What if Students could choose their learning material rather than be ‘told’ how and what to learn? Educator & Mom Katie Novak Shares

By Leslie Lindsay 


back bus education school
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

School would be so much better if students could select their learning material from a buffet, rather than a casserole. Educator and mom, Katie Novak, describes this and more in LET THEM THRIVE. 

When I was a kid, I hated math. I never understood the ‘why,’ to many of the the concepts. It wasn’t put into real-world perspective (at least for me when I was a kid). And then I read Katie Novak’s description of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in her book, LET THEM THRIVE: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and Life and it made perfect sense. Let Them Thrive_cover (1).jpg

Learners (even adult learners) need to understand the ‘why’ of learning for it to be meaningful. That’s what the UDL calls the ‘affective’ piece of learning. Recruit their interest. The second piece is ‘the recognition network,’ that is, the ‘what’ of learning; what they need to know and the third component is the ‘strategic network,’ activating and action plan to express the new information in a meaningful manner.

THRIVE is teaching kids to be effective life-long learners; it’s about the *process* of learning rather than the outcomes (memorization that may not have any lasting meaning or significance to the student).

Novak’s writing style is conversational, approachable, and accessible for just about anyone, but I felt THRIVE might be best geared toward teachers or parents who *are* teachers. Home schooling parents could benefit, too. Novak presents some really great charts and tips for breaking down the UDL into understandable terms and presenting them into real-world examples.

THRIVE is a great parent-teacher primer for the back-to-school season and will give you a framework for teaching at home and supplementing lessons your children in school.

Please join  me in welcoming Katie Novak, Ed.D. to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

What inspired you to write Let Them Thrive: A Playbook for Helping Your Child Succeed in School and in Life?

Katie Novak: 

As an educator, I see the value (and the academic results!) of embracing all our kids exactly the way they are. When I walk into classrooms in districts who embrace personalized learning through UDL, I see kids who are motivated, resourceful and self-directed. They are thriving. This is because in schools where students are thriving, the systems have embraced a framework called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). The basic mantra of UDL is, “Our kids aren’t disabled or broken. Our schools are.” Because UDL is endorsed nationally, it drives me up the wall that some teachers and kids aren’t experiencing the power of that framework. There are too many kids who don’t like school or who struggle academically, socially, or emotionally and schools aren’t meeting their needs. It doesn’t have to be this way. For years, my lens has been trying to transform schools to help them best support their teachers and students, but the transformation isn’t happening fast enough. It’s time to turn out Team Momma, as together, we can make sure all our kids get what they deserve. I wrote Let Them Thrive to let parents know that every child has a right to a personalized education and we have a right to demand it. So, game on!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What was the defining moment that inspired you to adopt the Universal Design for Learning framework?

Katie Novak:

I became a teacher because I believe in the power of learning. I believe that any child, and any teacher can be wildly successful if we create conditions for nurture and we provide them with relevant, authentic, meaningful opportunities to learn. I believed this even when I was assigning the same book to the entire class and requiring them to write essays. I believed this when I gave long multiple choice tests that required students to memorize information that was at their fingertips on their phone. I simply didn’t know any other way to teach because I was taught that my job was to follow a script and teach a curriculum. When I first learned about UDL, I suddenly felt free to be creative, to provide options and choices for students to make their own meaning, and right away, their achievement soared.

“While Universal Design for Learning has changed how many educators think about teaching students with disabilities, Let Them Thrive brings UDL’s inclusive message to a broader, general-education audience. This is a very useful tool for helping parents understand UDL and explain it to educators, administrators and policymakers.”

– Ricki Sabia, parent advocate and Founder, National UDL Task Force

Leslie Lindsay: 

What are some practical ways parents can apply the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework at home?

Katie Novak: 

For life lessons: We have two rules in our house: Be nice to everyone you meet and work hard. That’s it. We tell our four little loves, “We don’t care if you get good grades, are funny, or are athletic.” When there are infractions, which there will be, it’s tempting to lay down a consequence, like taking away an iPhone or sitting down for a “family talk.” But remember your goal. For us, our goal is that our kids need to be good people. If your kids are mean to each other, have them troubleshoot. You could start with, “I know that you frustrate each other. It’s okay to be frustrated with people. Let’s talk about some options for how you can cope when you’re frustrated so you don’t take it out on each other.” Share the options that work for you and then provide opportunities to practice. For example, “Maybe deep breathing would help. Even professional athletes use it. Maybe we could grab a book about meditation or you could watch a video or we could sign up for a class together? Which one would work best for you?” You can see how together you can own a goal and consistently choose-do-and review until you figure out the strategies that work best.


For academic lessons. If your kids attend a school where homework is assigned, it may be the bane of your existence. Kids come home exhausted and they want to lay on the couch, play with toys, run around outside, or just stare at the fridge and say, “Mooooom, there’s nothing to eat!” Now, we can require homework in a one-size-fits-all, traditional approach by saying, “You will sit at the table and won’t do anything else until you finish.” But UDL acknowledges that students need options and choices to meet goals. So, start off by asking, “What do you think would be the best way for you to complete your homework? Do you think it would be helpful to do it all at one time? Or should we break it up into tasks? Do you want to work on it alone or collaborate together? Would you be more comfortable sitting on the couch or doing it outside by the pool?” The possibilities are endless. Allow your kids to make a choice, follow through, and then check-in and reflect. “How did your choices allow you to meet your goal?” If they made a good choice – stock with the fridge with something special. If they were off task, that’s no big deal. You can respond with, “No big deal. Now you know that’s not the best choice. Let’s try something else!” It’s all about teaching kids how to become learners!

Leslie Lindsay: 

You list several ways parents can encourage schools to apply the UDL framework. What are some ways parents can manage resistance from school administrators, etc?

Katie Novak: 

As an educator, I believe that every educator is trying to do the best with what they have. If administrators are resistant, it’s because they haven’t yet learned why it’s important, what it is, and how to implement it. UDL requires a transformation of the system. It’s moving schools from being deficit-based (what’s wrong with our kids) to asset-based (what are the amazing strengths of our babies and how we can optimize their learning). Share articles with them or share books and if you still get push-back, call me. I can definitely hook you up with a UDL advocate, article, or data from my own district that will empower administrators to take the first step. I can promise you this – all administrators want students to be successful. When you can shape that path to UDL, they will be.

Leslie Lindsay:

How can parents partner with teachers in creating an effective learning environment where all 3 networks of the brain (affective, recognition, strategic) are activated?

Katie Novak: 

Teachers love parent support! Share what makes your child amazing and what they are interested in when you send a welcome email. Try something like, “My daughter Aylin is an amazing human. She loves art, play guitar and is obsessed with the Sharer Family on YouTube. She lights up when you give her compliments and don’t be surprised if she brings you little presents like flowers and barrettes, because gifts are her love language. She loves when she is given options and choices to draw, create, and act out things and she’ll do almost anything for a sticker. I’m so excited that she gets to share the year with you. I’d love to know a little more about you. What makes you tick, and what’s your favorite morning drink… I may have to just stop by some time with a treat.” This not only help the teacher to know what makes your child amazing, but you’re also activating their affective network and helping to motivate them. Also, if you want teachers to learn about UDL, you need to provide them with options and choices to learn more about it. For example, you could ask them if they prefer to learn through books, articles, or videos and then share a sample of resources so they can learn about UDL in their own way. Lastly, we want to ensure that UDL translates into action and that our kids have options and choices to learn. To do this, advocate for teachers to receive professional development in UDL because the best way you can support our amazing teachers is to advocate for universally designed learning for them as well. The power of learning, and UDL, will transform our homes and our schools and together, I have no doubt that [parent]-power can make this a reality!

girls on desk looking at notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LET THEM THRIVE: please visit: 

Order Links:

Katie_Novak_headshotABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Novak is the Assistant Superintendent of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School
District in Massachusetts and a leading expert on Universal Design for Learning
implementation. With 13 years of experience in teaching and administration and an earned
doctorate in curriculum and teaching, Novak designs and presents workshops both nationally and internationally focusing on implementation of UDL.
She is the author of three other books: UDL Now!, Universally Designed Leadership (with
Kristan Rodriguez), and UDL in the Cloud (with Tom Thibodeau).
You can find her online at katienovakudl.com and on Twitter as @KatieNovakUDL.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 


#backtoschool #parenting #education 

Let Them Thrive_cover (1)

[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission].

Could Gold Stars and Praise really be a detriment to your child? Alfie Kohn talks about this and more in PUNISHED BY REWARDS

By Leslie Lindsay 

BacktoSchool Series:

Remember the 1990s? Were you raising kids then, or maybe you were one? Do you recall the incentive programs teachers dangled–“If you read 100 books you get this?” or, the BookIt! Program through Pizza Hut–a star for every title you completed and so many stars got you a personal pan pizza at your local restaurant?


But that was just books and reading incentives. Countless medals were given to every kid on every sports team across the U.S.: “Most Improved,” “MVP,” “Most Likely to Sit on the Bench.” Okay, that last one is a bit of a joke, but in all seriousness, there seemed to have been an award for just about anything.

And then these kids grew up. They started expecting similar accolades in college, in the workplace. Everyone started believing that they were exceptional.

But maybe they weren’t. 

In 1993, Alfie Kohn challenged this basic strategy we use for raising children, teaching students, and managing employees, which he summarized in six words:

“Do this and you’ll get that.” 

This mindset is still alive and well. Incentives for losing weight, bribing students for higher test scores, higher sales equaling more recognition. But wait–what about the process? Why can’t we honor and respect the process of working hard?

In 1993, Kohn warned that offering rewards to people to do what we want proves to be destructive at home, at school, at work. And now, twenty-five years later, that temptation is no less powerful. And the effects are still just as unsatisfactory.

The key here is two-fold: to be intrinsically motivated (that is, from within; innately) and to enjoy the process, not just the outcome (reward, praise, token) and that is what shapes and changes one’s behavior and performance.

PUNISHED BY REWARDS: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, August 8 2018) is back with the 25th Anniversary Edition and a whole new generation of parents and kiddos.

I’m so honored to welcome Alfie Kohn to the author interview series. Please join us.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

What’s wrong with rewards? I thought we were supposed to try and catch people doing something right rather than punishing or criticizing all the time.

Alfie Kohn:

The fact is that rewards and punishments are much more similar to each other than different. If you think about it, “Do this and you’ll get that” is really pretty close to “Do this or here’s what’ll happen to you.” Both are ways of trying to manipulate someone’s behavior.  And both have disturbing consequences.

Leslie Lindsay:

Such as?

Alfie Kohn:

Well, if we’re talking about how well people work or learn, the quality of performance tends to decline in the long run when either threats or bribes are used to “motivate” people. A number of studies have found that people who see themselves as working at a task mostly in order to receive some goody wind up doing a significantly poorer job than people who aren’t expecting to receive anything.

Leslie Lindsay:

Why is that?

Alfie Kohn:

One reason — and this is also a rather destructive effect in its own right — is that when you do something for a reward you tend to become less interested in what you’re doing. It comes to seem like a chore, something you have to get through in order to pick up the dollar or the A or the extra dessert.  What this means is that millions of well-meaning teachers and parents and managers are killing off creativity and curiosity in their attempt to bribe people to do a good job.

“A compelling argument that the use of rewards is counterproductive in raising children, teaching students, and managing workers….A clear, convincing demonstration…written with style, humor, and authority.”

— Kirkus

Leslie Lindsay:

Are you seriously saying rewards don’t work? I mean, if I offered you a hundred dollars to autograph your book for me, wouldn’t you do it?

Alfie Kohn:

I’d do it for free, actually, but never mind that. You’re right:  rewards work.  But work to do what?  And at what cost?  Those are the two questions we should always be asking.  Rewards, like punishments, work very effectively to produce one thing and only one thing:  temporary compliance.  But if our goal is to get quality in the workplace; or to help students become self-directed, lifelong learners; or to raise responsible, caring children — then rewards are not only ineffective, they’re actually counterproductive.

Leslie Lindsay:


Alfie Kohn:

Absolutely. Beyond the effects on performance, consider the question of how we raise children to have good values.  Studies show that kids whose parents reward them a lot are less generous than their peers.  Is that surprising to you?  Think about it:  such children have been trained to think that the only reason to care about other people is because of what they’ll get out of it.  When there’s no incentive provided — no candy bar or praise or whatever — they have absolutely no reason to help.  They’re not thinking, “What kind of person do I want to be?”  They’re thinking, “What do I have to do to get the reward?”  It’s awfully tempting to try to control kids by promising them good things if they do what we want — or by threatening them with bad things if they don’t — but this approach makes them less responsible and generous in the long term.

Leslie Lindsay:

So you’re saying rewards really don’t motivate us?

Alfie Kohn:

I’m saying rewards motivate us to get rewards. Unfortunately, that’s usually at the expense of excellence at what we’re doing and a commitment to keep doing it.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

So what’s the alternative?

Alfie Kohn:

Well, that depends on whether we’re talking about productivity or learning or values, and on what our specific goals are. If we want mindless obedience, there is no alternative to rewards — except maybe punishment.  But if we want creativity and intrinsic motivation and good values and all that stuff, then it doesn’t make sense to ask “What’s the alternative to rewards?” because rewards never moved us one inch toward those goals.  Manipulating people’s behavior never will.  We have to start from scratch and ask what does help us reach those goals.

Leslie Lindsay:

OK. What does?

Alfie Kohn:

There’s no simple answer. “One size fits all” is a lie in clothing and it’s a lie in behavior.  Stickers and A’s and pay-for-performance are so popular because they seem to offer an easy answer.  After all, they’re based on a theory of motivation that was developed on laboratory animals.  But in the last three chapters of the book I take a crack at exploring the roots of excellence in the workplace and the classroom and how kids grow up to be good people.  My answer takes the form of three “C’s”:  content, choice, and collaboration.  Content means that we have to think about what we’re asking people to do; if the work is pointless or the request is unreasonable, it’s no wonder people seem to require bribes to do it.  Choice means that people are most likely to do their best when they’re given a substantial degree of autonomy about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.  And collaboration refers to the proven importance of working or learning with other people instead of against them or apart from them.

painting and drawing tools set
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I can’t resist asking you this: Were you paid to write this book?

Alfie Kohn:

Sure. I make my living by writing and lecturing.  But I find I have to try to stop thinking about the money while I work so I don’t stop loving what I do.  Managers need to divorce the task from the compensation as best they can by paying people well and then doing everything possible to help them put money out of their minds.  Likewise, teachers and parents ought to do everything in their power to help students forget that grades exist — at least if their goal is to maximize learning.  But my main point here is that there’s nothing wrong with money — or with candy or kind words, for that matter.  The problem begins when we make these things contingent.  It’s when we say, “Do this and you’ll get that.”  The damage occurs when the stuff people like and need is dangled in front of them as a way of controlling their behavior.

Leslie Lindsay:

I want to make sure I understand your reference to “kind words.” What are you saying about praise?  Surely you can’t mean that we’re supposed to stop smiling and saying, “Good job”?

Alfie Kohn:

Praise is more complicated than tangible rewards, and my criticism is more qualified here. Of course, any suggestion that praise isn’t simply terrific seems controversial because we’re taught to just slather it on.  The bottom line is that if people feel we’re not merely giving them feedback but actually using honeyed phrases to control them, then verbal rewards will be just as destructive as any other kind.  Encouraging people is fine, but only if we do it in a way that leaves them feeling self-determining and interested in what they’re doing — as opposed to feeling dependent on our approval.  A lot of us give praise more because we have to say it than because they have to hear it:  it gets people to do what we want and it makes us feel powerful because we’re doing the judging.  But our goal should be to help others, especially children, develop the capacity to figure out whether they’re proud of themselves, not what they can do to please us.

Leslie Lindsay:

So what would you say to people who have been using rewards in just the way you’ve described and are now wondering whether they’ve done everything wrong?

Alfie Kohn:

My answer is that if they’re seriously re-evaluating their approach, then I’m not worried about them. The best parents — and for that matter, the best teachers and managers — are those who are willing to rethink their most basic beliefs and practices.  The people I worry about are those who say, “I don’t care what the studies show.  Rewards work and nothing’s going to change my mind.”

acrylic acrylic paint art artistic
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of PUNISHED BY REWARDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

241ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The most recent of his 14 books are SCHOOLING BEYOND MEASURE…And Other Unorthodox Essays About Education (2015) and THE MYTH OF THE SPOILED CHILD: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting (2014).

Kohn has been described in Time magazine as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.” His criticisms of competition and rewards have helped to shape the thinking of educators — as well as parents and managers — across the country and abroad. Kohn has been featured on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including the “Today” show and two appearances on “Oprah”; he has been profiled in the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, while his work has been described and debated in many other leading publications.

Kohn lectures widely at universities and to school faculties, parent groups, and corporations. He is the father of two children and lives in the Boston area.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Amazon 51NIJAMDcgL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_


#backtoschool #rewards #punishment #parenting #education 

[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 8.4.18. Special thanks to HMH] 


BooKs On MondaY: HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap & Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims

By Leslie Lindsay 

Run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore and GET THIS BOOK! It’s Malcolm Gladwell meets Paul Tough meets Madeline Levine in a fresh, timely take on raising excellent adults from former Stanford freshmen admissions dean and parent Julie Lythcott-Haims.HTRaiseAdult

Never preachy, and oh-so-relatable Lythcott-Haims is spot-on with her approach to parenting, over-parenting, and preparing your children for the adult world. Julie gets it–she’s a mom raising her two (now) teenaged children in Silicon Valley where it’s customary for kids to have most of what they want, thanks to high-powered and successful parents with seemingly endless resources. With compassion and empathy, Lythcott-Haims takes parents through the minefield of raising kids to be independent, and how that is, in fact, the best way to honor and support your children’s individuality.

Brimming with research and laid out in a manner all parents can appreciate, HOW TO RAISE AND ADULT is a deeply informed narrative, which reads as if you’re chatting with a good friend over coffee. You’ll come across cringe-worthy anecdotes of parental over-involvement gathered from the author’s observation and interviews with parents, teens, educators, coaches, and more.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT is about letting your children fly while offering them stepping stones to critical thinking, problem-solving, and resilience.

Due to an uber-busy book tour this fall–in fact, she’s in my neck of the woods right now–Ms. Lythcott-Haims is unavailable to join us for an interview, but…fear not, for here’s a little cheat-sheet for your next book group, coffee break, or anytime you’re with like-minded parents and want to delve into some of the topics addressed in HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT:

1. For better or worse, eighteen is not the magical age at which a child becomes an adult; ADULTHOOD is more than just a number. So what does it mean to be an adult? On page 145, Lythcott-Haims offers a response to this question with the help of Professor William Damon, who states that “an adult social role is one that is intrinsically not about you.” Do you agree or disagree with this definition? How would you define adulthood?

2. As Lythcott-Haims discusses in her introduction, parenting styles, values, and methodologies in the United States have changed through the years and between generations. Does (or will) your parenting style differ from that of your own parents? In your lifetime, have you noticed a broader shift in the ways we, as a culture, think about and practice parenting?

3. In the twenty-first century, TECHNOLOGY influences nearly every facet of our lives, including the ways in which we parent. On page 14, Lythcott-Haims presents the following examples of how technology has affected parent-child relationships: “Take, for example, the mother of a Beverly Hills high schooler who insisted her son text her hourly on his way to and from a beach outing with friends. . . Or the Stanford parent who contacted the university to say he thought his daughter was missing because he hadn’t heard from her in over a day.” How does technology play a role in the way you parent (or plan to parent)? Is the ability to be in constant contact a blessing or a curse?

4. As parents, it pains us to see our kids get hurt, or fail, or face ANY VARIETY OF DISAPPOINTMENT But Lythcott-Haims argues that the experience of failure is key to building resilience in children and young adults. To what extent, and in what ways, is failure a necessary crucible for growth? At what point, if any, should parents intervene to prevent struggle?

5. Developmental psychologists generally agree that there are FOUR TYPES OF PARENTING: authoritative, permissive/indulgent, neglectful, and authoritarian. These types are diagrammed on a Cartesian chart on page 146. If your parenting style were a plot point on this chart, where do you think it would fall? Has its position changed over time?

6. There are numerous examples throughout How to Raise an Adult of parents who become exceedingly INVOLVED in their children’s schoolwork and responsibilities—sometimes through college and even beyond, into their children’s professional career. Is it ever appropriate or acceptable for parents to assist their children with schoolwork? College applications? The job search? 

7. On pages 81 to 83, Lythcott-Haims proposes a CHECK-LIST OF LIFE SKILLS that any self-sufficient eighteen-year old should be able to exhibit. Do you agree with the contents of this list? Are there skills or behaviors that you think should be added to or removed from the list?

8. On pages 166 to 174, Lythcott-Haims describes a 4-STEP STRATEGY FOR TEACHING LIFE-SKILLS: 1) first we do it for you, 2) then we do it with you, 3) then we watch you do it, and 4) then you do it completely independently. She acknowledges that the third and fourth steps are often the most difficult for parents to carry out, and require an enormous leap of faith. In your experience, why is it hard for parents to stand back? What are the fears and hopes involved, and how can a parent mitigate them?

9. One of the book’s major concerns is the PRESSURE that young people feel—to get straight As and perform well in extracurricular activities, and ultimately to gain admission to top-ranked universities and to obtain job offers from well-known companies—and the harms to mental health that result from this pressure. To what extent is it possible for individual parents to encourage effort and striving, and to reward achievement, without risking their children’s mental health and without fueling the “brand name brouhaha,” as Lythcott-Haims calls it on page 248? In what ways does our current collective value system resist individual efforts to turn the tide?

10. As discussed in Part 4 of the book, over-parenting not only negatively affects our children, but often places undue STRAIN ON PARENTS themselves. How does your parenting style affect your stress levels and your sense of self?

So…have you made it to the bookstore yet? Let me know your thoughts! 

For more information, please visit: 

  • The HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT website where you can share your story, read interviews from TIME, CBS this Morning, MSNBC, THE HUFFINGTON POST, the LA TIMES, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, find a book tour near you, and more
  • HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT on Facebook
  • Julie Lythcott-Haims on Twitter 

Julie Lythcott-Haims_Author photo for publicity and marketing_Credit to Kristina VetterBio: I am deeply interested in humans – all of us – living lives of meaning and purpose, which requires figuring out what we’re good at and what we love, and being the best version of that self we can be. So I’m interested in what gets in the way of that.  I wrote this book because too many adolescents and young adults seem to be on a path of someone else’s making, while being subjected to a lot of hovering and lot of help to ensure that particular path is walked, all in furtherance of a very limited and narrow definition of “success.”  I come at this issue from the dual vantage points of former university dean and parent of two teenagers, and with great empathy for humans.

I majored in American Studies at Stanford University (1989) and studied law at Harvard (1994). I practiced law in the Bay Area in the 1990s before returning to Stanford to serve in various roles including Dean of Freshmen, a position I created and held for a decade. In my final three years at Stanford I was Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising, and in 2010 I received the university’s Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for “creating the atmosphere that defines the undergraduate experience.” Since leaving Stanford in 2012 I’ve been pursuing an MFA at California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

In addition to non-fiction I write creative non-fiction, poetry, short stories, and plays. My work has appeared on TEDx talks and in the Chicago Tribune, Forbes, The New York Times, Slate.com, Time.com, and Huffington Post. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my husband, our teenagers, and my mother.

[Special thanks to Leslie Brandon at Henry Holt & Co. for this review copy. Discussion questions retrieved from Ms. Lythcott-Haims website].

Apraxia Monday: School-Based SLP Natalie Boatwright

By Leslie Lindsay

***Photo Dec 16, 6 54 41 PMSLP INTERVIEW!!!***

Thanks a bunch for taking the time to chat with us, Natalie.  We are excited to learn speech tips and tricks for the early childhood set from someone who is so well-versed (sorry, couldn’t resist), in the field.  Let’s start by getting to know you a bit.

L4K: When and how did you get interested in the field of pediatric speech pathology?  Is it something that has always been in interest of yours, or did it evolve along with your academic career? 

Natlie, CCC-SLP: It all started when I was a freshman in college. I was at orientation, and we were making our schedules for the first semester. I happened upon a course called “Intro to Communication Disorders.” I guess you could say it evolved with my academic career…I was hooked after the first class.

L4K: As a school-based SLP, what are some of the top speech concerns you see at the grade-school level?   

Natalie, CCC-SLP: The main concern I have encountered this year is with carry-over of learned skills into the classroom. I have a plan in place to help with this. I hope it continues to work…so far so good.

L4K: When I was an elementary student, I recall kids getting pulled out for speech services.  We called it “speech teacher,” at the time.  How do you see school-based SLPs evolving in the future? 

Natalie, CCC-SLP: Currently, I provide both pull-out and in-class services. The type of service is determined on an individual basis per the student’s needs. At this time, more of my direct therapy follows the pull-out model. However, in the near future I can see SLPs evolving into more in-class therapy services, perhaps in more of a co-teach model with the general education teacher during a reading or language arts lesson.

 L4K: While looking at your blog, Just Wright Speech, I see you have a ton of really cute and crafty projects to get kids talking.  How did you develop these ideas? [Be sure to check out and “like” her FB page, https://www.facebook.com/JustWrightSpeech and also the blog at http://justwrightspeech.blogspot.com/

Natalie, CCC-SLP: Thank you! Currently I’m still building my materials library, but the majority of the ideas are very simplistic and usually thought of while I am working on another project. Some of my activities have been inspired by other SLPs…there are some GREAT ideas out there. I usually tweak the activity just a bit to allow for more flexibility with among my very diverse caseload.  (I also keep a notebook of ideas. When one comes to mind, I jot it down…one day, there will be time to give them all a try!)

L4K: Most importantly, how do kids respond to your clever games and crafts?  What are some of their favorites?   

Natalie, CCC-SLP: My students are really motivated by activities that allow them to work together, and get away from the table. Such is the case with the recent life-size snowmen/women we made. This activity allowed them to work together and build something while at the same time targeting goals of requesting, sequencing, labeling, and more. The best part was being away from the kidney shaped table in the room and being able to work freely in a different place.  (image source: http://mommyspeechtherapy.com/?p=283.  retrieved 2.18.13)

L4K: What’s the social climate like in schools these days?  Do kids feel ‘picked on’ or ‘isolated’ due to their speech concerns?  How might a teacher/parent/or another school-based SLP address those concerns? 

Natalie, CCC-SLP: Within my current elementary school, to my knowledge, students do not feel as though they are “different” because they receive speech therapy. Many of the students within the school are seen for various things throughout the day. It is not unusual to the student or his/her peers to receive ‘help’ be it inside or outside of the classroom.

L4K: What are some of your favorite family-friendly resources for coping with bullies, disabilities, or a speech disorder?    

Natalie, CCC-SLP: When meeting with parents I like them to have something to walk away with in their hands. As a result, I have compiled a binder of articles, many of which I have found online at www.asha.org. ASHA stands for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. I have by binder in order by grade level (kindergarten through fifth grade) with the original articles in sheet protectors and parent copies following, in both English and Spanish (my elementary campus is a bilingual campus). Some of the articles in my binder are: 

Wow–a BIG Thanks to Natalie for taking the time to share your thoughts, ideas, and expertise with us! 

Fiction Friday: Boy Meets with College Counselor

By Leslie Lindsay

Remember your high school college counselor?  The one who reviewed your report cards and SAT/ACT scores and advised  you on which schools to apply…the same one who pulled out those Career Outlook books for your intended profession?  You weren’t interested in what the job actually entailed or what skills you could bring to it–you were looking for the digits that would represent your (hopfully, fat) paycheck.  (image source: http://testprep.about.com/od/besttestprepresources/tp/Summer_School.htm)

Well, here’s a backstory excerpt from my novel-in-progress that was cut by my writing partner.  (yeah, I am still reeling from this one a bit…I liked it!  But she’s got a good point).  Onward!!  [remember, this is not intended to represent anyone, living or dead.  It’s from the author’s imagination.  Please do not borrow or steal without first asking permission]

            Going to college was never a question.  I was going.  The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted to study.  I would go to the guidance counselor at school and ask what she thought I should do with my life.  Mrs. Clark would press her horn-rimmed glasses up on her face and lean back in her squeaky chair with a chuckle, “Well, Steve what do you think you ought to do with your life?” 

           In my cocky, self-assured way that I tried to call ‘humor,’ I’d say, “Well, you’re the guidance counselor, shouldn’t you guide me?” 

            She did.  Kind of.  Walking me to the college and career center in the counseling center, and sitting me down with a pile of paper she said, “Here.  Start here.  I want you to fill out this self-inventory and it will tell you what jobs you are most likely skilled at doing.” 

             I remember sitting at this little cubby with a number 2 pencil in my hand filling in bubbles about my likes and dislikes, “Do you like working with your hands?”  “Are you curious about how people think?”  Finally, when it was all said and done, the career center guided me to a career in mechanics, chemistry, or physics.  (image source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/education/edlife/guidance.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0)

It wasn’t all that surprising.  But really, I wasn’t sure how I was going to find a career out of such general findings.  I also learned that I was an extrovert (also not a surprise), and that I was more of a thinking person and not a “feeler.”  

            The funny thing about all of these self-assessments is that they were supposed to tell me something I didn’t know before.    I knew all of that.  I just wanted the damn test to tell me, “Steve, you should become a brain surgeon.  You should apply to Harvard.  You will graduate with high honors and marry your college girlfriend.  You will have 2.2 kids and have a 2-story home with a white picket fence.”  But it didn’t. 

           Guess those assessments aren’t crystal balls. 

            I struggled with my college plans.  I went back to see Mrs. Clark on several occasions.  She would pull my test results from the ACT and tell me that I was really bright, scoring a 33, with high marks in math and science,

           “Why not medicine?” she quipped.  “You could major in pre-med and go on to med school?  Your assessment profile says you’re good with your hands and have a high interest and aptitude in chemistry and physics.” 

          “Nah,” I shook my head.  “I don’t want to be in school forever.” 

          “You could make lots of money,” She’d counter.

          “What else ya got, Mrs. Clark?”

          “Hummm…how about mechanical engineering?” 

          I thought a moment.  I did like working on my uncle’s old motorcycle.  He had given it to me for my 16th Birthday.  I was overhauling the motor and futzing around with it.  I wanted to get it in really great shape so I could enter it in the classic cycle show.  But basically it sat in a pile in our garage gathering dust and complaints and my mom and sisters were forced to walk by it. 

            “You mean, be a mechanic?”

            “No, not quite.  You could work on large machinery, develop new systems and gadgets.  Or, I suppose you could become a mechanic if you wanted.” 

          “And how about you, Mrs. Clark?  Is this guidance counselor gig what your high school personality inventory decided for you?”

          She shifted her weight in that squeaky chair and cocked her eyebrow, “Steve, this is not about me.  It’s about you,” She said as she tucked a pencil behind her ear.

           I sighed, “Well, I just want to know if these things are right.  I mean, if your inventory said you should become a high school guidance counselor and here you are, clearly loving your job, then I want to know.”  My comment was dripping with sarcasm and she knew it. 

          She narrowed her eyes, “Do you have a girlfriend, Steve?” 

          “Nope.  Not at the moment.”  I wanted to retort with something like, “No, you wanna be my sweetheart, Mrs. Clark?”  But I didn’t dare. 

           “Well, someday you might and you better learn that this is not the way to woo her.  You’ll want to be very decisive about what you want—in a career, in life, in a relationship.   

            I remember telling her thanks and that things were beginning to make sense to me.  And they were.  I needed a high-paying job in the hands-on science field that wasn’t medicine.  And I needed to be decisive, girls liked that.

           And Mrs. Clark probably needed to get laid.

            I am happy to say that I took Mrs. Clark’s advice and became an engineer.  Not a mechanical engineer, but a biomedical engineer. I went through 4 long years of intense college courses at a state university.  With Annie.  And Beth.    Organic chemistry was a motherfucker.  We all called it O Chem and it blew major chunks.  The prof was a hard-ass who was probably going senile.  I had to re-take the class over the summer back at home at the local community college.

           I started working right out of college at Carmargo Medicine, making money hand over fist.  It was empowering.  It was thrilling.  I would get a paycheck—a big paycheck—every two weeks.  I started a 401K plan and loved to see the numbers soar when I received my quarterly statement.  I had a nice little nest egg—for what—I wasn’t sure.  I was able to run out and get whatever electronic device I wanted—new stereo component systems and laptops, big screen televisions and whatever cell phone was the “in” thing.   But I no matter how much money I made or how many shiny, fancy electronics I had, I still didn’t have what I thought I needed. 

For more information on guidance counselors and making the grade for your college, see The Ivy Coach.com  http://theivycoach.com/the-ivy-coach-blog/teacher-counselor-recommendations/guidance-counselor-recommendation/

Apraxia Monday: Welcome to IEP-land

By Leslie Lindsay

You may have just gotten your kids settled in school, and already you are beginning to think about the dreaded IEP.  Is it up to date?  Is is “good-enough?”  Is it helping your child tackle the things she or he really needs to tackle?  Are the teachers reading it?  Hummm…I feel your pain.  Here are some ideas to get you back into IEPland….

Remember, an IEP is a legally binding contract between the school and your family. It lays out:

  1. What your child’s qualifying disability is (in this case, a speech-language disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech, though there may be other diagnoses you child is also struggling with). 
  2. Your child’s present level of functioning (this is where assessment results are reported—are her receptive language skills at the level of a six-year- old, while her expressive language skills are at the level of a four-year- old?)
  3. What goals the IEP team thinks she should work on, over and above what is covered in the regular school curriculum (does she need specific goals related to expanding the length of her sentences? related to being able to respond to another child’s greetings? Does she need goals related to bringing her reading skills up to grade level?)
  4. What special services (“related services”) your child needs to help her reach those goals and make progress in the general education curriculum (speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills group, special education instruction).
  5. What accommodations and modifications your child needs to access the general education curriculum.
  6. Where your child should receive the instruction and therapy she needs (should she receive all his instruction and therapy in the classroom? leave the classroom for 30 minutes a week for speech therapy?)
  7. How the school will monitor your child’s progress and report that progress to you. 
  8.  Who will provide your child’s speech therapy. You may assume it’s the school speech-language pathologist (SLP), but that may not always be the case. Look at your IEP very closely. If it reads that speech services should be provided by the SLP, then that is a “good thing” (legally correct and legitimate).  But, if your child’s IEP says speech language services will be provided by “SLP/Staff,” “SPED staff,” “special education staff,” or a “speech language assistant,” then your child may receive speech therapy from an untrained, unlicensed individual, including substitutes, aides and paraprofessional, or any staff member willing to do speech therapy. They are not licensed by your state Department of Education, nor are they accredited by the American Speech & Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Make sure your child’s IEP reads that speech therapy will be provided by an SLP

Note that the school is not required to develop an IEP that will “cure” your child’s apraxia as quickly as possible, or provide everything you think would help her reach her potential. The school is only required to provide services to allow your child to “access the curriculum” and not to perfect his or her speech.

Whoa . . . what does this mean, exactly? It means that schools want our kids with CAS to be able to participate in classroom activities and to be intelligible. And if your child has another disability in addition to apraxia, the IEP will address how your child can “access the curriculum” and participate in classroom activities despite that disability—but not necessarily to “fix” every single difficulty your child has.IEP Cartoon

(Image source: zazzle.com)

You will be able to propose the goals that will help your child “access the curriculum” and participate in classroom activities. A possible preschool setting goal may be:

  • Connor will use a variety of means to request items and actions within the classroom (e.g., signs, single words, two-word phrases, pictures, and gestures) 80% of the time, which will be evidenced in quarterly data charting by teacher observation.

Another might be:

  • Angela will verbally approximate the words for common objects within the classroom setting in the following categories: food, classroom items, toys, and actions without a model with 80% accuracy. This will be measured by teacher observation and charted quarterly.

(image source http://health.pppst.com/IEP.html 9.10.12) 

You will also get to discuss and agree upon the “least restrictive environment (LRE) for your child. This means the classroom setting where she will have the maximum contact with typically developing children while still being able to meet her individual goals. For most children with CAS in kindergarten and above, the LRE will be the regular education classroom in the neighborhood school. For children with additional disabilities such as learning disabilities, Down syndrome, or autism, the LRE may be a combination of the regular classroom plus time spent in a resource room to receive extra help in some academic areas.

Every year, you will be expected to attend a new IEP meeting to discuss your child’s progress and re-discuss all the issues above, setting new goals, rehashing the LRE, determining what related services and accommodations and modifications are needed. You can also request an IEP meeting at any time you think one is needed.

[above is an excerpt from SPEAKING OF APRAXIA, Woodbine House, 2012. Copyright, Leslie Lindsay.  If you like what you see here, why not order the book?!]

For more information on IEP’s, please see: 

Apraxia Monday: School Readiness

By Leslie Lindsay



Ready, or not…school is right around the corner!  I know, I know…if you are a teacher or a school-based SLP you really don’t want to hear this, but we can’t wish it away. 

If your child has CAS (childhood apraxia of speech), then you may have additional concerns–and that is normal and to be expected.  Hopefully this post will help ease your fears.  It’s primarily based on kindergarten, but you can adapt this to preschool-aged children as well.  Frankly speaking, it really is best to have your child with CAS in a preschool program where normally-develping students can serve as positive role-models for speaking and socializing.  Postivite parenting encouragement is really needed. 

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

As a parent, you are going to grapple with this question as your “baby” gets closer to “K-Day.” You are especially concerned because your child has CAS, and with that come some other concerns: difficulties with social skills, distractibility (sometimes associated with CAS), and decreased verbal skills.

It’s an individual—and difficult—decision to make, to say the least. Here’s what I recommend: 

  • Look into your state’s requirements for admission to kindergarten, as they all vary.
  • Consider talking with your child’s SLP the summer before kindergarten to get her honest and professional opinion.
  • If there are concerns, try some summer interventions–additional private speech therapy or working on phonics, sequencing, distractibility, etc.
  • Consider seeing an occupational therapist (OT), who can better address some of the other concerns not completely associated with CAS. Seek out social skills classes that may be offered through your private speech clinic, or ask for recommendations from your child’s pediatrician.
  • Try “beefing up” your child’s social skills by role-playing potential social encounters at home: “How do you ask a question in the classroom? Let’s practice!” or “Do you know how to sit at circle time? Let’s try it out here at home.”  

You may also find this article from ADDitude Magazine helpful as you get closer to the first day of school. Finding a Teacher who Gets your Child,  http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/553.html  and this letter to the teacher, also from ADDitude http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/553.html. (While these articals are primarily for children with ADHD, they may also inspire you as you prepare for a successful CAS school year). 

Next week, on “Apraxia Monday,” we will continue chatting about school prepardness and your child. 

[the above information is an excerpt from Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Woodbine House 2012. The book is available thru Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, as well as www.woodbinehouse.com]

The Teacher is Talking: Planning for Fall

By Leslie Lindsay

You and your family may very well be making spring break plans and hearing the birds chirp again…but in the academic world, you may want to start thinking about next school year.  I know, it seems “too early.”  But the sooner you start thinking about a successful fall school experience, the better off it will actually be come September.

In fact, Kindergarten registration is this week for our family.  Many preschools are already enrolling students for fall and yes…our elementary schools are beginning to put together class lists for the next academic year.  Really.  (Hey, they want summers off, too!).

So, what’s a parent to do?!

  • Start thinking about what you want for your child(ren) next school year.  Do you want them in full-day kindergarten (if that is an option for you), do you want a.m. or p.m. kindergarten (assuming you have a choice), what do you want out of a preschool?  And, quite possibly the most important–how do you invision your school-ager’s academic year unfolding?
  • If your child is in elementary school now, start thining about what their current teacher is like.  What do you like/appreciate about this teacher?  Is she good at school–>home communication?  Does she explain things in a way that kids “get it?” Does he make learning fun?  Does your child seem happy in class?  Is your child making progress?  Is your teacher patient?  Does she allow for creativity?
  • Think about what you hope to see next year.  Would you like for your child’s (current) teacher to have more experience managing classroom behavior?  Would you prefer a teacher who has been in the district for more years?  Do you think your child’s personality “clicked” with this teacher (why/why not?), would you prefer for this teacher to have more experience in math/reading/writing (whatever your student struggles with), how would you like to see your child blossom next school year?  Make a list.
  • Connect with your current teacher now.  See if she/he has any ideas for a “good” teacher for your child next school year.  Each grade level should be familiar with the teachers immediately below and above what they are currently teaching.  Your child’s classroom teacher may very well know exactly which teacher would mesh best with your little scholar.  That’s Great1
  •  (If not), ask if you may give your current teacher a list of criteria/qualifications you are looking for in the next grade level.  Most teachers will be happy to oblige. She will likely review the list and pass on to the school principal, who is the person making most of these administrative decisions.  However, you may want to avoid listing specific teachers by name such as “I really want Joey to have Mrs. Smith.  Or, “Over my dead body will Sally be in Mr. Ratburn’s class.”  Like everything in life, the more diplomatic you are, the better chances you have at getting what you want.
  • Then, sit back and let the teachers/school administrators do what they do best: educate our children.

Class dismissed!