SESSION STRUCTURE AND CONTENT
One of the key goals of the first session is for the student to understand how these sessions will help and to feel positively about the coaching relationship. It is the best opportunity for the coach to understand how the student is thinking and feeling about academics and also to demonstrate to the student that the coach is going to be of help to the student. The first session primarily has 4 objectives:
to learn pressing needs from the student
to establish confidence in, and rapport with, the coach
to inform the student of how the session will help and what kinds of skills will be developed
to engage the student to feel positively about the session
Depending on student attitude and optimism about the program, the first session may contain no substantive EF activities but be spent exclusively discovering needs, rapport building, and discussing the skills to be developed. Some games and fun activities should be used so the student gets some idea of the play-based approach that will be used to help develop certain skills. It is important the the coach establish an understanding in the student that the coach and student compose a team that will be working together to achieve the student’s goals. The student should be introduced to goal setting by discussing a personal, non-academic goal that the student has. This can be used to introduce how planning and breaking the goal down into steps can help the student achieve personal goals as well as academic goals.
Some students will struggle with identifying an appropriate goal. The coach should learn about the student’s hobbies and interests to help uncover or suggest a relevant goal for the student. Some students may also choose goals that reflect a habit of doing just enough to get by, rather than a goal that reflects a desire to accomplish. The coach should allow the student to choose the first goal but guide the student to identify a goal that is possible but also requires some additional effort from the student for future goals.
Sessions should be scheduled for multiple times in a given week, ideally 2-3. Sessions will need to be appropriate to the attention span of the individual and age group. Usually 30 minutes per session will be the norm but cues should always be taken from the particular student. While there is no maximum number of weekly sessions, a minimum of 2 sessions and 60 minutes of contact time per week should be achieved to expect meaningful skill development. There is evidence to support intensive sessions to accelerate skill development
The total number of sessions needed by a particular student will depend on a number of variables, including the quantity and severity of the deficits needing to be addressed, the frequency and consistency of the session meetings, and the rate at which the student understands and adopts the techniques and behaviours.
The structure within each session and the longer-term goals of the sessions should be clear to the student in a level of complexity appropriate to their age and comprehension.
The outside session work (do not use term “homework” this will have specific, often negative, connotations for the student) that is assigned is not discursive but rather play-based or directed toward noticing opportunities to apply session skills. This should be called practice, rather than homework, to extend the idea of skill development, rather than extra work.
-follow-up on previous session and interim activities
-check-in about new and current needs
-plan/describe session with/to student
-content: skill instruction/ review/ application
-skill progress tracking toward mastery
-review and conclude session
-write and submit session notes
Each session should begin with a few minutes of small talk based on the interests of the student. The topics should not include any topics that will be, or often are, the subject of the session’s content. The coach should connect with the student as a person with specific interests and values not related to school or the area of support.
The session should always begin by following-up on the previous session and anything that was supposed to be accomplished (assignments, skill development) between that session and the current one. Often this will include following-up to see if the agreed upon plan from the previous session was followed.
If some aspect was not completed (study session did not happen, skills was not practised as agreed), use this as an opportunity to develop problem solving and demonstrate cognitive flexibility. Have a discussion about uncovering the reasons why the plan did not work (Was the time slot selected not appropriate? Was the student not motivated to start? Was the work area not adequate?...). The coach should acknowledge that it sometimes happens that plans are not followed, we should be prepared for this eventuality and develop the skill of adapting with a new plan. A new plan needs to be made that accounts for the cause of the previous plan not being accomplished. The student should be involved in the planning as much as is appropriate to the level of this skill in the client. Use Socratic questioning to help guide the student toward possible solutions.
If the student successfully followed the agreed upon plan, specific praise and reward points should be awarded, and the success should be recorded in the skill mastery tracker.
Check-in: New and Current Tasks
Once all previous work and plans have been addressed, the coach will check-in with the student regarding ongoing projects and all new assignments and due dates. Coaches with regular teacher contact may already have this information but it is important to habituate the student to being aware of, retaining, and reporting this information. Reward all new reports with specific praise and reward points. For students developing the scheduling skill, additional points should be awarded if new items were independently recorded. Relevant records can be made on the skill mastery tracker.
Plan and Explain Current Session Content
Once the coach understands what was and was not accomplished since the last session, and has any new information from the teacher and student, a coherent plan for the current session can be made. The session plan should always be shared with the student and student input should be welcomed and incorporated to an appropriate degree. The long-term goal is to have the student confident with the skills and knowledge necessary for setting the agenda for the meetings but early sessions will need to be organized by the coach. The plan for the session should be very clear to the student and should be repeated as each section of the session is completed. A session will be a combination of
introducing new skills
demonstrating the application of skills, and
opportunities for independent application
play-based applications and games
Introducing New Skills
The number of skills being developed at a time should reflect the coach’s ongoing understanding of what is appropriate for a student but generally should range from 1-3 skills at a time. The student will have a complete list of skills needing development, from this list of total skill needs, 1-3 will be prioritized to be actively worked on. These ‘active’ skills Are worked through to mastery and then a new skill from the total needs list will be made active and worked on during the sessions. A coach should not introduce more than one new skill in a single session. When introducing a new skill, a description of the skill should always include the way it applies to the student’s current needs. This component of the session is the most one-directional as the coach is teaching a new concept to the student. It may be necessary to go beyond examples and incorporate applications to help the student understand the mechanics of a particular skill.
2. Demonstrating the Application of Skills
Once a student has an understanding of the concept of the skill, the coach must demonstrate how that skill is applied. This is best done by direct application to the student’s work whenever possible. If no appropriate school material is available, draw on material that is age and ability appropriate and reflects the interests of the student. The demonstration of how skills are applied is the main component of the sessions. It is here that the student learns how to properly employ the skills being developed. Consistent repeated demonstration of application is the core of developing skills that the student will be able to apply independently in the future. Use of the Skill Mastery Tracker will help ensure the correct skills are focused on for the correct amount of time. The focus of the sessions can sometimes be pulled in multiple directions simultaneously Consider the following example:
A student has begun progress on a particular skill, paragraph writing for example, but an urgent need is discovered in the form of a multiple-choice test at the end of the week; multiple choice questions being an area of need equal to writing. In the interests of serving both the long-term and short-term needs of the student, it is appropriate to defer the planned writing focus for another session in order to work on multiple-choice question tips.
It is the role of the coach to adapt to pressing needs and so it is appropriate to put a skill on hold to address a more pressing need. The Skill Mastery Tracker will ensure that the coach returns to the prioritized skill.
3. Opportunities for Independent Application
The ability to recognize opportunities to apply skills in novel or extended contexts is itself a skill that needs development. Students need to be able to identify how a skill can be implemented more broadly in their life. After each application session, the coach should invite the student to think of ways to apply the skill independently. The coach should guide the student with Socratic questioning if needed. After completing the requisite demonstration sessions for a skill, applying the skill independently should be among the student’s scheduled responsibilities between sessions.
4. Play-based Applications and Games
Elementary students respond very well to instruction delivered through play. Some developmental psychologists consider play to be the primary means of conceptualization and communication among elementary students. Additionally, skill instruction lends itself particularly well to play-based instruction and demonstration. The use of play and games has also been shown to improve and maintain student engagement in instruction and produce a positive attitude toward sessions. For these reasons, play-based instruction is to be used whenever possible and games that develop the relevant skills should be used as rewards to be played as the final activity of a session.
The tracking of progress toward skill development is important for a number of reasons. It provides clarity and structure to the content of the sessions, it provides clarity for the student on what to expect from the sessions, it provides a record of student progress, it can alert the coach when a new strategy is needed to help a student with skill progression.
For each skill developed, the following is recorded:
Date and content of initial skill instruction
Date and context of first shared application of the skill (usually same date as initial skill instruction)
Date and context of subsequent shared applications
Date and context of independent applications
Dates of re-introducing skill (if needed)
Date of Mastery
Date of Short-Term Retention Check (within 2-4 weeks)
Date of Mid-Term Retention Check (within 2-3 months)
The student should be aware of and involved in the skill mastery tracker’s use. The mastery tracker allows the student to be an active participant in knowing which skills are being worked on and the progress that is being made in each skill. Reward points should be awarded for progress along the mastery tracker as well as for effort and engagement in general. It is also important for the student to be aware that ‘backsliding’ and other setbacks are to be expected in the development of a skill. It is important that the student understands that this is a normal part of the process and does not reflect a failure on the part of the student or the sessions. Appropriate analogies to video games and sports should be made: sometimes you have to try a level or play a team multiple times before a successful strategy is discovered. In the majority of cases, at least 3 successive examples of independent skill application should be recorded before a skill is considered mastered. This guideline will vary by skill and student, and the ultimate decision of demonstrated mastery should be deferred to the coach’s judgement.
Review and Conclude Session
Time should be reserved at the end of the session to review the material that was covered in the session and to reaffirm the planning and scheduling for the coming week, month, and term. It is important for the student to complete the session on a positive note. For this reason the last interaction with the coach should once again, as with the welcome/rapport building component, be informal discussion of things the student enjoys: hobbies, upcoming events. The final minutes of the session should be spent connecting with the student as a person, discussing topics that put the student at ease.
After each session the coach completes a brief summary of the session to be shared with the parent or caregiver. The notes should contain:
-information on the skills developed in the session
-a report on student engagement
-an update on skill mastery progression for each active skill
Given the young age of the students, the coaching notes provide important insights into the coaching sessions for the parents. Students are not always able to completely report on what was covered in the session (though the session review is intended to help with this) and so parents rely on these notes to stay informed and assured that progress is being made through the assigned skill set.
See example session notes in the Appendix.