Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Power of CHUNKING

“But I forgot!” 
“There’s too much stuff!” 
“Where do I start?” 
“What did you say?” 
“I can’t remember.”

Do any of these phrases sound familiar in your household? Many students with executive function challenges in junior or senior high school can feel overwhelmed when it seems like there is too much information coming their way. Task completion can be especially challenging for students who struggle with their working memory. When there isn’t a step-by-step “plan of attack” in place, anxieties and frustrations arise...for everyone! 

One of my favourite strategies to use with students who are having a hard time getting started on assigned tasks, whether completing a list of chores at home, a science fair project, or an English essay, is CHUNKING. Chunking allows me to say, “Let’s figure out the first step and then we’ll move from there.” Momentum is built when the first step is defined and then taken. 

'Chunking' refers to organizing or grouping separate pieces of information together. When information is 'chunked' into groups, you can remember the information easier by remembering the groups as opposed to each piece of information separately. The types of groups can also act as a cue to help you remember what is in each group.

There are several ways to chunk information. Chunking techniques include grouping, finding patterns, and organizing. The technique you use to chunk will depend on the information you are chunking. Essentially, chunking means that you take lots of information and ‘chunk it’ into manageable pieces, tackling one ‘chunk’ at a time, making more efficient use of short-term memory by grouping information. The resulting ‘chunks’ are much easier to remember than longer random strings of information.

Good chunking facilitates comprehension and retrieval of information. So, when you ask your child to clean their bedrooms, do their chores, finish their homework, study a list of vocabulary terms, plan or study for the upcoming social studies test, consider supporting them by CHUNKING information and requests:

  1. Breaking larger amounts of information into smaller units
  2. Identify similarities or patterns
  3. Organize the information into categories
  4. Group information into manageable units
This means that before heading off to complete chores, assignments or studying, you can ask questions like: 

“What’s your plan of attack?” 

“Do you have all the necessary materials needed to complete the assignments? If not, let’s find them.” 

“What’s your first step?”

“Which items on this list are a HOT? A SIMMER? A BACKBURNER?”

“Are there any patterns here? Let’s put all the things that are similar together.”

The idea is that the support will gradually be faded, so that student will develop the habit of independently asking themselves these questions to make a plan. However, these thought processes need to be explicitly modelled and taught. It’s definitely frustrating when it seems our children “can’t get it together” but it can be even more stressful and overwhelming to BE that student. 

When your child appears to be avoiding a larger task, ask yourself if CHUNKING could be the answer to creating a more manageable, step-by-step approach. This is not ‘spoon-feeding’ or ‘coddling’ but instead explicit teaching of a life-long valuable skill that adults have learned to ‘just do’ through experience. 
Many of our students come into our offices overwhelmed with a mental ‘to do’ list but after working with their coach, leave with a concise, manageable and CHUNKED plan, allowing them to face achievable challenges, one step at a time. In fact, when we asked our students to name a strategy they often use in their Kaizen toolkit, they highlight the power of CHUNKING, like this young man does...

Happy Chunking,

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


This summer, a lovely mother of one of my clients bought me this extraordinary book entitled 'The Talent Code’ by Daniel Coyle. Maybe you’ve read it? She mentioned that it reminded her of the work we are doing at Kaizen. As soon as she said it had to do with cutting-edge neurology and firsthand research gathered from talent hotbeds including: soccer and baseball players, famous authors, musicians and extraordinary schools who turned inner city low income students into college grads, I was hooked. 

As I worked my way through the book, I reflected on how we teach our students to be better and better. At Kaizen, we avoid the ‘your are born with natural intelligence and talent’ debate - it really is a circular argument of opinion that ends up going nowhere and in my experience, ends up with kids either feeling overly anxious to perform or hopeless to even try.  After all, we have all met students that are ‘super smart’ and are even labelled and classified as ‘gifted and talented’ according to their IQ scores. Often, this labelling does not always equate to exceptional daily performance, but instead sits as a label:  the potential to be a talented high performer. We have also all met students who have been diagnosed with various combinations of learning difficulties who feel invincible and determined to persevere to develop their talent.  In other words, like you, I’ve witnessed ‘high IQers’ fail and ‘average IQers’ excel. Why? 

Thursday, May 4, 2017


By Samantha Woods

With exams on the horizon, students will soon be revisiting their old notes and beginning their study regiments (hopefully!). As we see our children stare at their computer screens to ‘study,’ parents often question the quality (and sometimes, quantity) of their child’s study habits. The there seems to be a lot of debate these days as to whether students should write or type their notes (a similar debate often applies to using a digital agenda/calendar vs. ‘old school’ paper agendas/calendars; typing a reminder list on your phone vs. writing it on a piece of paper...). As a seasoned teacher (a.k.a ‘old’), I have lived both worlds, witnessing printing and paper being slowly replaced by typing and computer screens. As printing and handwriting notes metamorphosized to type and tapping, I began to notice changes in my students overall retention, their conceptual understanding of the material they were studying and overall engagement with the concepts being presented.  Was this a coincidence?  

This lead me to ask the question, “Do our brains process typing differently than writing/printing on paper? Does this somehow affect our memory and recall?” Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE educational technology, especially when I see a child’s struggle be alleviated, their eyes sparkle and learning becomes easier. Assistive technology can have very positive impacts on a child’s ability to learn BUT when it comes down to memory and conceptual understanding of material, does holding a writing utensil and recording information in our own scratch, have a better chance of being recalled later on? Does typing information simply mean transcribing and not processing? What does the brain have to do to transcribe typing into meaning? Is this a challenge for all? Some? Does it depend on preferred learning style?

So, I researched….

~ a huge thank you to SOAR Learning, Susan Kruger for providing this research summary.

The Research

Two professors (one from Princeton and one from UCLA) conducted a study by running three experiments. They had students take notes in a classroom setting. The study looked at students taking notes on a variety of things: bats, bread, algorithms, faith and economics. After, the students were tested on:
  • Memory of factual detail
  • Conceptual understanding of the material
  • Ability to synthesize and generalize information
The study revealed that students who wrote their notes on paper learned more than those who typed their notes. Students who wrote their notes by hand were aware that they wouldn't catch every word. It forced them to focus on listening and digesting. Then, summarize in their own written words. The process made the brain work harder and fosters comprehension and retention of the material. The research shows that students who took notes on their laptop did take MORE notes. 

But, they retained much less. This is because students who use a laptop simply type a record of the lecture. They don't use their brain to process what is being taught. Therefore students are merely transcribing, not processing. 

According to Susan Kruger at SOAR learning, there are 
TWO POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS for successful note-taking in this day and age.
Solution #1: Take notes ‘old school’ with pencil/pen in hand
Whenever you can, write your notes by hand. Put your brain to the test. Listen, comprehend, and summarize in your notes. Besides the increased opportunity for higher retention, you won't have the distractions that come with a computer. Visual note-taking can also be an incredible tool! To learn more about visual note-taking, here's a good video

Research shows that college students taking notes on a computer only spend 60% of class taking notes. They spend 40% of class time using the internet or other programs unrelated to the class. Plus, electronic devices introduce the opportunity for social media to interrupt your focus. Many of our own elementary, junior high and high school students have shared this reality with their Kaizen coaches - when they are ‘left to their own devices,’ distraction rates substantially increase both IN and OUT of class. If your child is in their room with their laptop and phone ‘studying’ and ‘taking notes’ from the posted information online, 40% of their time is likely spent  doing something else (online). Possible solution? Print the notes the teacher posted and recreate in your own words (without the computer). 

Having said that, I get it. This is the reality of our time and technology offers up many efficiencies.  No one can deny the speed at which you can take notes, compared to writing by hand.

At some point, you will encounter a class in which you truly can't keep up with how fast the teacher is teaching. If you try hand-written notes and end up feeling completely overwhelmed or with short phrases that don't make sense, pull out your laptop or voice recording software and do what you can. Voice memos are a way to combat slower processing speed - record a lecture or lesson and when you get home, take your handwritten or visual notes.

Solution #2: Type, then write! 
When hand-written note-taking is overwhelming, you can then take notes on your computer. But, in order to successfully retain the information, you will need to follow three guidelines:

  1. Turn off all distractions. Don't connect to the Wi-Fi. Don't do other homework. If you don't have faith in self-control, there are even apps/programs that you can set up to block all distractions.
  2. After class, transfer your notes from the computer to paper. Yes, rewrite them. It doesn't take as long as you would think and it gives you the opportunity to cut useless things out from your notes. It also helps retention, counts as studying, and is also the perfect set-up for active 20/5 review!
  3. Turn your notes into test questions. The most effective and time-efficient way to learn your notes is to turn them into potential test questions. (Creating questions is far more engaging and effective than memorizing!) The research proves it!
This review helps the brain process information much faster, dramatically reduces study time for tests, helps you work through the homework faster, and will ensure that assignments get turned in!

Many students feel like they don't know what they should be writing in their notes. Want to know more about a fast and simple method for turning notes into test questions? Ask a Kaizen coach!

Learning efficient note-taking processes will decrease the amount of time you spend studying, eliminate last minute cramming, and increase comprehension. 

As always, our goal is to provide skills for learning and LIFE. Of course, excellent note-taking processes support our success at school, BUT they can also be used at a board meeting, presentation hall, or anytime you have to engage your brain to remember new information or revisit old. Good note-taking is a life skill!

We are here to help. 

Better and better!
 ~ Samantha

Sunday, March 5, 2017

ADHD: An Executive Function Disorder - By Angela Rooke

If there is no conductor, the orchestra will not produce good music. Thomas E. Brown, Ph.D.

This month’s article was written by Angela Rooke, Kaizen Academic Coach. Angela enjoys working with all students, but she regularily puts her specialized training and experience to work with Kaizen students with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and accompanying executive skill challenges.  

“It was the school setting that really started to highlight his attention challenges. He had trouble staying focused on the lessons being taught, and struggled to sit in class without moving around. The teachers would explain that he was a great kid – creative, fun, loving, and had a great sense of humour BUT…he just could not focus on an activity or assignment that required extensive attention. His backpack and binders were a disaster and he would forget to complete and hand in assignments. Nightly homework became a huge challenge for him and our entire family! Even HE would explain that he just couldn’t focus on something that was boring. However, something he enjoyed and was engaged with, like video games and Netflix, no attention problems there! In fact, he could focus on those things for hours…”   (Kaizen Parent of a grade 9 boy).

Parents are often referred to Kaizen when their child has been diagnosed with ADHD, their stories almost identical what this parent explains. Students with ADHD certainly have amazing gifts and talents that should not be overlooked, however, this disorder certainly comes with its challenges, especially in the area of Executive Skill Functioning.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a neurologically based developmental disorder and is most commonly diagnosed in children and adolescents. ADHD is often referred to as an ‘invisible’ condition, and as such, those who are not familiar with it, do not always recognize it. ADHD is pervasive and affects a student’s ability to organize and regulate their behaviour, which ultimately impairs their ability to be successful academically. However, it is important to remember that a diagnosis of ADHD does not imply a deficit in intelligence. In fact, it is possible to have a very high IQ and still have ADHD.

Dr. Russell Barkley, an internationally recognized authority on ADHD, explains that ADHD is an executive function disorder. Executive Functions (EF) skills are perhaps the strongest barometer of a student’s ability to integrate and flourish in his or her academic and social life. They are the skills we use to navigate our lives and learning experiences. Because EF are at the heart of everyone’s ability to plan and organize themselves, initiate work, switch between activities, filter our emotional distractions, and self-monitor our progress on assignments, they are crucial to success in academic, social, and interpersonal pursuits. The brain’s executive skill functioning centre (found in the frontal lobe) acts like a conductor of a symphony, carefully organizing, coordinating and choreographing all the moving parts to play a beautiful piece of music. In an ADHD brain, the conductor isn’t always present, leaving each musician confused, uncertain and even disengaged, affecting the symphony’s overall output. 


If you do not have ADHD, it is difficult to comprehend what someone who has the disorder may be experiencing. Our friends at have created simulations so that parents can experience what it may be like to have ADHD. Try out a simulation HERE.

Research also suggests that those with ADHD have a difficult time sensing or using time as adequately as others in their daily activities, and as a result, are often late for appointments and miss deadlines, ill prepared for upcoming activities, and less able to pursue long-term goals and plans as well as others. EF skills are also integral to reading, writing, and paying optimal attention in the moment, while keeping in mind the past and looking toward the future. Problems with time management and organizing themselves for upcoming events are commonplace in older children and adults with the disorder. 

Individuals with ADHD sometimes have challenges with social skills and social relationships. Social skills are typically learned incidentally by observing others, practicing or imitating others, and by getting peer feedback. Lack of social skills can lead to peer rejection, avoidance, and isolation. Individuals unable to think socially have a difficult time relating socially. Often, social skills support can be very helpful for these students.

Watch this video. Julia’s Story : Julia explains how ADHD has impacted her in the classroom and strategies she finds helpful to keep her on track.


1. Emphasize Strengths
Many students begin to feel badly about themselves if they are struggling. 
Emphasizing a student’s strengths and understanding that ADHD also brings amazing gifts and talents with it that should not be overlooked. 
Have a look at this lovely list: 17 Things to Love about ADHD

2. Learn more and understand the disorder. 
Remember this is a neurological disorder.  
Use empathy. 
Remember it is an invisible disorder that impacts every area of an individual’s life. 
Continue to educate yourself on ADHD.

3. Provide Immediate Behavioural Feedback
Individuals with ADHD need significantly more help regulating their behaviours, and this translates into the need for immediate and regular feedback about their behaviour.

- Proximity Control
- Behaviour Charts (young children)
- Token Economy (Response-Cost procedure)
- Strategic Attention (provide positive attention when child is behaving and withdraw your attention when they are not behaving appropriately).

4. More Action Less Lecturing
Lecturing rarely works for any adolescent, but it is even less effective for individuals with ADHD. 
Children are more responsive to our actions than our words. 
Are there sufficient tangible consequences (both positive and negative)? 
Take action:  give a token, remove a token, withdraw your attention, but don’t lecture!

5. Make Rewards & Consequences More Powerful
In addition to making consequences more immediate, make them something that is motivating to the child. Individuals with ADHD often lack the intrinsic motivation to finish a task or get to a goal, therefore the adults in their lives need to use external motivation to facilitate their child so they are motivated to complete homework and study for tests.

6. Increase Structure
- Be Predictable (understand your child needs this)
- Make Rules Clear & Explicit (every time you do X, Y will happen)
- Set Behavioural Expectations (chores, responsibilities)
- Set Learning Expectations (you are required to study for…)
- Provide transition signals (5 minutes until dinner time)

7. Plan the Environment
An organized home = an organized mind. 
The more organized your child’s study area is, the more conducive it is to distraction free learning. 
Ask yourself: Where is my child’s desk?  Does he/she study with the TV on? 
Ask your child what works best for them. Involve them in the design of their workspace.

8. Provide Outlets for High Activity Levels
- Take study and homework breaks
- Have your child stand to do some of their homework
- Have them sit on an exercise ball for movement 
- Insist on daily outdoor physical exercise

9. Providing ESF Assistance
The neurological impact of ADHD tends to impair executive functions such as planning, foresight and decision-making, which = lost homework assignments, overdue assignments, messy binders, nonexistent organizational systems, etc. Hiring an academic coach to support your child’s executive functioning development and learn some practical innovative intervention strategies can make all the difference in regulating life both at home AND at school.

Adapted from Rick Auger, 2011: The School Counselor's Mental Health Source Book: Strategies to Help Students Succeed.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Originally posted January 11, 2017   author: Samantha Woods

Wishing you a year of 

Small daily improvements are the key to staggering long-term results.

As the new year unfolds, tradition dictates that we take some time to set new goals and create some planned positive change for the year ahead. In our office, this isn’t unique to turning the calendar page to a new year. In fact, we are continually working with our students to reflect, set goals and create accompanying action plans to assist them on their journey of continuous improvement. The KAIZEN business philosophy of “change for better” definitely applies here. People often ask me, “What does KAIZEN mean? Why did you call your practice KAIZEN?”

Masaaki Imai brought this business philosophy from Canada to the Western world around 1986. The true meaning, simply put is “GOOD-CHANGE” - Kai = change and Zen= good. In other words, change for the better. Over the last few years, it’s been fun to witness my friends and family begin to morph the word into various usages:

”Mom, are you KAIZENING today?”
“Sam - my kid needs some KAIZENIFICATION.”
“I think my husband/wife may need to be KAIZENIFIED.”

I’m not sure this was exactly what Mr. Masaaki Imai envisioned when he was writing about his business philosophies and resulting Japanese competitive business success... BUT essentially, I really loved what he had to say about the word KAIZEN and his description of IMPROVEMENT, not only on a production line, but within human beings:

“One of the most notable features of kaizen is that big results come from many small changes accumulated over time. However this has been misunderstood to mean that kaizen equals small changes. In fact, kaizen means everyone involved in making improvements.”

As I explored more about the KAIZEN philosophy, I began to wonder,

"What if schools empowered their students and teachers the same 

way a business empowers its’ employees to continually improve 

their processesand systems on the production line?”

Now, of course, schools are dealing with young developing brains, not machines and metal. However, the approach to EMPOWER all key stakeholders to adjust their practices and make small improvements leading to long-term results while contributing to the greater good made perfect sense! Everything that I believed to be true when working with children was included under this Japanese umbrella: goal setting, reflection without blaming or shaming, collaboration, open communication with everyone involved, continual research utilizing the latest findings in our daily practice.  

When you watch THIS VIDEOreplace the words ‘business’ and ‘employees’ with ‘schools’ and ‘students’ and in a nutshell, you have our KAIZEN vision for ALL of our students according to Steve Jobs.

10 Principles of Kaizen for Growing Brains
(adapted by Samantha from The Kaizen Institute definition of the Kaizen business philosophy)

  1. Improve continuously. Take action. Overcoming Laziness - 1 minute a day!
  2. Abolish old, traditional concepts that aren’t working (avoid a fixed mindset)
  3. Accept no excuses and make things happen. Try. Failure is learning.
  4. Don’t assume what works for your friend will also work for you.
  5. If something is wrong, correct it.
  6. Empower everyone to take part in problem solving. Parents & teachers are valuable resource to help.
  7. Get information and opinions from multiple people. Research and find what works. Work as a team. Act with integrity...always.
  8. Before making decisions, ask “why” five times and dig deep.
  9. Be efficient. Save time through small improvements. Small daily improvements are the key to staggering long-term results.
  10. Remember that improvement has no limits. Never stop trying to be better - it is an ongoing journey for everyone. Have a growth mindset.
So, as the New Year unfolds and you turn the calendar page to February, remember that good change can happen 365 days a year, even if you can only commit to one minute a day.

As always, we are here to help. Always wishing you and your family better and better for 2017 and beyond...

~ Samantha

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