Month: October 2010


There are a number of old school concepts in education that I don’t hear much about any more that I think still apply.  “Task analysis” is one of them.

With task analysis the idea is that any end point task that you want someone to master should be broken down into sub-tasks to help the person move along a continuum toward mastery of the skill.  Teaching cognitively impaired children to brush their teeth successfully is the classic example used to illustrate task analysis.  Most of us take brushing teeth for granted, thinking it’s no big deal.  We don’t tend to consider how many sub-tasks (e.g., taking cap off the tooth paste, squeezing the tube properly, holding the tooth brush in one hand, etc.) are involved to get to the end point.. 

Recently a mom talked to me about how her son was struggling in youth football.  There were the usual explanations offered – he isn’t paying attention or trying hard enough. For this child, there were other explanations.  He was simply too confused and overwhelmed on the field.  Sports like football can be quite confusing for a lot of kids. They have trouble with the sequences and the rapid decision making.  (In fact, some time ago I worked with a Division I college football player who could have made it to the pros if he had the ability to keep the play sequences straight.)

Another example came from Zoe, the daughter of a very dear friend of mine.  Zoe, a college student on the autism spectrum, wrote a blog recently explaining how she needs to create a flow chart to help her successfully leave her room and do all that is necessary to keep the steps straight (see Zoe’s blog at “>  and to see her flow chart).  Zoe reminds us that patience and understanding are essential and that we should not take someone’s capacity to manage every day tasks for granted.

My guess would be that if we task analyzed much of what we expect our children to master (like playing football, comprehending a story, making a sandwich or getting out the door in the morning), we’d see that there were many small steps involved that we may not have considered. 

Take away point – if you see your child struggling with a task, analyze the sub-tasks.  Try and break the task down and back it up.  Practice at easier levels and then lead up to mastery of the task.

I know my wife’s still trying to do that with me in terms of learning how to make the bed properly! 

Frankly, I don’t think she’s broken it down enough.



This past weekend it was my honor to be a presenter at the two-day FRUA (Families for Russian & Ukrainian Adoption: conference, held at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  A range of speakers covered a variety of different topics of medical, social, educational and psychological importance faced by these parents and children. 

Over the two days I met many parents who talked to me about their children.   My overriding impression was that these parents were highly committed, passionate, caring and optimistic people, in spite of the fact that most were dealing with complicated learning and behavioral issues.  While some were quite pleased with the support and understanding they received from school, there was also a good deal of expressed frustration.

On the second day of the conference, I was a co-facilitator in a lively round-table discussion on learning and school issues.  Some of the major points made include:

·    Trust your gut as a parent.  If you think there is a problem, there probably is one. There is no gain in waiting to see if the child will “grow out of it.”

·    Try and check the problem out through a trusted professional who can offer perspective and support.  Often this person becomes the professional you will return to over the years as your child goes through different stages of development.

·    Consider evaluations as a “snapshot” as a moment in time.  Taking a “snapshot” at the transitions (i.e., leaving kindergarten, going into the upper elementary grades, starting middle school, high school and college) is most important.  use the assessments to ask the question how “good to go” is your child.

·    If the child is not “good to go” in a key area (e.g., written expression), ask yourself (and the professional) what can be done (if anything) to target the area of concern.  You may not want to wait for the school to act  on this, as they may not see the issue the same way or perceive the problem to be severe enough to warrant attention.

·    If the child is overwhelmed by difficult worksheets or assignments that are clearly over his/her head, inform the teacher that the child can’t handle the assignment and is in a frustration level.  No one can handle working at a frustration level.

·    Strive to work collaboratively with the teacher.  Use plain language, instead of using psychological, medical or legal jargon.  Rather than saying, “Zachary has ADHD and auditory processing deficits and his 504 Plan says that you must repeat directions to him,” try speaking more plainly.  For example you might say instead, “Zachary really has a tough time following directions.  I know he’s in fifth grade and he’s supposed to at this point, but this has always been a really tough area for him and it still is.  I would really appreciate it if you went over to him and made sure he was on board.”

Above all, stay calm!  Stay sensible!


Well, here I am listening to another parent story.

No, it’s not actually me in the picture, but it certainly feels like me at the moment. 

This picture is taken from the movie “Network,” where Howard Beale (Peter Finch) a newscaster goes on nightly rants fed up with everything around him.  Throughout the movie he repeats the phrase, “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,” which becomes his mantra.

I think I am starting to feel like Howard Beale all too often.

Today’s rant was triggered by a line in a learning disabled/dyslexic child’s report that said “Frank must learn to accept responsibility for his reading comprehension and to develop his own strategies.”

Frank is seven!  He’s a weak reader.  He’s not going to accept responsibility for his reading comprehension or develop strategies.

(I’m also fed up with the word “strategies,” but that’s another rant for another day.)

If Frank were a poor swimmer would you insist that he swim in the deep end of the pool?  Would reminding him to accept responsibility for his poor swimming skills help him along while he flounders?

The answer’s self-evident.

Yeesh.  I’m mad as hell


As part of a typical assessment battery that I conduct with young adults (16 years and older), they are asked to define certain words. One of the more curious trends that I’ve observed in recent years is the difficulty that these young adults have defining two words on the test – "remorse" and "compassion."

Almost to a person, the definitions offered miss the mark. Understanding that "remorse" has some sort of negative tone, the definition given invariably leaves out the part about personal responsibility and the feeling of shame or regret. Definitions like, "Well, remorse is like feeling bad," are typical. (There is no mention of feeling bad about something you did).

For compassion, I frequently hear that compassion involves "love," leaving out that compassion involves empathy and an understanding of another’s feelings.

For quite some time I’ve been thinking about this and even wrote a rough draft of this blog a while ago, but never followed through with it.

Well, yesterday a young man committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, seemingly the result of public humiliation.

Are we becoming a society that cannot define or understand two fundamental words, "remorse" and "compassion?"

Judging by the way I hear young people grope around in their attempt to explain these words, I think the answer may be obvious. The inability to put oneself in another’s shoes and feel compassion starts very young. So does the feeling of remorse.

Perhaps we should spend less time continually worrying about bolstering our children’s "self-esteem" (everyone’s preoccupation) or their SAT scores and more time engendering the ability to feel remorse and compassion and to understand what these words mean.

Just a thought.


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