April 21, 2010


Memory – what an elusive and beautiful substance!  It’s no wonder the ancient Greeks adored a goddess of memory – Mnemosyne.  It is from the Greeks’ Mnemosyne that we have derived our word mnemonic (Diamond & Gutlohn, 2006).  So what is a mnemonic?  According to Webster, a mnemonic is defined as, “assisting or intended to assist memory”. 

Executive Functioning

This sounds like exactly what our students with executive function difficulties need – assistance with memory.  Working memory, in particular, is coveted by these students.  But mnemonics tend to be most beneficial with memorizing rote facts (Mastropieri& Scruggs, 1998).  Memorizing facts?  That sounds more like the department of long-term memory than of working memory!  So how can mnemonics benefit students with weak working memory due to executive function difficulty?  Well, if students can remember all of the factual information automatically and easily, their working memory is then freed to do the higher-level thinking – analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating, and creating (Meltzer, 2007).

What content do mnemonics help with?

Mnemonics have long been proven effective in a variety of memorization situations (Scruggs, et. al., 1985), including:

  • Transformational mnemonic strategies:
  • Foreign language vocabulary
  • English vocabulary
  • Social studies content
  • Cities and their products
  • Science-related content
  • Prose learning

Who benefits from mnemonics?

In earlier educational research, the use of mnemonic devices was proven to be beneficial for average students and gifted students (Scruggs, et. al., 1985).  More recently, however, mnemonics devices have demonstrated effectiveness for low-achieving students and those with learning disabilities (Diamond & Gutlohn, 2006).  In other words, mnemonic devices are beneficial for all students!  This is great news for mainstream teachers; mnemonic devices, when used appropriately, benefit every student in the classroom from learning disabled to gifted – and everyone in between.

LINCS Mnemonic Strategy

One of the most-researched mnemonic strategies of late is the LINCS vocabulary strategy (Ellis, 2000).  This strategy incorporates both mnemonic illustrations and an acronym to help students learn complex words by “LINCing” the new word to a familiar word.  The LINCS acronym stands for:

  • L = List the parts
  • I = Identify a reminding word
  • N = Note a LINCing story
  • C = Create a LINCing picture
  • S = Self Test

 When students list the parts, they write the word and its definition.  When students identify a reminding word, they think of a word that sounds like, rhymes with, or in some way reminds them of the new word.  During the “Note a LINCing story” step, students create a one-sentence story using their reminding word.  The “Create a LINCing picture” step involves drawing a picture to illustrate their LINCing story.  Finally, in the “Self Test” step, students self-monitor their understanding of the new word. Like other mnemonic devices, this vocabulary instruction method has proven beneficial for students with and without learning disabilities (Ellis, 2000).

Research-Based Modification

 According to Chris O’Brien, the LINCS strategy can be modified to suit the needs of the learners (O’Brien, 2005).  He studied a group of students who had so much difficulty with “I = Identify a reminding word” that the strategy was counterproductive.  Their teacher customized the “I” step as “I = Invent a sentence”.  With this modification, the LINCS strategy was successful for this group of students.  O’Brien makes it clear that research-validated learning strategies “should not be altered simply to make them easier to teach”.  However, strategies may be modified to suit the needs of students as long as there is fidelity to the essential components of the strategy, and student performance is tracked when utilizing the modified strategy.

My Modification

Chris O’Brien’s success with modifying the LINCS strategy sparked an idea in my mind for a different modification to the LINCS strategy that could potentially help students learn vocabulary in even greater depth.  As a middle school Language Arts teacher, part of my curriculum involves teaching my students Latin word roots, Greek combining forms, prefixes, and suffixes.  I find morphemic instruction to be a highly efficient way to teach vocabulary, because once the student has learned each morpheme, he or she is more able to unlock the meaning of unfamiliar words that contain that morpheme (Baumann et. al., 2003).  For this reason, I think it would be beneficialto incorporate morphological analysis into the LINCS strategy.  In the “L = List the parts” step, students could list not only the word and its definition, but also the word’s root, prefix, and suffix.  In the “I = Identify a reminding word” step, the reminding word could be a more familiar word with the same root as the new, less familiar word.  The idea of using a morphologically similar word for the “I” step is not entirely novel.  In an example from the University of Kansas, “mortician” was the key word for the vocabulary word “mortified” (Deshler, 2006).  So the only real modification I would be making to the LINCS strategy would be expanding the strategy by having students include the word’s morphemes in the “L” step.  This change meets O’Brien’s requirements for a modification that maintains fidelity to the spirit of the original research-based LINCS strategy (O’Brien, 2005).


If mnemonic devices are so fabulous, and they work for all students, why aren’t all of our educational quandaries solved?  First, mnemonic devices take time to develop.  Students would be able to learn very few things if they spent time creating a mnemonic for everything they learned (Ehren, 2005).  Secondly, while mnemonics can free the working memory for higher-level thinking, mnemonics themselves are only beneficial for memorizing rote facts (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1998).  Rote facts alone are quite useless, so mnemonics are not capable of transforming students into critical thinkers.  Finally, mnemonics are only effective if students buy into and become fluent in using the strategy (Ellis, 2000).  So, while mnemonics are beneficialfor remembering factual information, this strategy should be used selectively and appropriately.

More Examples

For examples of other mnemonic illustrations and word-based devices, see “Mnemonic Devices” by Barbara J. Ehren of the University of Kansas.    



Baumann, J.; Edwards, E., Boland, E., Olejnik, S., & Kame’enui, E. (2003). Vocabulary tricks: effects of instruction in morphology and context on fifth-grade. American EducationalResearch Journal, 40, 447. Retrieved April 21, 2010 from

 Deshler, Don. (2006, August 8). Using Learning Strategies to Improve How Students Learn and Perform.University of Kansas, Center for Research on Learning.  Retrieved April 21, 2010 from

 Diamond, L., & Gutlohn, L. (2006). Teaching Vocabulary. LD Online. Retrieved April 21, 2010 from

 Ehren, Barbara J. (2005). Mnemonic Devices.  University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning.  Retrieved April 21, 2010 from

 Ellis, E. S. (2000). The LINCS vocabulary strategy. Lawrence, Kansas: Edge Enterprises, Inc.

 Mastropieri, M., & Scruggs, T. (1998).  Enhancing school success with mnemonic strategies.  Intervention in School and Clinic, 33, 201-208.

 Meltzer, L. (2007). Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice. New York: Guilford Press.

 Scruggs, T., Mastropieri, M., Monson, J., & Jorgensen, C. (1985). Strategy research maximizing what gifted students can learn: recent findings of learning. Gifted Child Quarterly, 29, 181. Retrieved April 21, 2010 from

Math Reasoning

March 24, 2010

Road map for Problem Solving

Road Blocks

Imagine that you are driving along winding back roads in terrain completely unfamiliar to you.  You have no GPS, no map, and only vague verbal directions to your destination.  If there’s no fog, it doesn’t get dark, and all of the landmarks show up in the right order, there is a slight chance that you’ll remember the directions.  Then, suddenly, you see a “road closed” sign.  You scarcely had a strong enough grasp on the directions to reach your destination if all conditions were perfect, but with the unexpected obstacle, you have no clue of how to re-route yourself to your destination.

Executive Functions and Math

For many students, sorting relevant and irrelevant information can be a road-block in the process of solving math problems.  This process of sorting information is an even more daunting task for our students with executive function difficulties (Meltzer, 2007).  While all students benefit from direct instruction in the problem-solving process, students with executive functioning problems absolutely require this direct instruction.  Without direct instruction in sorting relevant and irrelevant information, students with executive function difficulties will likely hit the road-block of sorting information, with no hope of finding the right road to the solution.  

Math Problem-Solving Strategy

  In the book, Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice, Lynn Meltzer presents a road-map strategy for solving math problems – RAPS.  She makes use of the mnemonic strategy for recalling the steps. 

            Restate and Rephrase


            Plan and Predict




Executive Function Difficulty Addressed

Purpose of the Step

Restate and Rephrase
  • Difficulty setting a goal when solving a problem
  •  Read the problem for understanding
  • Impulsivity
  • Inability to sort out irrelevant information
  •  Visualize the problem, including relevant information and disregarding irrelevant information
Plan and Predict
  • Difficulty self-regulating progress
  • Impulsivity
  • Difficulty shifting focus if one plan is not effective
  •  Evaluate progress in the problem-solving process
  • Evaluate meaningfulness of the answer
  • Shift plan if the answer does not make sense
  • Task initiation
  •  Roadblocks to solving the problem have been removed
  • Students are now free from obstacles in initiating the problem-solving process


My Thoughts


I think the RAPS strategy has potential for helping a variety of students.  It would be beneficial for students who have difficulty with executive functioning or working memory, who can’t plan how to solve problems or don’t have the ability to hold and manipulate information in working memory.  The RAPS strategy even addresses some reading comprehension issues in its “restate and rephrase” step.  The “art” step could lead to affective engagement for students who are not especially interested in academics, but who enjoy drawing.  The “plan and predict” stage certainly addresses the needs of students with deficits in the executive functions of shifting and inhibiting impulsivity.  The RAPS strategy is likely to be helpful for students who are capable of performing calculations, but who struggle with math reasoning or executive functioning.

RAPS addresses the big idea of problem-solving and is transferrable to a variety of problems across the breadth of the math curriculum and beyond.  RAPS is a process of understanding the problem, visualizing the problem, making a plan, predicting and outcome, and finally solving the problem.  These problem-solving methods can be applied to a variety of academic and real-world situations.


Your students may be more interested in drawing out their math problems if they realize that great mathematicians, scientists, and inventors – such as Leonardo Da Vinci - have used the same strategy throughout the ages.  You may wish to show your students the drawings of the masters, along with their biographies.


The RAPS strategy does not address the needs of students with severe dyscalculia who are unable to make mathematical predictions or complete basic computations.  These students would need additional support in the “plan and predict” and “solve” steps.  The RAPS strategy is clearly a problem-solving strategy, rather than a math calculation strategy.


So, let’s go back to the roadblock analogy.  For students who have the ability to drive the car (complete mathematical calculations), the RAPS strategy is the road map necessary for maneuvering the roadblocks (sorting relevant and irrelevant information).  RAPS provides a structured procedure for students with executive functioning difficulty to follow as they learn to solve mathematical problems.   For these students, RAPS may determine whether they abandon the problem at the first roadblock or reach the destination of completing the problem successfully.

Resources (2010). Math Learning Disabilities Resource. Retrieved March 24, 2010 from

Meltzer, L. (2007). Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Reading Instruction

March 3, 2010


Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR)

What is CSR?  It’s a multi-strategy reading model that that students can transfer to a variety of situations, is structured, and provides an opportunity for group interaction.


Collaborative Strategic Reading (CSR) involves reading comprehension strategies implemented before, during, and after reading:

  • Before reading: activate prior knowledge & make predictions
  • During reading: self-monitor comprehension & summarize
  • After reading: formulate & answer questions to review


Because CSR addresses Big Ideas of reading comprehension, such as preview, self-monitor, summarize, and review, it is transferable to various settings.  CSR is designed for informational text and has shown positive results in reading comprehension in language arts classes, as well as science classes (Klingner & Vaughn, 2000) and social studies classes (Klinger, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998).  Because CSR is transferrable to multiple content areas, it is worth the time required to teach the strategies.


CSR appeals to the left-brained, logical learner who says, “I need to know exactly what I’m supposed to do!”  Students follow these four steps, repeating steps two and three for each section of the text:

Step 1: Preview

Students active prior knowledge by brainstorming what they already know about the topic, along with scanning the text to make predictions about what they will learn as they read the passage.

Step 2: Click and Clunk

Students monitor comprehension by stopping frequently to check for “clicks” and “clunks”.  Reading is “clicking” when students understand all of the words and comprehend the passage.  “Clunks” occur when students encounter unfamiliar vocabulary or difficult wording and are having trouble understanding.  When students encounter “clunks”, they use four “fix-up” strategies:

  1. Reread the sentence and look for key ideas to help you understand the word.
  2. Reread the sentence with the clunk and the sentences before or after the clunk, looking for clues.
  3. Look for a prefix or suffix in the word.
  4. Break the word apart and look for smaller words.

Step 3: Get the Gist

Students summarize the main idea of each section.

Step 4: Wrap Up

Students review by working together to formulate questions that will show what they have learned.  They record their questions, along with answers, in their learning log.  Groups may share what they have learned with the rest of the class.

For a more in-depth look at the steps of CSR, visit Reading Rockets.


CSR grants a “Yes” to your interpersonal learners who beg every time you introduce an activity, “Can I work with a partner?”  The steps of CSR are first taught to the entire class through direct instruction and think-alouds by the teacher.  Once the students are familiar with the steps, the following group roles are introduced:

  • Leader: Explains what to read and which strategy to apply
  • Clunk expert: Reminds the group of the fix-up strategies when faced with a “clunk”
  • Announcer: Calls on different group members to read or share ideas
  • Encourager: Gives positive feedback to group members

  • Reporter: Reports to the class the main ideas that the group has learned
  • Time keeper: Reminds the group to move on to the next step when appropriate

My Thoughts

National Reading Panel Research

national reading panel

CSR was developed prior to the National Reading Panel’s report in 2000, so I was curious about whether the National Reading Panel’s research supports the individual strategies used in CSR.  I was impressed to discover that CSR utilizes nearly all of the strategies that the National Reading panel found to be most effective in improving reading comprehension in “normal readers”.

National Reading Panel – Most effective strategies

Found in CSR?

Comprehension Monitoring Yes – Step 2: Click and Clunk
Cooperative Learning Yes – All steps
Graphic and Semantic Organizers No – But it can be done
Question Answering Yes – Step 4: Wrap Up
Question Generation Yes – Step 4: Wrap Up
Summarization Yes – Step 3: Get the Gist

Learning Disabilities

All of these strategies are great for what the National Reading Panel calls “normal readers”.  But what about students with learning disabilities?  As a special educator, I find it exciting that students with learning disabilities actually made greater gains than their non-disabled peers when using CSR (Klininger, 2004).


As an eighth-grade teacher, my only hesitation in using CSR is the question of its age-appropriateness.  First of all, the “click and clunk” and “fix-up” wording could be a turn-off for my students.  Solving this problem would require merely changing these words.  However, my second concern is not so easily addressed.  More of the Kingner and Vaughn studies were conducted on elementary students than on middle school students.  This problem is not unique to the CSR studies.  According to the National Reading Panel, grades three through six receive 76% of the research on reading instruction strategies, while only 5% of all studies included eighth-graders.  CSR has proven to be more effective among middle and secondary students when used in the form of Computer-Assisted Collaborative Strategic Reading (Kim, Vaughn, Klingner, Woodruff, Reutebuch, Keuzekenani, 2006).  If you have used CSR with middle-school students, I’d love your comments.


Overall, CSR is a solid approach based on the reading comprehension strategies that the National Reading Panel has deemed most effective.  CSR is appropriate for students in grades three through five, and has proven effective for students with learning disabilities.  The cooperative, structured approach appeals to a variety of learners.  I look forward to seeing how it works with my students, and I’d like to hear what your personal “clicks” and “clunks” have been with CSR.


National Reading Panel (2000). Teaching children to read: Reports of the subgroups. National Reading Panel Publications and Materials.

Kim, A.; Vaughn, S.; Klingner, J. K.; Woodruff, A. L.; Reutebuch, C. K.; Kouzekanani, K. (2006). Improving the reading comprehension of middle school students with disabilities through computer-assisted collaborative strategic reading. Remedial and Special Education, 27, 235-249.

Klingner, J.K. (2004). Collaborative strategic reading: ‘Real-world’ lessons from classroom teachers. Remedial and SpecialEducation, 25, 291-302.

Klingner, J. K. Vaughn, S., & Schumm, J S. (1998). Collaborative strategic reading during social studies in heterogeneous fourth grade classrooms. Elementary School Journal, 99. 3-21.

Klingner, J. K., & Vaughn, S. (2000). The helping behaviors of fifth-graders while using collaborative strategic reading during ESL content classes. TESOL Quarterly, 34, 69–98.

Klingner, J. K. & Vaughn, S (1998). Using collaborative strategic reading. Teaching Exceptional Children, 30, 32-37.

Writing Instruction

January 23, 2010

Perfect Writing Instruction Strategy, Please!

Where, oh where, is that perfect writing instruction strategy that works for all learners?  Well, I don’t think it exists, but I did find one writing strategy that might help some students with executive function difficulties in the specific area of narrative writing.  It is the “WWW What=2 How=2” strategy, which is taught according to the SRSD model.  Sorry for the acronym overload!  It’s all new to me, too, so here’s what it all means.

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) Model

In their book, Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, Robert Reid and Tori Lienemann discuss the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model.  SRSD includes six stages:

  • Stage 1: Developing and Activating Background Knowledge
  • Stage 2: Discussing the Strategy
  • Stage 3: Modeling the Strategy
  • Stage 4: Memorizing the Strategy
  • Stage 5: Supporting the Strategy
  • Stage 6: Independent Performance

With regard to executive functioning, Reid and Lienemann recognize that students must fully understand and take ownership of strategies in order to use the strategies to self-regulate.  When modeling strategies, they encourage teachers to think-aloud questions such as, “Why is this step in the task important?” or “How did I know to do this step?”  Such questioning is designed to promote metacognitive awareness.  The SRSD model is acclaimed to be highly effective in writing intervention (Meltzer, 2007).

 “WWW What=2 How=2” Writing Strategy

 So, here is the actual writing strategy.  As you can see, the W’s in the strategy stand for the brainstorming questions.  This strategy should only be used when students have basic writing skills, as well as knowledge of the story elements.  The strategy is designed to help students organize and include all essential elements in narrative writing.

  • Step 1. Think of a story to share with others.
  • Step 2. Let your mind be free.
  • Step 3. Write down the story part reminder.  WWW What = 2 How = 2
  •             Who is the main character? Who else is in the story?
  •             When does the story take place?
  •             Where does the story take place?
  •             What does the main character do?
  •             What happens when they try to do it?
  •             How does the story end?
  •             How does the main character feel?
  • Step 4. Write down story part ideas for each part.
  • Step 5. Write your story.  Use good parts and make sense.

My Thoughts

 The “WWW What=2 How=2” strategy is certainly not a magic cure-all for problems with writing.  However, I could see this strategy being helpful for students who have a tendency to jump right into narrative writing without taking time to plan.  When used within the SRSD model, this strategy is designed to help students focus on the important aspects of writing, to cope with possible anxiety, to use appropriate story parts, and to self-monitor the quality of the story that is written.  It is helpful that the strategy addresses both executive functions needs and written expression needs.  

 This strategy would be ineffective without going through the SRSD stages to ensure that students understand the strategy and can implement the strategy with relative automaticity, with more focus on the narrative writing than on the strategy itself.  This strategy would need to be “sold” to the students.  They would need to have some desire to improve their narrative writing, or the strategy would be too cumbersome to use.  Additionally, the student is likely to need further support in step five to organize and add sufficient detail to their story.

 I like the SRSD model because it teaches strategies to automaticity with the goal of student self-regulation and independence.  I think the SRSD model would pair well with the multiple intelligences.  I’d like to try administering a multiple intelligences survey to my students, and then teach strategies to small groups based on their learning styles, using the SRSD model.  That way each student can self-regulate, using strategies that specifically target his or her unique learning profile.


Meltzer, L. (2007). Executive Function in Education: From Theory to Practice. New York: Guilford Press.

Reid, R., & Lienemann, T. (2006). Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities. New York: Guilford Press.