Month: August 2016

“Task Analysis:” Going Old School (Once Again)

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.

Years ago as part  my special education course work task analysis was frequently mentioned. (OK, it was many years ago, I admit.)

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.

For example, teaching a cognitively impaired child  to brush his teeth successfully was 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 and steps are involved (e.g., taking cap off the tooth paste, squeezing the tube properly, holding the tooth brush in one hand, etc.) to get to the endpoint.

Recently a mom talked to me about how her son was struggling in youth football.  There were the usual explanations offered – he wasn’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.)

In other words, the boy needed the task broken down into more manageable steps and sequences for him to master.

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.


Adapted, “School Struggles, Richard Selznick, Ph.D.,  (2012), Sentient Publications

Reading Remediation – One Ingredient for Success



“It is essential to begin a remedial program at a level, and with specific tasks that are easy enough so that successful performance is virtually certain.” (Harris & Sipay, 1980)

That  quote was from nearly 40 years ago!

I’ve lately had to mine some old texts on reading for different information. It’s quite fun to come upon nuggets of truth like the one above that stand the test of time. Over blogs to come, I thought I would share them with you, as I would like to highlight their ongoing relevance. With all of the modern research and updates in the field, the old masters can still guide us and inform our practice.

Related to the quote above, let’s look at reading remediation. Orton-Gillingham (O-G)methods are currently quite popular. For years, I have seen them (or methods related to O-G) in action for kids struggling in reading and can testify to the positive impact that they can have in overcoming reading problems.

One essential reason that they work is that these methods start a child at a level that is “easy enough” with specific tasks so that successful performance is virtually certain.”

Good remedial programs meet kids where they are developmentally. To borrow an image, if the child’s upper body strength allows him/her to lift ten pound weights, then asking to lift 20 pound weights because that’s what most kids his/her age can do, is clearly not in the child’s interest. Doing so will lead to a sense of frustration, anguish, frustration and, ultiamtely, shutting-down.

With good remediation there is almost something magical that takes place. Not only do skills improve, but the child starts to get a personal battery charge, an infusion of motivation. In the interaction between remedial tutor/teacher/learning therapist and the child a sense of personal competence grows in the interaction.

Struggling children are always sensing that they are running up hill, while others are on a flat surface. This sense of ongoing frustration needs to be addressed.  With remedial tutoring, which is often done after school, there needs to be an emotional “buy in” for the child to have sufficient motivation and progress.  Without the “buy-in” little can take place

Takeaway Point
Using the quote above as a jumping off, if the child can lift ten pounds, start them with five. Make it easy, fun and light, especially in the initial stages of remediation.

For a free 15 Minute Consultation with Dr. Selznick,  email:

Start of the New School Year Blues

I know you’re feeling it – that little twinge that is starting to form with the end of summer and the start of the school year.

You’ve had a bit of a welcomed respite from some of the school anxiety and worries.  You know, the  stream of stuff running through Worry Brain starts ramping up.  Things like,  “Is the 504 really enough? “Is he getting what he needs?”  “How come no one from the school is calling me back?”  “We’ve got to get him organized, somehow.”  “Do I need an attorney?”  “Should I put him on a gluten free, ADD diet?”

On and on it goes.

It’s also the time of year where all kids are promising that they will put the crimes and misdemeanors of the previous year behind them and march forward into the school year ready to tackle the challenges of the new grade.  (Good luck with that.)

I know you will be seeing articles on, “Best Tips to Have a Great School Year,” or “10 Ways to Help Your Child Get Straight A’s” in all of the magazines and on-line sites, but they are of the usual vanilla variety (“Set aside a quiet space for homework.”).

So, with that in mind here are a few guidelines that you probably will not be seeing:

  1. Breathe deep a lot – calm it down – meditate.  Face it, homework makes you crazy.  This year try not to bite on the hook.  In many ways, you’re going off the rails about homework is more entertaining for your child than doing the dreadful worksheets.   Try not to give it to him.  If you find yourself losing it, do something else – wash your face in cold water, go outside and walk around the house a few times, those sorts of things.
  2. Ask yourself, “Is the work in the kid’s zone of competence?” If it is not, which is often the case with kids who have learning problems, then you need to be more, rather than less supportive during the homework hour (or four). After a while, if the homework is truly too much for your child to legitimately handle, the teacher should be informed that the work is simply too difficult.
  3.     If the answer to #2 is yes, then it’s the child’s problem.  You need to turn down the “Parent Over Investment Dial (POID).”   Repeat after me the following mantra to say to your child, “You’re a big boy (or girl).  You can manage your homework.  If you choose not to, that’s your choice, but I will have to write a note to your teacher telling her what you chose.”

Remember, this is only in the case where the work is in the child’s zone of competence.

  1. Stop Badgering.  Pecking, badgering, cajoling, nagging, yelling, generally do not work.  Focus on the mantra in #3. Remember, calm it down. If the child chooses not to do the work, don’t get caught up in it.  Put the problem where it belongs – on the child.
  2. Link “give and you get” messages. Modern kids are on a pretty nice one-way street.  It’s the, “Get and don’t give street.”  I bet you can list plenty of electronic whatevers that he/she has and takes for granted.  “I breathe and therefore I have access to an iPad,” is pretty much the kid’s view.  I’m not big on reactive punishments, but a well-delivered message linking up the child’s part in the equation may help it become more a part of a two-way street.

 Takeaway Point


Pour yourself a glass of wine, put your feet up and remember…next summer’s not all that far off.


Tales From the #Dyslexia Front: “Hey, Nerby”

The scars stay with you.

This week while explaining to a dad and his high school age daughter the difficulty that she was having reading complex words and how there might be some associated embarrassment, the dad was brought back to a painful memory from his childhood.

“Oh, yeah, I can relate to what she is going through.  When I was a kid I was asked to read out loud and when I came upon the word ‘nearby,’ I read it as ‘nerby.’  That was it.  From that day on for a long time that was my name – ‘Nerby.’   Like, ‘Hey, Nerby!’   I can remember it like it was yesterday.  There’s a lot of shame.  There’s a lot of embarrassment.”

A second example from the dyslexia front came from an extremely bright, but severely dyslexic 17 year old.  We were talking about “assistive technology” as a possible support for him.  When I started talking to him about it, I could see the look of skepticism and doubt on his face.  He wasn’t buying it.

“How come you look doubtful about trying some of these things, “ I asked.

“Look, the last thing I want,” he said to me, “is to feel even more different than I already feel.  Last year, teachers would come into the class and call me out to put me on this machine for writing or spelling – I don’t know.  Give me a break.  I don’t care that it may have helped me.  It embarrassed me.  I was singled out.”

I know there are lots of gifts and associated strengths with dyslexia, but I also know there is a lot of pain.  Some of this pain is visible, but much of it lies unseen.

For “Nerby” the pain was well below the surface, probably not spoken of to anyone.  Who knows, it may be that when the dad shared his memory with his daughter and me, that may have been the first time he told that story to anyone.

But, you can bet he replayed that day of embarrassment over and over again for many years to come.

Takeaway Point

Keep reminding yourself to walk in their shoes.




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