I’m a mom to two teenage girls. When I tell people this, some laugh knowingly, and most offer pity. It’s an interesting twist in my life; I’ve been teaching adolescents since 2007 and have helped hundreds of parents get their teens to do homework, improve their reading and study skills and more.
I now work with teens who are socially isolated or rejected by their peers. Parents ask me to intervene when their kids are being teased or bullied, or if they’re not developing or maintaining friendships. We often hope it’s a phase and that it will get better. But the science of behavior shows that negative experiences will more likely discourage teens from trying to make friends after a while. This puts their mental health at risk. So what can be done?
Here are my tips for parents of teens showing signs of peer rejection or social isolation:
1. Use positive reinforcement. For many kids, especially those with ADHD, anxiety or Autism, social situations are hard. Celebrate the attempts and successes, no matter how small. If they have a setback, address it and move on. Staying positive and recognizing hard work ensures they’ll keep trying.
2. Encourage self-awareness. Sometimes teasing is really embarrassing feedback about hygiene or something else hard to hear. Everyone has to recognize they aren’t perfect. If we know what we need to work on, we’re able to practice and develop skills in that area. Acknowledging a weakness in social situations, such as having trouble keeping a conversation going or not knowing how to play fair, is the first step in building social skills.
3. Help them find an appropriate source of friends. Your teen might be trying to fit in with a group that doesn’t accept him. You can suggest trying another group based on common interests. If they haven’t been able to make friends at school, enroll them in an extracurricular. Free activities at the library or even volunteering gives them exposure to peers who share their interests and provides practice and opportunities for developing relationships.
4. Coach them through tough situations. When teasing, bullying, rumors or gossip happen, give advice based on what other teens do. Tattling or having a parent step in can make things worse. Teach your teen to shrug it off and make it apparent to the teaser that it doesn’t bother them. Having a group of friends also protects against bullying. Of course, if bodily harm is at stake, they need to involve an adult.
5. Enroll in a social skills class. Social skills classes are available to teens with and without diagnosed disabilities and can help when a teen is experiencing trouble making or keeping friends. The PEERS® program is the only parent-assisted, research-based program that consists of 14 sessions to teach conversation skills, electronic communication, appropriate uses of humor, sportsmanship, hosting get-togethers, handling teasing and bullying and more.
Hope for Reading Challenges: A Q & A with PLS' Reading Intervention Program Director
Since our founding, Proactive Life Skills has been dedicated to enhancing the lives of those who seek our assistance. We help individuals with neuro-developmental, anxiety and impulse control disorders to promote inclusion and boost independent potential.
Our Reading Intervention Program is led by longtime special ed advocate and educator, Bobbie Rountree. Bobbie is a Jacksonville native, a Bishop Kenny grad who received her Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from Jacksonville University. Her passion for education then led her to earn a Master’s in Reading Diagnosis and Research from the University of Florida. Bobbie also has 17 years of teaching experience in both public and private schools here in Jacksonville.
When asked why she decided to become involved in a reading intervention program, she responded:
“It is my passion. I believe all children have the right to learn and to read. It is so disheartening when a child thinks or assumes they are ‘dumb’ just because they struggle with reading. A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success at school and in work.”
PLS’ Reading Intervention Program follows the original design created by Barbara Wilson whose main goal is to teach the English language step-by-step in a manner that allows students to gain complete mastery over their weakness(es). Wilson initially created this program for adults with dyslexia. However, Rountree explains that the program has since been rewritten several times, and now includes programs for early childhood through adults and also aids those with APD (Auditory processing disorder), Dysgraphia, Short-term memory deficit, Language based disabilities (the ability to understand or produce spoken language), etc.
At the PLS Therapy & Learning Center, Rountree uses the Wilson Language System which includes direct instruction, multisensory instruction, and student modeling when in small groups. While it's never too late to seek help, to achieve optimal results, it is imperative that parents enroll their child in a reading intervention program as soon as a deficit is established.
“Once they [the children] are a full year behind in grade level reading, their chances for catching up begin to decrease significantly. The longer a parent waits, the more frustrated and behind the child will become. The weaknesses need to be addressed as soon as they are identified to help a child reach success. Getting help sooner than later is key. A child’s success and confidence depends on it. It should also be remembered that most people diagnosed with a learning disability are very intelligent. There are ways to succeed with these types of diagnoses when interventions and help are obtained.”
When asked why she chose to work at Proactive Life Skills over other centers, she stated
“I like working at a center I believe in. A place where I know I am helping develop the whole child in order for them to be successful in school and later in work. I am giving them confidence to work independently.”
Giving clients the means and tools to develop themselves is paramount here at PLS. Our center and services are unique to the Jacksonville area and extremely beneficial to the community. We offer parent and teacher training and support, and interventions for children and young adults with social skills and academic weaknesses. Rountree’s hope, as well as the entire PLS team, is that families, district schools and the private sectors will take full advantage of our center.
For more information on our Reading Intervention Program, or to schedule your child for a reading assessment, click here.
Various stages of learning will have different data requirements for measuring student progress toward criteria mastery. When a student is acquiring a skill, feedback for students and teachers is imperative for preparing lessons and shaping the skill or content knowledge toward mastery. Formative assessment is critical during this stage, where teachers should gather pretest diagnostic data for analyzing individual students’ readiness to learn, preferred learning styles, appropriate methods, tasks and resources (Irving, 2007). This data gives the teacher a starting point for monitoring progress and working toward fluency, proficiency and generalization. As students begin to acquire skills, their rate of responding correctly is an indication they are fluent with material or the newly acquired ability.
More formative data is needed to assess students’ ability to use a skill fluently. Reading response rates are documented as an essential skill for academic achievement (Cates & Rhymer, 2006). An interesting study applying explicit timing as an intervention to improve reading fluency by Cates & Rhymer in 2006 revealed a measure of fluency for reading rate that can be used by teachers collecting data for this skill. The research shows improved fluency in math and writing when students are aware of being timed. By applying explicit timing to reading, teachers can take data on fluency with a built-in intervention. That is efficient!
Fore, Boon, Lawson & Martin (2007)’s discussion of curriculum-based measurement conclude that CBM is an easy way to collect data on student performance with formative monitoring of basic skills. Although using computerized assessment can be used for measuring fluency in reading, spelling, and writing, research supports its use in monitoring progress in math skills in particular (Fore et. al., 2007). Using these programs, teachers can collect data on rates like the number of digits computed correctly per minute without having to record duration data while students complete tasks.
Hess and Mehta (2013) recommend a wider range of data be used for assessing students’ proficiency than the traditional approach of using test scores. The measurement should match the problem and should therefore include items like student writing samples and program evaluation data (outcome). Using data in classrooms to determine proficiency equates to internal accountability and problem solving, which again using data for instructional decision-making. Teachers collect data each time they administer summative assessments to determine criteria or content mastery. Hess & Mehta (2013) propose teachers collect more operational and granular data for determining enrichment resource requirements, personnel decisions, program effectiveness and so forth. While measuring student proficiencies, teachers are not just collecting data to ensure students are making progress and becoming proficient, but also how to solve problems if they are not.
In the last phase of learning, teachers must probe their targets to determine if a skill is generalized across new settings or applications. Another form of data for classroom use is probe data. A teacher reviews foundational or already mastered skills with students and should routinely gather information about students’ abilities to perform. For example, in reading, when a student is given a new text, the teacher can determine if he or she can use word attack or context clues for comprehension. Fluency data can also be collected intermittently during this stage and measured against previous performance to ensure the skills in maintained and generalized.
Cates, G. L. & Rhymer, K. N. (2006). Effects of explicit timing on elementary students’ oral reading rates of word phrases. Reading Improvement, 43(3), 148-156.
Irving, K.E. (2007). Formative assessment improves student learning. NSTA Reports!, 6.
Fore, C. I., Boon, R. T., Lawson, C. S., & Martin, C. (2007). Using curriculum-based measurement for formative instructional decision-making in basic mathematics skills. Education, 128(2), 324-332.
Hess, F. M., Mehta, J. (2013). DATA: No deus ex machina. Educational Leadership, 70(5), 71-75.
Pseudoscience and cognitive terminology is gaining a strong foothold in our schools. Brain training has become a multi-million-dollar business, and companies are getting rich from inserting their products and services into schools. Of course we want to try anything and everything we can find to be able to reach and teach our kids. But there are risks involved with falling prey to these for-profit education marketers.
Per Travers (2017), educators are easy targets for brain training companies and are responsive to marketers’ savvy sales pitches. The industry is very good at disguising themselves as scientific, often reporting their own studies as evidence for an intervention. For spokespersons or clinical trials to be cited as evidence, they should be independently funded and conducted. Sadly, companies can pay university professors to endorse their products and twist impact studies to make it seem like their services or interventions (often which do have roots in a legitimately researched method) are the latest and greatest method.
This hits home for me as a mother and a teacher. I worked in marketing and PR in the 1990s before my decade in the classroom, so I know a few things about the business world. When a nationally published magazine wrote about a pseudo-science company charging $300 per student and cited its use in a Jacksonville private school, I decided to do more research. This makes it personal. Jacksonville is my hometown; I grew up, taught and sent my kids to our private schools.
Travers (2017) tells us that unproven interventions waste time and money. We might ask what the harm could really be, but any time lost to ineffective instruction is harmful. These brain training programs should be avoided due to risks associated with ineffective interventions, but also because professional and ethical obligations require maximizing potential educational benefit to students.
So what can we do to be smart as educators and parents?
We have to protect ourselves and our students from companies Beall (2012) calls predatory publishers in a new model of “medical materialism” and “neuro-economics”. We want efficient and effective interventions, and we want scientific support to back up our methods. Just remember, there is never a substitute for the hard work teachers do in the classroom engaging with students. And I’m sure you agree that the only profit involved in education should be the students’ learning gains.
Beall, J. (2012). Predatory publishers are corrupting open access. Nature, 489, 179–179.
Travers, J.C. (2017). Evaluating claims to avoid pseudoscience and unproven practices in special education. Intervention in School & Clinic, 52 (4), 195-203.
Vyse, S. (2015). Neuro-Pseudoscience: behavior & belief. Skeptical Inquirer, The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Data used to scare me. I'm not going to lie. I'm a word person, so when I entered the education field and saw a stack of standardized test results in my box, my brain exploded. Not really, but it was a bit overwhelming. The truth is, we use data all the time to inform our decisions, especially as educators. How do you assign a grade to a test? How do you decide your class has mastered criteria and are ready to build on that knowledge with new content or skills? Assessment is data-driven, and its sole purpose is to guide instruction. You don't have to be a mathematician to evaluate a performance against an established criteria or to jot down a reading fluency rate or how long it takes a student to solve math facts. If you can measure it, you should, and you probably already do. Every time you use a key to grade a unit test, you are calculating percent correct. When you have a rubric, you are using criterion-based assessment. But it's not enough to take data on students; there has to be time for analysis. And there are many best practices for valid data collection and its uses. Who has time for all that? You do! Tune into Part 2 for some practical ideas for easy ways to record, analyze and use data in the classroom.
A pilot study is something researchers do on a small scale to examine feasibility, to identify effective methods, to determine goals and to resolve problems before implementing the project on a larger scale. I am grateful to two school principals and their guidance counselor for agreeing to participate in the pilot. We are in week three, and teachers have graciously opened up their classrooms for observations and assessments of the seven students. This phase takes a while so I can record baseline data for each student and narrow in on how best to help each one individually. The data also helps to determine treatment priority for each of the middle school students in the study. The first behaviors to address might be blurting out, out of seat, off-task time and inappropriate interactions with peers. Skills deficits will also come into play, so I am researching ways to teach and support executive functioning like impulse control, focus, mental flexibility and social skills.