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Making sense of it all

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Susannah Cole loves organising things.

Her office supplies are carefully filed and labelled in a multi-drawer toolbox.

Her students learn the system before they take a highlighter or stapler — so they know exactly where to return them.

“If I wasn't an educator I would probably be one of those people who go into other people's homes, take all the things out of their closets and place everything in properly labelled containers with designated spaces,” laughed Ms Cole, a learning specialist who works out of the Reading Clinic.

She's had plenty to organise since she started her private practice in September helping children with executive function disorder.

Her students struggle writing essays, organising their belongings and remembering assignments.

“People tend to think of organising when they hear the term executive functioning,” she said, “but it is actually much bigger than that.

“It is about things like being able to set a goal, to prioritise, to plan, to organise both their belongings as well as their thoughts.

“It is about being able to use their working memory.

“A big one with a lot of students I'm helping right now is to think flexibly. It is about being able to shift their thinking and to not get stuck in the idea that there is [only] one way to do something.”

Some of her students also have learning challenges, such as attention deficit disorder.

“Students with ADD are likely to also have executive functioning difficulties,” she said.

“There are also a number of students who come in because they haven't been taught what to do with information and how to use it. Kids are being given projects at a younger and younger age; some of them don't know where to start.

“We help them break it down, set goals and talk about how we are going to achieve them.”

Ms Cole said the internet adds challenges because of its glut of information.

“We need them to be technologically savvy, but they are coming in with all this jumbled information,” she said. “It is all there but they don't have a way to integrate and synthesise that information.”

The Canadian moved to Bermuda six years ago to marry artist Michael Walsh. She worked for Bermuda Autism Support and Education and later provided learning support in government schools.

“A lot of the strategies we used with children with autism work with all children,” she said. “I really like working one-on-one with students.

“I like small group learning as well, because both of those allow me to individualise strategies, to figure how a student thinks and how they learn.”

She said some strategies work the first time, and others have to be adjusted over and over to get the right fit. There is now a waiting list for her services.

“I think the need is clear,” she said. “People are recognising that students are entering the classroom, very capable, but not able to meet their potential.

“Parents feel frustrated and wonder what they can do. This is that missing piece for so many students. My goal for the students is that they become self-directed learners, strategic in their thinking and flexible.”

Some students may need just a few months to learn helpful strategies, others may need more time. Ms Cole is working on a pilot project to help educators.

“I am looking at how we can better support and build capacity of educators across the island, at every level, to support executive function processes within the classroom,” she said.

“It is most needed and applicable to a classroom environment.”

•See www.consultcole.com. Sessions cost $75 an hour.

Making a difference: llearning specialist Susannah Cole talks to a student about a class project. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
Specialist help: learning specialist Susannah Cole talks with a student about a class project

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Published November 23, 2016 at 8:00 am (Updated November 23, 2016 at 7:52 am)

Making sense of it all

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