A Visual Checklist – An Executive Function Accommodation

Several students on my caseload this year have fairly extensive modifications related to executive function deficits.    One of the interventions that I am employing this year to support them is a visual checklist.   (In previous years, I have typed up a checklist for students, but recently learned the importance of making the list visual .)  It ticks off the steps they need to complete each day.   (I took photographs of the steps and embedded them in a Publisher document, printed it out, and then laminated it. )   I made an unitque checklist  for each of their classes based on the steps required for that class.


In my class, I made enough so that I can tape one on each desk.   This way, no student is singled out as “different”.

I printed it in black and white because color printing is too expensive for us to have at school.   I’m going to try it out this way.   If needed, I can always remake them in color.




Executive Functioning Take Two Part Two – A Graphic Organizer

Now that my students have a process for tackling a task or a project, I want to follow-up.  I created a graphic organizer.  I intended to share it in yesterday’s post.   However, I had a case of  “teacher at the end of the first week of school” exhaustion.   It feels a lot like “kindergartener at the end of the first day of school” tired.    Hence, the organizer didn’t get included in the post.

Click GetReadyDoDoneGraphicOrganizer  to download the graphic organizer.    There area couple of options for using it.   My suggestion is to cut the parts of it apart and mount them each on colored paper (yellow for “get ready”, green for “do, red for “done” and “get done”).   Next, mount the three parts on a single page and laminate it (so that you have a yellow section with “get ready”, a green section with “do”, and a red section with “done/get done”).   Students can then write on it with a dry erase marker.   Alternatively, you could outline the lines with colored markers or pencils and then laminate it.   Finally, you could just print out multiple copies and use paper/pencil.

Get Ready, Do, Done, Get Done – Executive Function Take Two

Many students with executive function deficits struggle to fully complete tasks.   This is tied to their difficulty “seeing” through space and time.    They can’t “see” what the finished product/task is supposed to look like.   They also have trouble “seeing” all the steps necessary to complete the task and “seeing” how much time the steps  will take.

In the past, in order to scaffold this for students, I always started with the “Get Ready” stage.     I would walk through all the things needed for the task (the Get Ready stage) and then chunk the task into the steps necessary to complete the task (the  beginning of the Do stage).   It turns out, I was all wrong.   I should have been starting with the Done stage.   (This is based on professional development from Cognitive Connections).

To start with the “Done” stage, I am asking students to visualize the finished product and draw a quick sketch of that.   If it is a five sentence paragraph, they can just sketch five wiggly lines with periods.  If it is a problem solving task that must include an equation, a model, and an answer, they can sketch the outlines of a number line or coordinate grid, the basic structure of an equation, and a box for the answer.    The idea is to have a picture of what the finished task might look like.

After completing the “Done” stage, students then move on to the “Get Ready” stage.   They list all of the things they will need to do the task.  Next, they “Do” the task.   After they are “Done”, they need to “Get Done”.   The “Get Done” stage are all those last steps after completion.   This might be to tape the problem into their interactive notebook or to turn it in to be graded.   It might be to then put the interactive notebook in their backpack and to clean up the table group.   It is whatever needs to be done after the task is done (but sometimes is missed by students with executive function deficits).

To help support   students with the process, I have made the organizer shown below.   There is a blank box for each section.   I have laminated it so that it can be used over and over.   Students simply write/sketch on it with dry erase markers and then wipe it clean for the next time.

I modeled this process when I introduced the set up for interactive notebooks today.  I used photographs rather than a sketch.



Get Ready




Get Done


I have to say it was the smoothest Interactive Notebook set-up I have every had.

Tonight, We Play

Tonight’s homework is to play a video game.   We will play again tomorrow in class and it will be time well spent.   It will encourage exploration, collaboration, and discourse.   It will embed mathematics in a rich story context.   It will demand real problem-solving rather than rote practice.   It will lay a foundation for so much that will happen in the coming months.   It will also be fun and I want that experience of math as pure fun for each and every one of my students.

The game is MIT’s Lure of the Labyrinth.    These are just some of the reasons that I love this game.

  1. The math is embedded in an engaging story.   What middle school student wouldn’t be drawn into a story that starts with trying to find their pet, is moved forward by mythological creatures, and requires them to outsmart a bunch of monsters as they pursue their quest.
  2. The math is rich.    Concepts from the middle school Common Core State Standards are developed in a problem-solving context (figuring out serving sizes in the cafeteria for different monsters to explore ratio,  using hopping bots that explode to explore concepts relating to linear equations,   exploring area and perimeter to keep gnomes out of the garden plants, etc.)    There is absolutely nothing rote about this game.
  3. The game is adaptive.    It adjusts the level of difficulty based on the choices that the player makes, scaffolding or challenging as needed.
  4.  The game encourages exploration, allowing students to construct an understanding of a given concept.
  5. The pedagogy of the game is rock solid.
  6. Discourse and collaboration are embedded into the game structure.   When teachers set up the student account, they create teams of 4-6 students.   Students within the team are able to message each other within the game.   (The teacher is able to see the messages).    I have seen conversation in which students would ask for help and then come back with another message a few minutes later saying “Wait, don’t tell me.   I want to figure it out myself.”   So, it is also teaching perseverance.
  7. After students have played the game for a little while (a few days), you can build great lessons using the game.
  8. The game is so much fun.   So often, math class seems to suck the fun out of math and that should never have to happen.   When I give this assignment, students go home and spend endless hours doing math just because they love it.   Parents tell me stories of having to pry their kid away from the game to go eat dinner.  (FYI, I only require that they play for 30 minutes.)
  9. The game is a model of a really well-developed video game.   Later in the year, I will teach my students how to code and they will make multi-level video games.  want their games to tell a story and to be fun to play, just as Lure of they Labyrinth is.

Hence, tonight and tomorrow, we play.   It is a good end to our first week together.

My Goal For This Year

Gutsy goals have been part of the mantra at my school.   They are based on Eric Jensen’s  work (e.g., Teaching With Poverty In Mind).   We are each asked to come up with a “gutsy goal”.   Last year, I dutifully came up with something that “fit” the criteria at the start of school and worked to meet that goal.   All year, though, it felt a little bit like I was walking around in someone else’s shoes.   This year, I have decided to stick with my own “shoes”.

My goal for this year is to do the very best I can for each and every one of my students.   To some, this may sound small and maybe a little trite.    In my mind, it is large and all encompassing.   I don’t know what it will mean yet, because I don’t know my students.   What I will do, will depend entirely upon who they are and what they need.   It is all that I have to offer, a promise that I will do the very best that I can.

The First Five Minutes

First impressions count.    They aren’t always accurate, but they set the tone for everything that follows.   Today, I had my first five minutes with my students and I wanted to make them count.

Starting sixth grade can be pretty scary.     For my students, it means they are starting at a new school, figuring out how to navigate around a much larger building,  figuring out  changing classes for the first time, and figuring out how to manage the expectations of six different teachers.   To ease that transition, we have a jump start day.   The incoming sixth graders come a day before all the other students.   They spend a lot of time doing ice breakers and team building activities.   They get a tour of the school.   Finally, they have a trial run going through their schedule, visiting each of their classes briefly.  All the while, they are shepherded by a group of amazing eighth grade students.

As they do the trial run through their schedule, my students from each period come to my room for a total of about 5 minutes.   What can I possibly do with students who don’t know me and who I don’t know when I have less than five minutes with them?   I struggle with this question every year.    It’s not long enough to really do much more than a quick round of introductions.   It mostly ends up being a blur for all of us.    This year, I decided to try something new.   It is a little silly but hopefully sends a message.  My hope is that the silliness helps them hold onto the message.

Since “elephants never forget”, I had each student put a stuffed elephant on his or her head because I was going to tell them something really, really important that I wanted them to never forget.   When everyone was appropriately clad with an elephant perched on his or her  head, I imparted my truth.   “Perseverance not perfection ”

Today was just a first step at imparting to my students that they don’t have to be perfect and that no matter where they start, they get better at things if they work at them.

They each also got some “words of wisdom” on how to succeed in school on their name tent.   It was a lot like getting a fortune from a fortune cookie.


A Favorite Find

As I walked into the training room at Aerospace Corporation, my eyes lit up.   There it sat, full of possibilities.  It is intended to hold a name, to be a fancy reusable name tent.   When I looked at it, though, that was just the beginning.   Add a simple dry erase marker and the possibilities are boundless.


  • A name tag to help get to know everyone’s name.
  • A mechanism for “getting to know you” questions:   What makes you happy?    If you were an animal, what would you be?   What is your super power?    What is a secret hidden talent?
  • A Gallery Walk Two Truths and A Lie and then debriefing in pairs/quads/whole class.
  • Speed dating with math tasks.   Each student writes his/her response on their own side and then they turn it around to see if they are in agreement.
  • A mechanism for submitting a team bid when we have an auction (Zero in the Quotient, Proportional Relationship, or a Function)
  • A drawing pad for each group when playing vocabulary pictionary
  • A response tool for each individual when playing vocabulary charades
  • A tool for Quiz/Quiz/Trade.    One side can be used for answers and the other for Tips in the Tip, Tip, Tell (so a tip could be visual and not just words)
  • A formative assessment tool – answer on your side of the tent and then everyone turns them around so the teacher can see each response (similar to individual white boards).
  • A mechanism for tracking student errors.   Put a number for the period, a letter for the table group, and a greek symbol for seat position.   Then take a photo of the tag to document the error for future follow-up.
  • A tool for Kagan’s Four Corners Cooperative Learning Structure
  • A way of communicating seat assignments when the seating chart changes (I use intentional groupings to attain heterogenous groups)
  •  A mechanism for communicating flexible groupings (write group members names in a specific color to indicate they will be in the same breakout group or draw a symbol on them to indicate the breakout group)
  • A mechanism for giving individual feedback when we do a gallery walk