Everything in Its Place: How to Organize Your School Materials

Now that you have your schedule organized, it’s time to think about how to organize your materials.  There’s no one “right” way to do it; you may need to try multiple different strategies and choose the one that works best for you. 

Color Coding.  Color coding can be helpful to make sure you bring the right materials to class.  One way to use the color coding organizational strategy is to assign each course a color.  This means that the book, notebook, binder etc. that you need for each course would be one color.  You can look at your text book cover as a guide of which color to use, or you can use book covers.  If you are disorganized or distracted, it is much easier to pick up every blue item than make a mental list of everything you might need for history class, for example.

All-In-One Approach. While many people find color coding materials helpful, others still have difficulty remembering to bring all of the required supplies even if they are color coded.  If that is the case, it is often easier to keep everything in one large binder.  The challenge here is to make sure that the binder is well organized with specific sections for each course.  It may still be helpful to color code the sections within the binder to foster organization and separation of course materials.  Additionally, it is usually helpful to have small spiral notebooks in each course section for notes.  This keeps all of your notes together and in order. 

Organizing Your Binder.  You will either have multiple smaller binders if you are using one for each class, or one larger binder if you are using a single one to hold all course material.  You should put your syllabus in a protective sleeve in the front of each binder or section.  Next, you should have a color coordinated spiral notebook to keep your notes organized.  Following the notebook, you should insert any in-class handouts so that you can easily access them.

Bag. Many students carry their materials to class, but it may be better to have a well-organized bag.  This will allow you to make sure you have all of the small materials you need like pens, highlighters, calculators, etc.  If you keep them in a specific spot in your bag, you won’t have to remember to take any additional supplies with you.  You will just have to change out the binder and books you need.

Once you find an organizational system that works for you, stick to it and try your best to keep your binders and bags neat.  It can be very easy to simply put papers or notes into your bag or in a book, but the care that you take following your system will save you a lot of time looking for things you need but have lost in the future.  For our next blog post, we will address finding or creating an environment that fosters productivity.

Private Supports for Adult Students

In our previous blog, we discussed the supports that you can access at a postsecondary educational institution. Services, such as accommodations through a Section 504 Plan (link), must go through the Disability Services or Student Accessibility Services office.  Many postsecondary organizations also provide additional supports that all students can access, such as the writing center or counseling center.  There are also many services offered privately within the community. Typically, private services may be closer to the direct instructional services that you received as part of your IEP.

Private Tutoring. There are many different types of tutoring that are provided privately; however, they typically fall into two general categories.

  • General Academic Tutoring. The first type of tutoring for adult students is general academic tutoring. General academic tutoring provides overall coaching on study skills that can have an impact on multiple subject areas and enhance learning outcomes. They may provide you with general learning skills, study skills, test taking skills, tools for homework and assignment completion, brainstorming, editing, and accountability to ensure assignments are completed in a timely manner.

  • Subject-Specific Tutoring. Subject-specific tutors fall into two categories. The first category work with students in a specialized academic subject, such as chemistry, psychology, or physics. This type of tutoring focuses on current work in the specific subject area of the tutor’s expertise. The second category of tutors work with individuals who have deficits in specific foundational skill areas such as reading, written expression, or math that impact global educational functioning. The most common deficit is in the area of reading, which impacts the learner’s ability to achieve across all subjects areas. There are many research-based programs that have been proven to help individuals build their skills in the area of reading. At Achievement Advantage, we provide Wilson Reading System tutoring to support and build reading skills for both K-12 and adult students.

Executive Function Coaching. Executive functions are the self-management system of the brain. Many individuals with ADHD and other related diagnosis have weak executive functioning skills that make it difficult in the college environment. Executive function coaching focuses on teaching specific strategies and tools to improve sustained attention, organization/time management, planning, task initiation, task completion, self-monitoring, and emotional regulation. Mastering these skills has a positive impact on educational, occupational, and social functioning.

Private Therapy. Some students may wish to forego the counseling center at their university or may not have counseling services available to them at the school they attend. In these cases, private therapeutic services may be beneficial. When seeking private therapeutic services, the individual has the ability to choose a therapist that specializes in your specific diagnosis or needs.

Private Evaluation. Another service that adult learners may wish to seek privately is a comprehensive evaluation. Many adults seek private evaluation when they begin to struggle to master the content in a postsecondary setting that may reveal an undiagnosed learning disorder. Other adults seek a private evaluation in order to clarify a previous diagnosis that they feel may be incorrect or need updated documentation to substantiate the presence of a disability. Moreover, some adults may seek an evaluation to provide updated recommendations for accommodations and specific intervention services to address the educational needs that they have.

Knowing all of your service options and seeking the appropriate supports is essential for individuals transitioning from K-12 to adult educational options. When both public and private services are combined, students with disabilities succeed at postsecondary institutions at high rates. Next time we will discuss assistive technology that can further aid adult learners with disabilities succeed beyond high school.

 

 

Additional Supports for Adult Students

Last week we shared information about accommodations students with disabilities might need in a postsecondary setting.  While a Section 504 Plan is designed to help you better access the curriculum, you may still find that additional services are required to meet your needs.  Many career centers, colleges, and universities offer a variety of supports that all students can access. 

Disability Services.  In order to obtain accommodations, you will need to contact the office that supports students with disabilities.  They will be able to inform you about their process for requesting accommodations.  They may also have additional services available to you such as on-going meetings with their staff, workshops, or access to assistive technology.  They will also be able to make recommendations about where to find additional services you may need.

Counseling Center.  All students have access to the counseling center, but if you have a disability that affects your mental health, the counseling center can be an invaluable resource.  Most counseling centers have a variety of counselors who specialize in different areas of mental health. 

Medical Center/Clinic.  If you have a disability that affects your health or you need to take medication to address symptoms of a diagnosis, clinics are staffed by doctors and nurses.  In the event that they are unable to meet your needs, they will be able to make an appropriate referral to another professional in the area.

Writing Center.  Writing centers are widely offered in many educational settings.  Staff members will be able to help you at all stages of your writing, depending on your needs.  They can help at the planning, writing, and editing stages.

Academic Departments.  If you are having difficulties in a certain subject area, you should consider speaking with the administrative assistant of that department.  Often times, they may have formalized tutoring hours that you can attend.  If not, they may know of other students who volunteer as tutors.

Communicating with Professors.  While professors are not responsible for providing remediation instruction, they are required to have office hours and are able to answer questions and provide guidance.  If you did not do well on an exam or assignment, make time to meet with your professor and ask them about how you can do better in the future.  If you have an upcoming test, you can ask questions about topics you still are unclear about.  Or if you have an assignment coming due, they can ensure that you are on the right track.  In all cases, when you meet with your professor, you should come prepared.  This means that you should already be doing the work, whether that’s having begun studying or started upcoming assignments, so that you have specific questions. 

While accommodations and other services provided by postsecondary services are necessary and helpful, sometimes adult students need additional services to help them be successful in school and other areas of life.  For the next blog, we will focus on private services students with disabilities may wish to seek outside of their educational organization.

Accommodations for Adult Students

In a previous post, we shared about the differences you will likely see between services and accommodations a student might receive in the K-12 and postsecondary settings.  While students in a college or vocational setting will not be provided direct services to remediate learning deficits like they would with an IEP in the K-12 setting, students with disabilities still have rights that will protect them at the postsecondary level.  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act makes it clear that “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  While an IEP and the services it ensures does not continue once you graduate from high school, under Section 504 an individual with a disability is defined as someone with a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.  If you are a student with a disability, your postsecondary institution must provide reasonable accommodation to address your specific disability.  The accommodations you may receive will be linked to your areas of need.  Below are a variety of common accommodations that are frequently used by students with disabilities.  It is important that you meet with the person responsible for providing services to students with disabilities at your educational setting.  They will be able to give you more information about all of the accommodations and services they can offer.

Classroom Accommodations

  • Depending on your disability, you will likely need accommodations within the classroom setting. These may include:

  • Copy of notes. This may come in the form of a copy of the teacher’s slides or a copy of notes taken by another student in the class.

  • Assistive technology. This may include things like typing written responses instead of hand writing them to allow you to spell check them. You may also be able to audio record class lectures.

  • Preferential seating. This could vary depending on the type of disability you may have. For example, if you have visual, hearing, or attention issues related to your disability, you may prefer to sit nearest to the point of instruction. If you experience anxiety or have a medical diagnosis that might require you to leave the room if you are experiencing symptoms, you might prefer to sit near the end of the row closest to the door.

  • Breaks as appropriate.

  • Extra time to complete in-class assignments. This accommodation may be provided if it takes you longer to complete tasks based on your disability.

Testing Accommodations

  • Taking assessments in a reduced distraction environment.

  • Extra time on assessments. For most disabilities, postsecondary organizations typically allow an additional 50% to complete assessments.

  • Read aloud. Tests may be read allowed to students who have significant reading deficits or visual impairments.

  • Typing written responses.

  • For the next blog, we will share about additional services that postsecondary organizations may offer and how to find private services if you need additional supports.

Addressing Unhelpful Thinking Styles: A Coping Strategy for Students Experiencing Anxiety

We are pleased to welcome Katie D’Fantis to the Achievement Advantage Blog.   Katie is an LPC, a board certified music therapist, and an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) clinician who works with teens and adults. She specializes in helping those who struggle with relationship issues, anxiety, and issues of self worth that stem from adverse life events such as grief/loss, abuse, and other traumatic experiences.  You can learn more about Katie's experience and services she offers, by visiting The Balanced Living Center's website.

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You can often hear me ask my clients “Where do you feel [that emotion] in your body?” And very often when the emotion they’re feeling is anxiety, my clients say they feel it in their head like “a dark cloud” or “a tornado” or like “static on a television set”. If you have ever struggled with anxiety, then you know that anxiety clouds your thoughts, perceptions and beliefs about yourself, others, and your experiences within the world. I have heard countless stories from my clients who are students and/or professionals about how these unhelpful ways of thinking have gotten in the way of their school work, preparing for a test or presentation, trying something new, or going out with friends on the weekend. As we embark on a new school year - a time when anxiety can run high - I want to share with you a tool that I find myself teaching almost every one of my clients at some point in our work together.

Below is a list of Unhelpful Thinking Styles. These are unhelpful ways of thinking that we all use from time to time and you may find that there are a select few that you use more often. Here are the steps to using this as a coping skill to develop more helpful ways of thinking:

Read
Read through the left column and take note of which unhelpful thinking styles you have used in the past/noticed yourself using presently. Become familiar with the ones you use most often.

Notice
Over the next week, just notice when you use an unhelpful thinking style. You will most likely notice you’ve used it after the fact; this is completely normal and is a step in the right direction!

Name It
Once you’ve noticed it, name the unhelpful thinking style. Just naming it and calling it what it is helps to diminish its power in the moment. For example, “I’m totally going to bomb this test! ...oh wait, that was me jumping to conclusions. I always do that before a big test, don’t I?!”

Work To Change It
Now it’s time to familiarize yourself with the right column of the page. These alternative responses are the ideal/more positive ways of thinking.  Over time and with continued work to improve your self-awareness, you’ll become better at noticing when you use these unhelpful thinking styles. Then you can work to change them by substituting the unhelpful thought with the alternative responses. Or, better yet, you’ll be able to anticipate the unhelpful thought, stop it before it happens, and the alternative responses will become your default way of thinking.

Wood, J.C. (2010).  The cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for personality disorders: A step-by-step program.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Wood, J.C. (2010). The cognitive behavioral therapy workbook for personality disorders: A step-by-step program. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Mastering these steps will take practice. Don’t forget to have compassion for yourself and to be patient. Think about it this way, you’ve likely spent years perfecting these unhelpful styles as your default, so naturally it would take time to change your default way of thinking. Practice makes permanent.

Wishing you all a successful start to the school year!

The Difference Between K-12 and Postsecondary Services for Individuals with Disabilities

As more and more students with disabilities are accessing postsecondary educational options, the need for information and services beyond high school continues to grow. The first step in accessing those services is to understand the similarities and differences in services between K-12 and postsecondary education.  The key lies in the laws that regulate those services.

Similarities Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

The similarity between K-12 and postsecondary educational settings is that all individuals with disabilities are entitled to accommodations. These accommodations are guaranteed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which aim to level the playing field between those with and without disabilities. These laws cover individuals from birth to death, so these accommodations are available to those in all educational settings and beyond.

Differences Between K-12 and Postsecondary Education

Although all individuals with disabilities are guaranteed accommodations in all educational and occupational settings, individuals with disabilities may only receive direct services to address their deficits during their K-12 experience. This is because services for individuals from ages 3 to 21 are also covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA ensures that those who met eligibility criteria for special education receive direct instruction supports and services to meet goals outlined in their IEP, in addition to any accommodations they may need. This is a higher level of support than what is provided under Section 504 or ADA. In a postsecondary and work settings, only Section 504 and ADA apply, and therefore adults are only promised access to accommodations.  There is no requirement to provide specialized services beyond reasonable accommodations. For our adult clients, this can be quite the transition.

Now that we under have established an understanding of the differences between services in educational settings, we will continue to talk about services in the college or postsecondary level.

The Top 4 Things First Year College Students Worry About

This week, please welcome Natalie Borrell as our next guest blogger.  Natalie is an academic life coach at Life Success for TeensShe works with teens and young adult to teach them skills they will need to be successful in high school and college.  This week, Natalie is sharing about what many first-year college students worry about, along with information they should have as they start college.

Here’s a secret that many recent high school graduates will adamantly deny. They are TERRIFIED about heading off to college. Even though they may pretend to be relaxed and ready, there are likely several things that are weighing heavy on their minds.

The first step to helping your teen handle their anxiety is to be aware of what they really fear about the whole college experience.  Here are a few of the top fears I hear from my clients:

Am I smart enough?
Many teens wonder if they will be able to continue to earn A’s and B’s like they did in high school. Even students who have taken honors and AP classes in high school often worry that they may not be able handle the increased work load that will inevitably come with college level course work. One student recently said to me, “Everyone in college is going to be smart.  What if I can’t compete?”

What your teen needs to know:
The best recipe for academic success in college includes three things: time management, organization, and using your resources (study centers, professor office hours, tutoring, etc.)

What if my roommate is weird?
Moving out of your parents’ home and into a small space with a stranger can be nerve wracking. It’s a great lesson in learning to tolerate other people’s differences. My freshman year roommate ate onions like they were apples. I learned to live with the smell.

What your teen needs to know:
Compromise is key. They will need to find a way to respect each other’s space and needs. It’s good to remember that Resident Assistants are trained to help work out any roommate differences.

What if I get homesick?
Missing your family and your dog is completely normal. Many teens worry that they won’t adjust well to college life and will end up coming home. One of my clients set up a weekly Skype date with her parents and siblings. She knew she could call them anytime, but looked forward to her set aside weekly family time.

What your teen needs to know:
It’s ok to have some bad days and want to go home. It can be helpful to fill your time with activities that make you happy. Try taking a workout class, joining a club, or playing an intermural sport. The more connected you are to other people, the stronger your support system will be. If the homesick feelings don’t go away, make sure you talk to a friend, your Resident Assistant, or go to the counseling center for some extra support.

How am I going to pay for all of this?
In addition to the cost of tuition, your teen needs to eat, purchase books, and have some extra spending money. Where does all of that money come from? How to get money, how to spend it, and how to have enough to last are all important skills they will need to learn.

What your teen needs to know:
Cheaper meals, books, and entertainment do exist. Make sure you shop around for deals, use coupons, and seek out free activities. Look for a part time job that would allow you to study at work. Don’t open up multiple credit cards. The free blanket isn’t worth it.

A Counselor's Take on Depression in Adult Students

We are excited to introduce our first guest blogger, Lauren O’Brien, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor who works with older children through adult clients at Lifestance/PsychBC in Fairlawn, Ohio.  While she works with many clients with a variety of needs, Lauren specializes in treating clients with depression and anxiety.  You can learn more about her background and services by visiting her Facebook page or her Psychology Today page.  We hope you find her insight helpful!

“Where does depression hurt?  Everywhere.”  I think about this commercial when working with clients because, although the verbiage seems cliché, it is quite true.  Even though the commercial may be talking about everywhere in regards to the physical body, when working with my clients we discuss how “everywhere” can refer to many facets of life.  For the sake of this blog post, let’s use school and work.  Depression is often a vicious cycle of minimal motivation, disinterest in self-care or hygiene, withdrawal, decrease in self-esteem or self-worth, and the cycle continues. 

Let’s put this into play with a fictional student named Rob.  Rob has low self-esteem and recently has been experiencing depressed mood.  He has not been feeling well and has minimal motivation to do ADL’s, or activities of daily living. Rob has skipped his morning shower for the last few days, and this morning is disgusted with his greasy hair and unpleasant body odor.  He normally plays softball in a recreational league on Tuesdays and Thursdays but has felt that the past two weeks the team is better off without him.  He has turned down many opportunities over the last two weeks to spend time with friends and has begun to miss classes at his university.

Using the example of Rob, it appears he struggled with depressed mood and ultimately it affected his self-esteem, relationships, school status and probably several other facets of his life.  I can only imagine that if Rob’s cycle would continue without help, it would continue to hinder social interactions, hygiene, relationships and jeopardize his status as a student at his university. Depressive thoughts can contribute to irrational thought processes, and those thoughts can trigger emotions and behaviors. In therapy, I like to use thought logs to assist in challenging irrational beliefs.  A thought log looks something like this:

  1. Event: Received F on Test

  2. Thought: I'm the stupidest person that has ever existed

  3. Consequence (Emotion or Behavior): Embarrassment, Sadness, Shame, Withdrawal from Classes

  4. Alternative Response: OK- I bombed that test. How can I better prepare myself for next time?

I challenge my clients by utilizing an exercise like this in daily life to help alter thought processes. 

Coping skills can assist in diminishing symptoms. Some of the coping skills that I recommend to clients are keeping a schedule, exercising, journaling, staying involved with friends and family members, and reaching out to a trusted person when the thoughts get the best of you.

I feel there are times in every student’s life where they may experience symptoms of depression; that does not necessarily mean this student has a depression diagnosis but is experiencing depressive symptoms.  Even if you don’t have a diagnosis, it is important to seek out the support you need.  Partnering with a mental health provider can often help you work through periods of depressed mood.  Most postsecondary education institutes have counseling centers that provide services, or you may prefer to find a counselor in a private practice setting.  If you do have a diagnosis, you can visit your institution’s Accessibility Office, who can help you secure appropriate accommodations.  Your mental health provider will be able to write them a letter including information about how your diagnosis impacts your life and what supports you need to be a successful student.

Depression can become overwhelming and at times can lead to suicidal thoughts or plans.  Sadly, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-34 as reported by the Center for Disease Control.  There are resources for students who feel suicidal.  Thanks to Logic, the Grammy nominated artist, the national suicide hotline has become more recognizable.  It is 1-800-273-8255.

If Rob sounds like you or someone you know, there is help.  Should you need further assistance, there are plenty of therapists out there who are willing to help, including myself.  Please know that depression is workable, and with the right support and assistance, you can work through the symptoms.  I’m here for you, you are not alone.