clinicians Use to Build Thinking Skills

This past spring I had the opportunity to conduct six continuing education sessions for PESI, a non-profit organization at the forefront of continuing education for psychologists, clinical social workers, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, and mental health counselors. I presented “Innovative Strategies to Improve Executive Functions in Children and Adolescents” to a variety of thoughtful and engaged professionals who work with kids. Group work was conducted, in which I asked these professionals to describe the most effective traditional tools that they use to improve the executive functions of the children with whom they work, and hundreds of useful recommendations were given.

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I have divided these recs into general categories that you might use to guide your own work. I would encourage you to look at this list as if it were the results of a survey of fellow clinicians. I am not offering detailed descriptions of many of these strategies, but I am including links to relevant blog posts and app reviews here on the LearningWorks for Kids website. You will see that there is overlap, that a few tech tools are suggested, and that some very common strategies are not listed. Strategies that are not included may not have been helpful to this particular group of clinicians, or they may have been considered so elementary as to not warrant discussion.

Traditional Tools Clinicians Use to Build Thinking Skills

what clinicians use to help kids with executive functions

Image: Flickr user Stephen Depolo

Academic and Focusing Skills

  • Extra copies of textbooks at home
  • Provide skeleton notes of what was learned in class that day
  • Photocopy peer notes
  • Student packs his/her own backpack and puts it by teacher’s desk for teacher (or an assigned classroom buddy) to look through
  • Alternate preferred or non-preferred activities
  • Assistance from others
    • Delegate
    • Daily Helper
  • Pair up to repeat what was said
    • Eye contact
    • Listening
    • Understanding

Communication Strategies

  • Online classroom tools
  • Phone
    • Group text messages and alerts
  • Interactive lessons
  • Communicate with parents
    • Daily goals and tasks sheet
  • Communicating with instructor
    • Advocacy skills – asking and telling instructor when in need of help or for clarification

Following Directions

Memory and Attention Strategies

Metacognitive Strategies

  • Journal or diary for daily reflection
  • Long-term planning and thoughtful planning
  • One step directions
  • Self talk
  • Verbal rehearsal

Organizational Skills

  • Desk organization
    • File folders and labels etc.
    • Sticky notes
    • Don’t throw away any class handouts or other assignments
    • Graphic organizer
    • Buddy system/use a friend to mimic organizational skills
  • Monthly calendar/visual schedule
  • Long-term projects
  • Can’t find stuff
    • Home offices (folders at home)
    • Color coded folders
    • One place for doing homework
    • One extra set of material from home
    • Locker organization
  •  Disorganized
    • Cleaning out desk
    • File cabinet for documents
    • Matching book covers and folders for subject material
    • Different colored subject folders
    • Velcro list of daily tasks separated into two columns labeled “To Do” and “Completed”
    • Accordion folder organizer
    • Binders
    • Time at end of class to get things together and organize
    • Time units break up the day into slots of time for designated activities and leave gap between from organizational as well as transitional time
  • Online resources
    • Evernote or other note taking apps, take a picture of your handwritten notes and digitally organize them into an electronic file cabinet
    • Tech schedule

Planning Strategies

  • Long-term projects
    • One-on-one meetings with teacher to go over assignment details and deadlines to better understand work
    • Calendar mapping
  • Following directions
    • Daily task sheet broken down into time periods

Self- Control Skills

  • Periodic breaks
  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Breathing
  • Snack time
  • Recess
  • Stress Tracker or other mood tracker app

Tech Skills

  • Long Term Projects
  • Transitions
  • Learning computer Skills
    • Creating folders
    • Electronic organization
  • Text friend to get assignment
  • Parents micromanage

Time Management Skills

  • Transitions
    • Daily task sheet
    • Phone timer
    • Transition preparation
    • Time limits on technology
    • One minute warning
    • Picture symbols
    • Song for ending activity
    • Visual timer
  • Take a long time completing class work
    • Work in small groups of two or three
  • Review of daily schedule
  • Rewards for accomplishments
  • Supervision of time on technology

Featured image: Flickr user woodleywonderworks

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