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Stephanie Pitts & Rachel Kapp: Strategies for Supporting Academics & Executive Functioning

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This week, Rachel interviews educational therapists and co-hosts of the Learn Smarter podcast, Stephanie Pitts & Rachel Kapp! Stephanie and Rachel share what educational therapy is, why executive functioning is so important, and strategies they utilize to help learners improve task initiation, time management, and motivation!

Key ideas this week include:

🔑 Educational therapists teach learners how they learn and strategies they can use to learn better and improve executive functioning.

🔑 No child is actually “lazy” – it is often about meeting learners where they are.

🔑 How to help early communicators improve both sustained attention and task initiation.


Before the Interview:

  • Rachel discusses a week with lots of client behaviors, frustration, and tantruming, often stemming from problems with communication.
  • Really look at the child in front of you every session, and always check in with teachers & parents with “how are they doing today?”
  • If things start to escalate we scale back the demands. It can be a difficult balancing act.
  • In the interview, Rachel & Stephanie talk about pushing kids out of their comfort zone because that is where learning happens, but pushing too hard and too fast is how frustration happens.
    • Can be more difficult if the client or student is new to your caseload.
  • Making expectations clear up front to help avoid behaviors – write out schedules, use token boards, create a visual representation of the end of the undesired activity.
  • Students with writing difficulties – a blank page looks daunting and a writing task may seem too vague, but when you give simple visual cues, like a graphic organizer, you can provide structure and let the learner know when they will finish.
  • Reading logs are a bit controversial, but they be used in a positive way as a method to track a student’s own progress, not just a way to force kids to read. Visual representation of your accomplishment, like a progress bar in a video game.
  • AAC in the Cloud presentation by Rachel & Chris: Tech Hacks that Support Team Collaboration, Productivity, and Efficiency June 25th at 5 pm Eastern.
    • About using apps, extensions, etc to give ourselves more time as clinicians.
    • Making our use of time more efficient with technology.
    • Lots of tools to facilitate collaboration among team members. 
  • Word wizard is a reading and spelling app Rachel has been using with her clients lately. Rachel recently reached out to the app developer because some of her clients have cortical visual impairment and need high-contrast capacity and integration with a bluetooth keyboard, Big Blu. The developer was really open to helping Rachel with her requests and he was excited to help Rachel’s clients.

Rachel Kapp and Stephanie Pitts

  • Rachel & Stephanie are educational therapists & co-hosts of Learn Smarter: The Educational Therapy Podcast.
  • What is Educational Therapy? 
    • Rachel Kapp – We work 1:1 with students with different learning needs to help them become successful independent and autonomous learners in the classroom and in life.
    • Stephanie – Teach kids to learn how to learn, and who they are as learners – and we do that with skills, strategies, and games
    • Rachel & Stephanie spend a lot of time working on executive functioning and educating parents and learners about what executive is and isn’t. 
  • Executive functioning is expected and required but not explicitly taught and discussed. 
    • Parents don’t understand how it’s the underlying root cause of academic and learning issues. Can affect reading, math, expressive language.
  • What is executive functioning?
    • Living life. Everything in life takes executive function skills.
    • Time management, planning, controlling emotion, task initiation.
    • It’s organizing planning and prioritizing.
    • Its time management and working memory. Motivation. Stress management.
    • Ability to sustain effort and process.
    • All domains of learning require executive functioning.
    • Executive function skills begins to develop when children are young.
  • People point to motivation for why a problem emerges, when it is often a task initiation issue.
    • Rachel & Stephanie believe children want to please and no child is “lazy.”
    • However, some children work twice as hard for half as much.
    • They are task avoided, but when we send the message they aren’t working hard enough.
    • Tells learners their efforts aren’t good enough.
    • By the time they enter into puberty, they can disconnect from school.
    • It’s not about lowering expectations, its meeting learners where they are.
    • One thing that comes up is when we set the bar high and learners fail, they stop wanting to continue, but if you meet learners where they are, they want to work harder.
  • What are some strategies for emerging communicators to work in task initiation, attention, etc.?
    • Isolating what we are doing and why. Spend all session working on getting started.
    • You need something highly motivating. If kids aren’t reading, you want to put up the visual and they can check it off as they go. If you know what someone is highly motivated by, you can accomplish a lot, but you need isolated goals to start.
    • Start with something motivating and transition to something less motivating. 
    • “Don’t do all the things at once.” Decide on your one goal and work on that goal. 
    • Know how to have a conversation with a learner’s family about why you are working on some things and how that will help a learner long term.
    • When we are thinking about sustaining attention, let’s not make things too hard right away. Start building instant success.
  • 5% challenge –
    • We need to be able to push learners outside of their comfort zone a little bit.
    • Ask them to write one more sentence, do one more activity, etc.
    • If you push someone, frustration can boil over, but more learning happens when you are pushed a little bit.

We want to know what you think! You can connect with us at our Facebook group Talking with Tech, on Twitter, and Instagram (@talkingwithtech)! Also, please subscribe and post a review for us on iTunes – it helps others to find us!



Hosts: Rachael Madel and Chris Bugaj

Producer: Luke Padgett

Audio Engineer: Michaela Ball

Music: “Ebb and Flow” by Fabian Measures

June 19, 2019

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