April 3, 2015

Ease Email-Writing Stress: 7 Tips for Adults with ADHD

The Goldilocks Email – 5 Tips for Writing a Just-Right-Sized Email

By Kendra Wagner, MA

Jason works in a real estate office, answering phones and greeting customers. When the office is slow, he hops online to finish a web-based course; that is the final hoop to jump through to become licensed as a realtor. He enjoys being able to log-in and do a little bit of reading and quizzing himself, and then do something else. A lot of his job, though, involves email.
Jason has ADHD.
Jason hasn’t told anyone that he dreads emails and would much prefer just to call people! Emailing creates an anxiety that has sent him home sweating over whether an email was too long, too strong, or too robotic. No one gave him a list of Do’s and Don’t’s when he started.
His work requires e-mailing to realtors about home sale updates, walk-in customers, or mortgage paperwork that finally arrived via FedEx. Sometimes agents will call him from their car and dictate an email for him to write. This takes laser focus, but he has an app that records the call so that he can replay it while typing.
Because many of his emails are received by realtors or mortgage brokers who are out in the field, they need an email that is concrete, detailed, and not too lengthy because they are likely reading it on their smart phone. Let’s call this the “just right” or “Goldilocks” email.

Why Is Email So Difficult For Many People with ADHD?

Why is this difficult for Jason and many other people with ADHD? And, how can the process be made easier?
A brief history lesson first.
Electronic mail as we know it today began in 1982. It was limited to users with certain types of computers, who communicated with a narrow tribe of other professionals. It was later used by the general public in the 1990s as a way for co-workers to send short notices to each other without walking down an aisle of cubicles.
The evolution of e-mail’s use has expanded enormously. Now it is the preferred mode of communication for family, friends, potential employers, customer service reps. and even dog walkers. (By the way, it has lost its hyphen and is now written as email—shortened even further in “text speak” to e-m.)
What started off as a time-saver has become a time warp. That is, many of us awaken to a full inbox and either avoid it altogether or lose track of time after telling ourselves, “I’ll just take a minute to respond to a couple of e-mails.” Minutes turn into hours, which vanish in a flash.
A whole host of strategies fly around the cybersphere regarding how to read, save, categorize, and time-manage e-mail. But how do you write an email in a way that makes it
  1. Easy to compose
  2. Certain to be read
  3. Convey your point

People with ADHD Can Go to Extremes—No News There

At one extreme, in the name of perfection, we pore over an email for hours—or save it to review days later and further revise. At the other extreme, we type furiously fast and don’t check it for precision of content, tone, grammar, and repetitiveness. Then we press “send” too soon.
Regarding the perfectionism scenario: A little grandiosity check might be order here.  Remember that the recipient spends a fraction of the time reading your email as you did composing it. Most likely, the recipient skims your email rather than reading it like a novel.
Think: stacks of resumes. No one reads every word of those. And, it is the same with “stacks” of e-mail.
Obviously, neither pattern (perfectionistic or slap-dash) will assist us in composing emails. Our email will not be awarded a zinger prize for being well executed and grammatically perfect, especially if it’s days or even weeks late. Nor will it be hung out to dry in a news headline as an example of impulsivity gone amok.
Instead of becoming preoccupied with how you will be “judged” on the e-mail, try to think only about the message you want to communicate.

Seven Tips To Ease Your E-mail Writing

How then to ease your e-mail writing process?
Let’s go back to the resume analogy. The prevailing wisdom when penning a resume is to emphasize what you did at “1-2-3” Company, using strong verbs and specific nouns.  That way, the human resources team can quickly pick out the essence of your strengths, without any story. This guideline applies to most emails in a workplace, or between contractors and clients, etc.
With that in mind, consider these seven tips:
1Before you write, talk it out – to yourself or someone else
This works for we ADHD folks, because it narrows our tendency to think wide and big. Emails need a narrow focus. You can even do a voice recording on an app first.
2. Use a concrete subject line
A clear subject line helps further to focus your thoughts. It also tell the recipient that you’ll get to the point quickly.
Remember: Some of your e-mail recipients are busy people, full of responsibilities. They might receive hundreds of e-mails every day. They actually don’t open each one; instead, they scan  the subject lines to see which ones might be important—or they simply open the ones from people they know.  So an exact subject line is vital.
Nothing vague, such as, “Hello.”
Nothing overly solicitous, such as “May I ask you a question about ______?”
Instead, make it specific and inviting: “3 new design ideas for Summer Brochure”
3. Use strong verbs and clear “When and Where” statements
Using strong verbs makes it easier for the reader to quickly grab the gist of your communication. It also makes you sound more definitive and accountable—something we all aspire to!
With practice, this can improve your emails enormously. Careful not to go overboard. You risk sounding like a drill sergeant.
NO: “We are done with the project today and are ready to get to the next one.”
YES: “We finished project XYZ at 3 p.m. and are preparing to work on the next one.
4. Get to the point quickly
Start out with “Hello” or simply reply with your written response. No need to write, “Dear Mrs. __________”. That is for formal letters.
Write in short paragraphs, or bullet points.
No lengthy background information.
Appeal to our human nature of “What’s in this for me?” when possible.
5. When making requests, ask politely but not for too much
Make any requests without apologizing, but be short and sweet. Offer something in return when possible.
Give a specific action and your specific ideal deadline. No stories and excessive background information.
Example: (when asking for information, dates, or advice)
  • I would like to leave early Friday, April 3rd, and stay later on Monday, April 5th.
  • Will you edit the attached letter and send it back by Tuesday at 5?
Above all, be informal but courteous. Your tone and body language are missing in an email, so rely on crisp sentences and a fairly non-emotional style.
Remember: Jokes can be easily misread. When you really know a co-worker or business contact, a bit of humor can be woven into emails, but only if you’ve spent time face-to-face. Otherwise, avoid.
Text written in ALL CAPS is extremely difficult to read. Moreover, some people regard it as unseemly and rude, like SHOUTING at someone close at hand.
Restrain your use of ALL CAPS in email to solitary words that need further emphasis (or, better yet, use italics or underlining for that purpose, if your e-mail client provides for that treatment).
7. Find a writing coach
If simply reading this post about email composition makes you nervous, look for a writing coach. Sometimes, educational therapists or even professional organizers with an emphasis in business skills also can help streamline the process of writing e-mails, reports, and so forth.
For more e-mail writing strategies, check out this article at Fast Company, The Unwritten Rules of Writing Emails.

August 15, 2014

Homework Strategies for Making Life Easier for ADHD Kids (and their parents)

Guest Expert 
 Home work. Those two words seem mismatched.

Home is where you can chill, be yourself, and get a little break from “work.” And yet homework is what every child dreads. And parents, too!

So who can blame kids for not wanting to do their homework?

As parents, we understand that homework reinforces lessons learned from the school day. Revisiting material and practicing skills is fruitful. However, if you’re reading this, you probably have stories that prove otherwise. Attention-challenged children struggle because of problems unrelated to the specific homework assignment:

·         distraction during the lesson,
·         disenchantment with the topic,
·         dismay by how long it takes to answer a single question
·         discombobulation by all the important information in front of them

Homework also assumes that all children have stay-at-home moms who are “on call” to help – which is not exactly true in this day and age!

Since our smart but scattered children aren’t naturally supplied with minds that can keep track of due dates and directions, here are some pointers to ease their challenge. But remember – the most important thing you can do to help your child,by far, is to notice what she or he does well, and encourage it.

Here are 5 homework strategies to get you started:


Allow your children to help you establish their homework routine.

·         Right after school or later?
·         Broken into time segments?
·         With or without music?
·         At a desk or the kitchen counter? (or changing, depending on the day)

Foster Independence

Around 5th grade, a major goal can be independence with homework. From start to finish, the parent should assist – not nag to completion. You can gradually help your child less and less, and still expect high quality work.

·         Only help when your child wants it.
·         Remember that it’s their work – not yours.
·         Reward for independence, being organized, sticking to a time schedule, etc.

Visual Charts

Large white boards are great, ideally one for each child. If you don’t have room, substitute it with a white piece of paper inside a transparency sheet (the dry-erase part is important). Designate a special place on the wall for it. Use it to make charts that track homework topics or nightly reading. Use abbreviations or humor to simplify and keep your child’s attention.

Boxes on the chart can also list homework assignments and estimations for how long they should take to finish. It’s beneficial to an ADD mind to track time elapsing. After the work is done, write down how long it actually took to track time management.

Physical Space

A desk. The kitchen table. The treehouse. Which is best for learning and focusing? Some children may need to do homework in the same place each night. Some need novelty. While they all learn and respond to different stimuli, they need consistency with the basics:

·         Comfortable, flat surface
·         Well-lit from above
·         Not too far from the printer, if a middle or high schooler
·         Quiet (except possible headphones)
·         Free from distraction
·         No clutter
·         Stocked with needed materials
  • Fidgets that help focus (not distract)
Paperwork – Breathe, and Scan Everything!

Keeping track of the endless reading logs, rubrics, drafts, and study sheets seems impossible! Maintaining their original condition is even more difficult. This is where technology is your friend. Teachers who post documents on their websites are saviors. Scan any blank reading logs or assignments to keep on record at home. It also helps to color code folders and notebooks.

June 19, 2014

Taming the Octopus - The Many Arms of Writing: Common Core

Taming the Octopus - The Many Arms of Writing: Common Core: Okay, outta the way with my accusatory statements about Common Core and then we can get on to other topics in another blog post. I co...

June 15, 2014

Common Core

Okay, outta the way with my accusatory statements about Common Core and then we can get on to other topics in another blog post.

I could actually argue FOR or AGAINST the CC, with my ammunition of evidence and citations, to use a little lingo from the well-known source itself. 

I am becoming - via the Internet - uh oh - some sort of expert on the Common Core Standards because:

a) I spend a lot of time translating and navigating convoluted assignments given to my students in approx. 4th - 10th grade. Which are based on the Common Core. While I can beat the drum of critical thinking just as much as the average administrator, I also know that developmentally the writing brains of 11 year-olds are not ready for this level of argument. 

Talk about turning a kid OFF to writing!

       "Write and alternate ending to the short story, 
         Murders in the Rue Morgue                                 
        and analyze the two main character's motives in one paragraph, using textual evidence."

b) I like to find out what is on the minds of the majority of stressed-out teachers in the U.S., given that they are the unsung heroes and they don't really get their own form of Veteran's Day to honor their sacrifice.

c) I used to teach in a school where we had to turn in precise lesson plans to our principal, with the numerical listing of the Illinois State Standard right alongside them. It didn't make me a better teacher, but I learned to write tiny, and could spout some lingo in the standards to said principal.

d) I was initially excited years ago about the concept of standards being aligned between states. "Clear goals and confident, well-prepared students." It sounded so hopeful! Just like in this video!

e) Since some families move a lot, and teachers do too, it sounded promising. Plus, when I traveled and presented staff development I had to re-learn some particular differences between states. Confusing. Finally we could have the same oral reading fluency benchmarks, fractions taught in a hands-on way at about the same point in 4th grade, and history key points would not be sanitized of the Native American's impact on our country.

f) I am assisting two homeschooling families in teaching using CC starting next year. We don't have a principal observing our lessons, but we have to turn in monthly reports proving we did academically worthy, Common Core stamped of approval-ness instruction.

I am happy to find sources like this to pick and choose from. Phew. Lessons and example writings from actual kids, and a fairly easy-to-use website.

And then there are those techie people who save the day with websites like this one, where we have a fashion runway of apps and software to make teaching life easier or more complicated, depending on how organized or techie the reader of the website is!

Reflections on Google Apps for Common Core ELA

I am going to rebelliously NOT wrap this up with a neat little conclusion, because this was not a "5-paragraph essay" and it is midnight. 

April 24, 2014

Spray and Pray

Teachers who work with struggling readers think that they need more choice, and more freedom, and more time. Actually, NON-struggling writers need those things. Let's revisit the "Spray and Pray" strategy that teachers execute without knowing the anxiety they might be causing.

They tell a 5th grade class to write realistic fiction piece, with a certain amount of dialogue, and inner and outer character conflict. As a class they examine good models from well-known children's authors. ("Mentor Texts"). Then they are "free" to write. This is what Anita Archer calls "Spray and Pray."

So many times one of my students comes to my office and after much inquisitive wrangling from me admits that he has sat and "tried to think of something to write" for the last two days during writer's workshop time. I dig down to see if they had an idea but nixed it because it wasn't perfect, or had an idea for a story but didn't know how to start, or had a blank brain and couldn't find a thread of a story. 

And then there are those students who have an idea, but they want the FIRST Draft to be perfect so no revising will be asked of them, so they freeze.
This is where I pull out all the tools and practically decoupage my desk space with word lists, brainstorm guides, pre-write organizers, sentence starters, and so much more. And Color - Coding helps too with their first brainstorm or rough draft, for categories, or all of the W's and How.

As for ME....

I have 5 writing projects going at once, and my mind is batty like my pin-ball machine students.
Let's see, taking my own advice, I would first tell a student to write them down and look at the list and decide what CAN be done, in the next day.

So here is the dirty almost half dozen:
(at least each of them are over halfway complete)

1) My book on teaching writing to kids who struggle with writing. Working Title: "But I hate writing..." - Teaching a small step at a time to reluctant writers. Not very sexy. Not like, "Finding the joy in writing - Igniting the love of writing in all ages and stages."

2) A Ted Talk that someone dared me to write about the extensive closure ceremony with my ex husband on January 1st, after 8 months of nudging it to occur.

3) An article for a Twice Exceptional Newsletter for Parents, on teaching tips for written expression, for parents of Asperger-like kids.

4) A tip sheet on ADHD kids and how to teach and parent them while keeping your sanity, for a Fall Support Group I am going to facilitate.

5) My novel I haven't touched in 4 years and is forming cobwebs in my computer.

I write a lot of emails.
I write in my journal.
I write in the margins of many kid's papers.
I don't write for extended periods of time in order to complete the above projects.
Do I hear an echo of irony in the tunnel of my professional trajectory?

On another note...

I have enjoyed watching some significant leaps in three of my resistant boy writers lately. They grasp the concept of "show don't tell" and it is no coincidence that all three of them are solid readers. This gives them that "ear" for language, and for elaboration.

I also heard from a former client. I worked with her daughter in 4th grade. Waldorf School. Loosey goosey about learning to read - so she needed decoding, and later she needed writing, since they presume that an exciting topic will launch deep writing. She needed to learn ways to write with coherence, using facts to back it up. Well, she has now won a mini award in high school for her composition. Well, that leaves a teensy weensy legacy in my corner of the universe.