We’ve made it through three quarters of the year, through all of the success and growth, and every frustration and setback. Don’t stop now—the end is in sight, but we’re not there yet.
As you and your student tackle these last few weeks, remember: your student is #1.
We always have to look out for #1: homework, grades, and performance. Help your student prioritize themselves and school in this home stretch.
What does that mean?
Review the semester: acknowledge the routines that helped your student and “revise” what didn’t work. Maybe during Academic Hour, your student listened to music while studying, but test scores weren’t as high as they could have been. Cut the music and see what happens. Have you seen a difference in grades when your student is studying in their room vs. studying at the kitchen table? Talking through these routines and figuring out what to stop, what to continue, and what to start will set your student up for a strong finish to their year. Ideally, we want to get these systems in place before the last few weeks, before we’re stressed and pressed for time.
Discipline = Freedom
Help your student understand the importance of finishing strong, and help them navigate tough conversations with friends or other influences that might pull them off task. Once the work is done, they have full freedom, but the work has to be completed in order for that to happen.
Remind your student: “In the end, you have to live with your grade and your learning.” Encourage them to realize they have the power and discipline to stand up to distractions. This discipline is a powerful move if they can pull it off, and practicing it now in a school setting will have a positive effect in the future (college, peer pressure in social situations, etc.).
If your student has work to do and they don’t feel comfortable telling their friends no, help them role play with answers:
– My mom/dad are on my case, I can’t hang out
– The teacher extended our assignment last minute, I have to finish it
– I have to focus on college applications
– My coach says I have to stay eligible
Whatever it takes to get them to take action, own their education, and take responsibility for their work: make it happen.
These goals to finish strong, whether or not they’re achieved, do not mark an “end point” for your student. A step back doesn’t mean full failure, but on the other end of the spectrum, success should be celebrated and is an opportunity to raise the bar! Take pride in your student’s progress and success… but don’t stop now. Finish strong!
When your student has executive function challenges, it’s important they communicate openly with their teachers or professors. Whether they need extra time on a test or clarification on an assignment, it’s powerful when the student reaches out to their teacher instead of the parent. This shows the teacher that your student cares about succeeding in school and taking their education into their own hands. As students graduate and enter the “real world,” strong self-advocacy skills will continue to serve them well and support them in the workplace.
In what situations should students self-advocate?
If a question/issue is recurring, or is in any way hindering learning progress in class, it is important enough for the student to advocate for themselves by bringing it up to a teacher.
Teachers don’t enjoy giving low grades. They want to help students succeed, not take away points from students who care. The most common situation we encounter is students who have incomplete or missing work who want to improve their grade. If your student has incomplete work, encourage them to reach out to their teacher to make up the points. Figure out the source of the issue (they forgot to turn it in, didn’t have enough time to finish it in class, misread the due date written on the board, were unclear on the directions) and go from there. At home, you and your student can tackle the reasoning and find some potential solutions for your student to share with the teacher. At school, the teacher can assist in implementing a fix (give extra time for assignments, create a new seating chart, clarify instructions). However, if your student doesn’t reach out to the teacher, no solutions will be found and their grades will stay low.
Sometimes your student needs to speak up about outside influences having detrimental effects on their schoolwork. Some examples of this are:
“I’m getting easily distracted by the people I sit by.”
“I can’t see/hear very well from my current seat.”
“Someone is teasing/bullying me.”
These are all important issues that the teacher can fix once they know what’s going on. Teachers can’t see or know everything that goes on in a classroom of 25-30 students, so the issues can’t be addressed if the teacher isn’t aware of them. Even if the teacher seems intimidating or your student is scared of “telling on” their friends or other students, encourage them to share their concerns with their teacher. Every single student has the right to a functional learning environment.
When’s a good time to approach a teacher?
During work time in class: If a quick question comes up for your student during class, encourage them to raise their hand and ask their teacher in the moment. There are likely other students with the same question! If your student has a more specific question or concern, the teacher is often circulating or at their desk during work time and can give individual questions one-on-one feedback at that time.
Before/after class: This can be both a great and bad time, depending on the transition. Make sure to ask if it’s a good time for the teacher to talk. Don’t be discouraged if the answer is no; sometimes the teacher just needs to set up for the next class.
Office hours: This time is allotted for teachers to answer questions from students. This is a great time to connect without the pressure of being around peers or other distractions. This is an especially helpful time to nail down any gaps in understanding.
If your student is nervous about approaching a teacher in person, help them write an email to set up their conversation. This takes the time crunch and distraction out of the situation, and it gives your student and the teacher helpful points to refer to when they meet. Emails are also helpful to document bigger issues, like a family emergency or a request for different accommodations.
We want our students to be comfortable advocating for themselves and being able to handle tough conversations with their teachers. As always, taking an active role in their education is the best way for your student to get what they need.
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As you get organized and set goals for the new term, why not check in with an expert?
We talked to a local middle school teacher and she gave us an inside look into what teachers wish students would do.
Use teacher websites and calendars
Teacher websites and calendars are excellent tools to use to stay on top of assignments. Not only do the calendars outline the current week and beyond, but the websites often provide a gold mine of resources: copies of handouts, reading materials and videos. You may even find study hints or answer keys! These tools are better than an online search or textbook – the teachers’ resources are exactly what you need to learn to be successful in their classes.
Use your planner
Most adults use a planner in some form – electronic or paper – to stay organized and keep them running on time. Students benefit from planners as a clear visual aid to keep assignment due dates and test days straight. Despite teachers providing at least a week at a time in detail AND class time to fill out planners, too many students do not use this resource. Want to go electronic instead of paper? Ask your teacher.
Use class time to get the work done
Even if you think you understand the material, get work done in class. Reduce what you need to do at home, and identify challenging problems while the teacher and peers are there to help. Map out what needs to be done in class – do NOT say, “I’ll do it later!”
Ask if you have questions (even on a test or quiz)
Asking your questions out loud helps you figure it out for yourself. Additionally, the teacher may clarify or give you a hint – partial credit is better than none. Worst case: you might not get an answer, but the teacher knows you are trying.
Do missing/incomplete assignments
Checking Infinite Campus/online grade books on a weekly basis should identify assignments that are missing or have low scores. Resubmit or check with the teacher as soon as you see the “missing” posted, ideally within a week of when the work was due. Addressing missing work soon is easier for you and for the teacher and ensures that you understand what is next. If you ignore it, you may miss the opportunity to learn the material and get credit for it.
These tips are valuable for developing good relationships with your teachers. Completing them shows your teachers that you care in addition to helping you stay on top of your school game!
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A daily struggle for parents of students with executive function challenges is finding the patience needed to support your student. It can be exhausting when they seem unfocused or unclear on the work they need to do. How do other parents do it? Where do they find this seemingly endless patience?
Here are some gentle reminders:
Executive function skills are learned.
They do not come naturally to most of our students, but they can be developed. As much as everyone would love to see concrete, immediate results, the systems and routines we teach take time to develop and become habits in our students’ lives. Different systems work for different people. Some of these systems take a few months to catch on, others take years. Your student is a work in progress. You, as a parent, are also a work in progress.
Your student doesn’t fit the school system.
It’s easy to look at low grades, think there’s no growth, and feel discouraged. Grades can be a measure of success, but they don’t always reflect the success of your student. At Untapped, we value “the process” over grades. If your student sticks with the process – follows their schedule, studies accordingly, practices their routines – and gets a 50% on a test, we can live with that. If your student doesn’t commit to the process and gets a 50%, we have an issue. The process is what helps our students succeed in a system that is not conducive to their strengths.
The path to success is not a smooth ride.
“Two steps forward, one step back” is a phrase we use frequently. Over time, you are going to see some fantastic results in your student’s progress, but don’t let their setbacks deter you. It’s all a part of the process, and experiencing minor setbacks does not mean your student is not moving forward. If the setbacks start to outweigh the victories, it’s time to check in and get back to basics, but that’s a different conversation.
It’s tough when you’ve had a long day and your student says, “Yes, I finished everything,” yet you can think of a handful of uncompleted assignments. Take a breath, get ready to navigate those assignments, and remember that your student has so much potential to accomplish big things with their gifts and creativity. They can figure this out. But they need your help to reach those high achievements, and it starts with your support, love, and patience.
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*We are not medical professionals, and choosing whether or not to try ADHD medication options with your diagnosed student is a personal decision. We can give advice about keeping your student healthy and focused while on stimulants, or we can suggest alternatives to medication if you don’t want to explore that at this point. This information comes from our experiences with previous and current students.
At Untapped, we are not anti-medication (nor are we suggesting you medicate your student). People often ask us if our movement and organization are alternatives or “treatments” for ADHD. Our belief is that students should not start medication without the additional, necessary supports in place. Sometimes families start medication and expect radical, perfect results where their previously distracted student finds the focus to enthusiastically complete all assignments. Realistically, medication can be one of many pieces in the composition of a successful ADHD student.
In an ineffective situation, we might see a student take medication for ADHD, but just because they can focus for the first time doesn’t mean that they have the skills in place to be successful and direct that focus on the appropriate subjects. They might not yet have the discipline and the routines in place to effectively prioritize their attention. Unfortunately, unethical situations often occur when a student starts new medication and the family reports that it’s not effective, so the student is prescribed an increased dose. This can result in almost vacuous students.
In the ideal situation, strategies and routines are in place around the medication, such as:
– Healthy diet and hydration
– Sufficient sleep (and a consistent sleep schedule)
– 30 minutes of exercise a day
– A detailed, weekly plan for school (like a list of homework assignments and due dates, but also this includes staying on top of teacher website updates, scheduling meetings during teachers’ office hours, etc.)
If these points are met and your student is taking ADHD medication, it can result in a happy, healthy, focused student. With all these routines, the executive function pieces combined with medication are likely going to yield positive results.
*If you have questions about specific medications and doses, reach out to us and we’ll connect you with local psychiatrists who can provide you with more technical, educated answers.
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We want to help your student develop the skills to advocate for themselves because it gives them a chance to prove to their teachers how they are invested in their education and academic growth. However, situations arise where parent involvement is helpful and sometimes necessary.
When to jump in and advocate for your student:
If your student has already advocated for themselves and the teacher is unresponsive or disrespectful, intervene. If your student is nervous about talking to a teacher by themselves, help them by role playing the situation. By helping to create a general script to follow, you’re leaving less room for misinterpretation.If your student is still actively uncomfortable about confronting a teacher, write an email together. It shows the teacher that your student cares, and your student still feels supported by you.If the semester is coming to an end and you have some really big concerns about grades, reach out to the teacher. Maybe something has been going on in class that your student hasn’t shared with you, maybe there are options to make up points that your student wasn’t aware of.
While we suggest having face-to-face conversations as much as possible, we also recommend that both students AND parents document any big meetings and conversations. This might just mean sending an email to set up a meeting and give the teacher context about what your student wants to discuss. This isn’t a tactic to place blame on someone by referencing a “paper trail,” but rather a way to help hold both students and teachers accountable.
For example: a teacher told a student that if he earned a 79% by the end of the semester, she would round it up to a B. The student was able to finish with a 79% but the teacher forgot to manually change it before grades were finalized. However, this agreement was documented in an email to the parent, so they were able to reference it and bump the grade up.
Teachers, parents, and students all have the same goals: to give the student the best education possible and to help them succeed. Keep this in mind every time a tough conversation comes up.
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Spring is here and the end of the school is near. Coming back from spring break and realizing that the semester is coming to a close often fuels students’ anxiety. How can we help our students manage this extra stress?
Today, self-care is almost synonymous with taking baths and treating yourself to your favorite food when you need a pick-me-up. While we support that, we want to take it back to basics. As a parent, you need to be practicing all of the basic needs, not just to set an example, but to keep yourself feeling happy and healthy. A stressed out teen can lead to a parent with sympathetic anxiety as well. What do you need to do to take care of yourself and your student?
Nutrition: Eat as cleanly as possible.
Sleep: This time of year is tricky since it stays lighter, longer. It’s easy to go to bed late when it’s so tempting to stay out and enjoy the daylight saving perks. It catches up with our students, especially the last few weeks of school.
Exercise: Movement, movement, movement. Are you moving every day? Is your student? Go for a walk, throw a football, do some yoga. You’ll feel the difference immediately!
2. Have a plan
Creating and following a plan helps schedule your student’s time, and it gives a clear, written account of what needs to be done. As students get spring fever, they’re much more likely to forget some of the routines that helped them be successful in the fall or winter. They get tired of school and find it easy to revert back to bad habits. If you’re uncertain what routines your student has benefited from in previous semesters, contact your mentor for guidance.
We practice this all the time at Untapped, you use this as adults in your work and your relationships, and this applies to your students as well: over-communicate. Help your student communicate with their teachers, with you, and with their mentor. Over-communicating helps students, parents, and teachers be clear on the student’s status in every class, and it opens up conversations about what they should keep up or be doing differently. Over-communicating leads to no surprises at the end of the semester – everyone knows what’s going on.
We’re getting close to crunch time, let’s solve any issues before we’re there. These are not fool-proof ways to “solve” anxiety, but continuing to incorporate these practices consistently will help alleviate some of the anxiety that both you and your student might be feeling!
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At Untapped Learning, ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is a prominent part of who we are, who we work with, and what we do. While not all of our students are diagnosed with ADHD, many are. There are 3 types of ADHD: hyperactive-impulsive, inattentive, and a combination of the two. What is it, and how do you treat it?
What are the 3 types of ADHD?
Hyperactive-impulsive: these are the students bouncing off the walls. They can’t sit still, they’re usually not misbehaving out of malice, they just legitimately cannot stop moving. They get frustrated and have lower self control than other students. This type of ADHD is most prominent in males.
Inattentive: these are often the quiet students at the back of the classroom with low participation. Often female, inattentive ADHD students are sometimes just seen as disinterested, daydreaming, or being “scatterbrained.”
Combined type: simultaneously hyper and spacey. This can seem daunting to the parents of these students, but realistically, the “treatment” plans are similar for all 3 types of ADHD.
What is the difference between ADHD and ADD?
ADHD-inattentive used to be referred to as ADD. While still used colloquially, it’s an outdated term that’s no longer used in the medical world.
How do you treat ADHD?
Students diagnosed with every type of ADHD benefit from routines, exercise, and clear boundaries. A lot of our interventions are very similar for hyperactive and inattentive ADHD students. When students first start to work with us, we notice they make careless mistakes, have zero follow through, and are disorganized. We work on the controllable pieces: creating the discipline to look over work, organizing every night, conditioning the brain to work in non-distracting environments, practice and repetition, etc.
Our hyperactive students are always moving, fidgety, and impulsive. We try to teach them the discipline to slow themselves down, and we provide additional people (our mentors!) who hold them accountable and show them immediate consequences to their actions. Hyperactive students especially benefit from movement; not just moving before they sit down to learn, but moving while they learn. Medication is more often used for hyperactive students to subdue some of the impulsivity and hyper behavior. Hyperactive ADHD is also more easily diagnosable; schools notice quickly, because impulse control is low and these students often act out in class.
Inattentive ADHD is harder to diagnose. These students can coast for years without teachers noticing they’re not engaging with 100% of the material they should be, since there are often no behavioral issues. All types of ADHD ultimately leave students with the same executive functioning deficits. So even though our inattentive students don’t necessarily have boundless energy, they’re more engaged with their academic material after exercise, just as with our hyperactive students.
Bottom line: While you may feel frustrated with your student, you are not alone and there are many “treatment” methods you can look into. Movement, routines, clear expectations, and medication (if you choose) are all ways to help your student succeed and alleviate the stress of this diagnosis. Check out more information on the symptoms of each ADHD type here.
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Most of our students jump into finals next week, which means this week is integral to their success. How can you help them prep?
Don’t let your student cram next weekend. Start this week by blocking out short, frequent study sessions: 15 minutes at a time, working ahead, prepping for each class. We know that attention is going to fade toward the end of the week and major mental blocks paired with anxiety might hit, so whatever you can do now, do it.
Make a Plan
Schools post their finals schedules with plenty of time before exams, giving us time to make a detailed plan leading up to the tests. Once your student has mapped out their actual test times, figure out which office hours they need to attend, which teachers need to be emailed, and how projects and papers need to be blocked out. If you need assistance with this, contact your mentor: we’re available this week and we want to help your student, even if it means coming in for additional sessions.
Projects and Papers
These are the best assignments to work ahead on. If a paper is due on Wednesday, it should be done by Monday so that your student has time to check in and look it over with their teacher. If the person grading it is the person who’s giving feedback on it before it’s turned in, your student is setting themselves up for success by meeting with them before the due date.
Encourage your students to use this resource! Office hours increase this time of year; teachers want to be available to students as much as possible. If your student studies with their teacher, it will save them so much time. Teachers appreciate students who take the time to come in, and chances are they’ll emphasize material that will be on the exams. This saves your student from pouring over old notes with no direction.
When life is stressful, it’s extra important to take care of the basic needs. How many hours is your student sleeping? Are they eating a relatively clean diet? When the weather is this nice and it’s so close to summer, it’s especially tempting for students to stay out late with friends, roll out of bed for school with no time to spare, and grab Pop Tarts for breakfast as they head out the door. The next two weeks, it’s vital they sleep 8 hours a night, eat well, and of course, exercise.
How are you breaking up study sessions? Is your student hyperactive or inattentive if they’re sitting too long? Our easy fix is movement: something active to break up the studying. Help your student with movement that’s comfortable for them: shadow boxing, throwing a football, riding a stationary bike, etc. If they’re uninterested in something really active, encourage them to go for a walk. They’ll get the benefits of movement, fresh air, and vitamin D.
These tips are not groundbreaking, but it’s helpful to remind ourselves that these are the things in our power to help our students succeed in the coming weeks. Please reach out to us if you have questions about your student specifically and anything else they need to do before they take their tests!
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At Untapped, we get a lot of questions from parents about students struggling with math. What can I do? Where’s the gap between students with and without executive function challenges? My student is frustrated, how can we move past that and make progress?
It comes down to one main point: organization. Organization in every capacity is the main solution to solving math struggles.
So many of our students can do one or two step algebra in their heads; the understanding of the math is often not the issue. The transition from one/two step algebra to 10 step algebra happens so quickly in school – it feels like it’s almost overnight! And this is where our students start to struggle. Attention to detail in math means lining up equal signs, paying attention to negatives, etc., and this is where our students struggle. One missed negative sign or messily-written number and the answer is incorrect.
Practice until it seems irrelevant. Repeat the key concepts and equations until your student can recite them in their sleep. This is where we encourage “pre-teaching” material so that when your student encounters topics in class, it’s not for the first time. Help your student build the discipline to check their work. Help them neaten their handwriting. (This is a great practice of discipline!)
Organization and discipline are the keys to this issue, but frustration is the kryptonite. When our students feel like they’re doing poorly, they often shut down as a coping mechanism. Even though they have a million resources for homework help at their fingertips (parents, teachers, mentors, the internet!), frustration kicks in when they’re making the little mistakes. They need to be reminded: they’re smart, but they need to find that discipline to check their work. Discipline is a learned skill for many of our students; it doesn’t always come naturally if they have executive functioning challenges. It’s hard for parents who don’t have executive functioning challenges themselves to grasp that discipline and organization are learned skills. If you fall into this category, remember that your student is trying and that they need your patience and support. Encourage them, latch on to what they’re doing right, and help them adjust where they’re falling short.