Author stalking continues. . .
While dabbling in Together Student research and resources here, here and here, I recently read the book Smart but Scattered. I was immediately intrigued by the executive functioning approaches discussed by Peg Dawson and her co-author, Richard Guare.
So, what did I do? Visited Peg’s website, dug up her email, and wrote her a note! ‘Natch!
In addition to sharing the juicy tips below for teachers and parents, Peg and her publisher also agreed to share two copies of her book! Keep reading to find out how to be one of the lucky recipients!
Maia: What led you to write Smart but Scattered?
Peg: I came at it out of my doctorate in school psychology and working in schools and clinics specializing in attention disorders in kids. The APA diagnoses ADHD but doesn’t begin to describe the problems my students were having. My colleague and co-author studied neuropsychology, and we both noticed how executive skills clustered together. We wanted to understand more about how kids can develop these skills and how they impact school performance.
Maia: Tell me what you mean by “executive skills.” People toss that term around all the time. Where would a teacher see this play out in the classroom?
Peg: Executive skills are the skills required to execute tasks. Chances are that anything that disrupts a child’s ability to execute a task, such as starting and not finishing, being slow to get started, being distracted, losing and forgetting things, or not being able to multi-task, are related to executive functioning. There are also more “disruptive” behaviors, such as getting upset when out of a routine, interrupting, or acting without thinking. In high school, we notice problems with seeing the big picture, recognizing that choices have long-term implications, and so on. An amazing federal report recently came out that explains executive skills fully:
Kids are born with hardwiring in the brain to develop these skills, but the only way they can become proficient with them is through lots and lots of practice.
Maia: Many teachers want to help their students to better plan their assignments. Chapter 16 of your book discusses using roadmaps to complete tasks. You give a powerful example of a middle-schooler named Max who works with his mother to create such a plan. How can a teacher do something similar?
Peg: In the past few years, we have worked with teachers to identify when they EXPECT kids to demonstrate some of these skills. What’s surprised me is how late in the process teachers expect children to plan—at least to plan the kinds of long term projects kids typically get assigned in school. In the early stages of acquiring this skill, it’s the rare kid who can plan independently, and it is unrealistic to ask them to do so without teaching them how to first. The good news is that great teachers recognize this, and do the planning for kids. For example, they break assignments down into subtasks and deadlines. The downside is when teachers miss an opportunity to teach planning skills – especially when they have a strong sense of urgency to move through content. What we really need is to give kids a template to scaffold the process. Even better is when whole schools get on board and every teacher is using the same process for keeping track of homework. By middle school, no kid wants to listen to their parents tell them how to get organized!
Maia: Where do teachers go wrong on this topic?
Peg: For the longest time, the biggest problem was that teachers expected kids to have these skills before they are actually old enough developmentally to learn and use them. Executive functioning skills take 25 years to mature! Middle school is the biggest juncture between teacher expectation and kid skill. Teachers need to take time to teach and practice these skills over and over.
Peg, thank you so much for stopping by the blog!
Readers, would you like your own copy of Smart but Scattered? In the comments section below, please share 1-2 ways you’ve helped your students learn and practice executive functioning skills. Be sure to include your first name & last initial, grade level and/or subject area, and the email address where we can reach you if you win! We will select two winners using our random number generator on Friday, February 10th.
Contest fine print: US addresses only. If winners don’t respond within 48 hours, another winner will be selected.