All posts by Rebecca Mannis

Phonics Skills Put Kids in The Driver’s Seat as Readers and Lifelong Learners

We knew it: Kids become good readers when parents/teachers 1) read to them, 2) show them books with great stories & illustrations, 3) talk to them about their ideas, and 4) give them tools to read.

A recent Stanford University study published by Professor Marin Aukerman describes how kids naturally move to the driver’s seat by the end of Grade 2 to take charge of their reading when grownups give them the proper tools.

What’s the secret sauce? The Stanford researcher found that kids who know how to decode (break down words into syllables) well most naturally move between pictures and words to understand the piece- they talk about text more often and are more on point than classmates. That tees them up to apply the techniques on their own and to like reading. It’s what my mentor, Harvard Ed School’s Professor Jeanne Chall wrote in her classic, Stages of Reading Development.

The most exciting finding to me is that the kids volunteered those connections (the strong decoders naturally said more about what they read and ‘proved’ their opinions using text and images more than the weak decoders) without prompting from their teachers.

Thinking along the education developmental trajectory as Professor Chall pioneered, the kids who become ‘unstuck’ from the page as good decoders then pull meaning from text with greater ease and success. Then, as they move toward ‘reading to learn,’ they are ready to apply the information to other language-based contexts, such as discussions in a Belief Systems class or in writing bullet points for debates. Karyn Slutsky, Assistant Director of Queens Paideia School conceptualizes it this way:”At QPS, literacy goes hand-in-hand with critical thinking skills. We challenge students to categorize information, notice and create comparisons, seek connections, explain their reasoning, and elaborate both orally and in writing so as to help them get their ideas to the next level of complexity.” From there, it’s on to top-notch Chemistry lab reports, winning law school Moot Court briefs, and writing a business plan to fund her latest startup!

The take home? They really do take in what we say and what we model. All the more reason to pop by your local bookstore or library.

For great tips on classics or new releases, check out The Corner Bookstore, where your kid can even set up his own account – Add his account to the index card archive of kids’ purchases in the drawers behind the antique cash register- generations of UES kids who grew to adore books at this Madison Ave gem. Or head straight down Madison to 79th Street for great kid and adult reads/programming at the timeless New York Society Library.

For those outside The Big Apple which is your ‘drop everything and read’ spot?

Check out these Ivy Prep tips for cultivating reading comprehension skills, too.

It’s National Reading Month: Let’s Celebrate Books & Baseball


March: Time to Celebrate Books &  Baseball

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It’s National Reading Month and in NYC the temps are warming up. School teams have started baseball practice, and the first pitches will soon be thrown  at Yankee Stadium​ and Citifield​!

The National Endowment for the Arts’ annual Read Across America finishing its tour and  President and Mrs. Obama supporting the Open E Books Initiative, a government  private corporate partnership designed to provide access to $250,000,000 of digital content free of charge to institutions that assist children who are underprivileged or who  have learning challenges.


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What a terrific way to put Common Core in its place: For one afternoon, place appeals for ACT, the ‘New SAT’ and other standardized test accommodations aside,  and pore over a great new release rather than planning summer college visits for you and your  11th grader!  Let’s take the advice of and take 15 minutes to enjoy the pleasure of a  good read.


It’s time to head over to your local book-store and pick up something fun to enjoy – or to read with someone else.  One of my  favorite  haunts is The Corner Bookstore. Insider tip: Set up an account for your child, who will join  thousands of other UES locals from decades past with index cards tracking their reads and balances — all lovingly archived in wooden files behind the counter that displays  the snazziest vintage cash register around.


Reading Recs for Those with Baseball on the Brain

The White House should have total consensus on its Open Ebook Initiative:  It’s a great time for kids and adults alike  stretch their imagination and their mental muscles just as in these weeks the athletes fine tune their Spring Training drills! Here’s a sampling of title we hope you will enjoy:

For the 7-13 Year Old Set  Counting the Minutes till Opening Day:

Dan Gutman​’s latest ‘Baseball Adventure’ release, Willie & Me. It’s the latest in Gutman’s series which  links baseball and history. The series hero, Joe Shostak’s time travel adventures take place with the rub of a baseball card. Parents may enjoy Gutman’s earlier piece, Roberto  & Me, where Joe’s time travel takes him to a  late 1960’s Jimi Hendrix Concert!




For the Budding Sabermetrician:Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 9.10.20 AM

Preorder MLB Network​ sportscaster Brian Kenny‘s ode to analytics, Ahead of the Curve with a taste here from last week’s SABR’s 5th Annual Analytics Conference.  I spoke with  Brian about his mantra: Analytics shape critical thinking on and off the field. We talked baseball, critical thinking,  and metacognition: Here’s what he had to say about why baseball is such a great way to engage our kids:

For Mommies Dashing Around Town……..

for last minute spring break reads can grab the handy paperback (Birken Bag friendly)  Primates of Park Avenue:A Memoir, Wednesday Martin​’s intriguing, dramatic. and humorous take on UES/UWS life and  parenting,


Reading Skills Grow When Reading is Fun

Summer Reading

Enjoying reading and improving fluency happens when books are engaging and when we can read them at an independent, comfortable reading level. This  can be a year-round experience, but spring and summer vacation lend themselves to family time and more relaxed opportunities to live literacy through our passions.



Reading Levels
Stages of Reading Development (Chall)

Professor Jeanne Chall, my Harvard Ed School mentor from 30 years ago would want us all to remember that reading is a developmental process that can be systematically taught  but  is best fostered gradually and in naturalistic ways. It starts with talking to our kids when they are babies and is a lifelong process, just ask the entrepreneurs, lawyers, physicians and writers I teach as they fine-tune their skills to advance their passions and their professional aspirations. Let’s remind ourselves, our students and children to enjoy books that are not always ‘a stretch’ – This is essential to honing reading and ensuring fluency grows and that reading remains  a fun experience. Check out these Ivy Prep tips for  improving reading comprehension.


Baseball Harvard

We invite you to share this blog, and to comment it, and jot us  a note – whether about your favorite books  or places you’ll be enjoying  them this spring. And then… head outdoors with your kids to enjoy the beautiful day and…. PLAY BALL!

Ringing in a New Approach to Home Instruction

Study Plan
It’s a new year, and if you haven’t made any resolutions yet, here’s a suggestion for one you can make and make happen: A commitment to finding and providing educational experiences that reflect who your child is. I’m with you on that; that is my daily resolution for the children with whom I work.

For that reason, Ivy Prep’s tutoring program now includes more services for homeschool instruction to meet the needs of New York’s burgeoning homeschool community.

Ivy Prep’s customized neuropsychological approach will help your child achieve goals with confidence and enjoyment, whether it’s support for a course, a full curriculum, enrichment, balancing instruction with other demands (e.g., sports, music, dance), or individualized content for students on an accelerated track. We are also expert at filling in curricular gaps in anticipation of a new school placement or due to medical attendance disruptions, and at integrating remediation for credit recovery for students enrolled in traditional schools.

As we get to know a student, we work in partnership with parents to understand his/her learning style, temperament, and any learning challenges that can be addressed through intuitive, customized instruction and strategies for long­term success. Ivy Prep has everything your child needs to advance, achieve, and arrive at his/her goals, and to do so with deeper understanding and self ­esteem.

  • Customization: Materials and approach aligned to a student’s current school or future program.
  •  Space to learn and grow: Learn at home or drop by Ivy Prep’s Learning Center at any time.
  •  Course credit and credit recovery: For students on an advanced track or who need to complete a course for school, collaboration with parents and current school administrators to optimize instruction through an accredited program.
  •  Collaboration and vision: Partnering with outside specialists, customizing effective technology, and incorporation of real­time enrichment. Ivy Prep also identifies further enrichment opportunities (individual, small group, etc.) to enhance the student’s big­picture experience.
  • Distance learning: Internet­ based instruction brings our full range of services to anywhere in the world.
  • Experience and time­tested methodology: Ivy Prep founder Dr. Rebecca Mannis has 30 years of experience in developing and providing at­-home instruction plans that match students’ learning styles and academic needs.

Call 917-495-5107 or email office@ivy­ to learn more about how we can help your child grow, learn, and flourish.

Happy holidays and best wishes!

Rebecca Mannis, PhD, Learning Specialist
Ivy Prep Learning Center


Never allow the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.— Babe Ruth


This is an exciting time. First, many of us are glued to our televisions laptops, and smartphones to watch our favorite baseball team play with such skill and passion. And second, high school seniors are in the thick of preparing college applications. It’s not much of a stretch to see the shared elements of these two situations. For both baseball players and HS seniors alike, what’s involved right now is pulling together many prior experiences that have led up to this special moment, and then capitalizing on them through careful planning, practice, and execution. I can’t help but wonder what lessons can be gleaned from the field to help students get through this point in their educational lives with more confidence and self-management know-how that can be called upon in the future.

In my practice, when I discuss with students their developing and submitting applications, managing ongoing academic and extracurricular demands, and juggling their social lives and trying to be supportive friends (while often competing with those same friends for spots at the same universities), it’s clear that I am just scratching the surface of an enormous load. Parents also report that their regular routine of professional and personal obligations are upended by last-minute visits to schools, acting as sounding boards for their children, and trying to let their children take the lead while also being ready to be called into action at any moment.

With the admissions season in full swing, Ivy Prep has already lived through many Common App essay drafts and application checklists. But when it all started months ago, we front-loaded our stressed-out students with talks about how cross-training for writing applications, managing stress, and executive function strategies will yield a better outcome, and we assisted them in strengthening techniques for high school that they can later take to college. In my 30 years of coaching students and their families in developing writing and executive function techniques, I have found to be true what the popular press now reports with increasing frequency: high school is the best time to develop techniques for managing the stress of multitasking, fine-tuning executive function, and honing writing skills. It is the best time and way to anticipate the greater expectations of college.

Psychologists and counselors offer myriad cognitive-behavioral techniques for students and their parents, and research now shows that the more these techniques are broken down into manageable units and practiced, the better a student fares on campus. Some of the strongest findings in this regard come from the world of sports and performance. I knew I was onto something, watching these playoff games and thinking about my students at the same time!

For this reason, Ivy Prep partners with sports and performance experts to bridge our techniques with strategies for stress management and goal-setting. Dr. Jonathan Fader, clinical psychologist and team psychologist for the New York Mets, shared some of his techniques at a 2015 Abraham Joshua Heschel High School Sabermetrics Club Night and in response to a New York Times article last spring about how we can help students prepare for anxiety they may feel at college:

“What teenagers can do to improve their performance is to realize that they can get better at managing their anxiety through practice. Using the same performance psychology skills that elite athletes, performing artists and even soldiers employ—such as arousal control, imagery and other forms of relaxation—teens can better prepare and inoculate themselves against the stress that comes with testing, interviewing, and applying to top schools.”

Dr. Fader’s presentation to Heschel High’s Sabermetrics Club:     “Performance Psychology On & Off the Field,” Bergino Baseball Clubhouse, April 14, 2015                                                                                                              


Teaming Up: Sports Psych & Ivy Prep Executive Function Training:                                                                  

[I]t takes a ton of concentration, and self-belief, to stay in the moment in this way and not let the highs and lows mess with your psyche.Mariano Rivera, The Closer: My Story

Baseball HarvardIn partnering with sports experts and cognitive-behavior specialists Ivy Prep helps students and parents maximize the learning strategies being developed as part of the application process and the stress management techniques that sports psychologists use. For example, a student may procrastinate around rewriting multiple drafts for an essay prompt because organizing the content, managing the steps, and refining specific language is anxiety provoking. Applying Dr. Fader’s CBT lingo, this “exposure” to the stress of working with uncertainty for an extended period of time can result in a degree of innoculation to the anxiety that adds to the student’s burdens.

In this situation, Dr. Fader (or another expert) and I might consult about specific strategies I have designed for the student based on his learning style–e.g., dictating ideas into a text to speech app, or using a graphic organizer to see his ideas and color code them before putting them in sequence. Dr. Fader may then develop voice recordings that remind the student of these strategies (and why they work) and specific visualization or relaxation strategies he can employ when working in the Ivy Prep study space in advance of a writing session with me. This team approach gives the student a fully reinforcing experience, where the instruction for executive function work and stress management enhance one another, create an envelope to contain the range of tools he has, and provide an overall experience that is attuned to our understanding of the adolescent brain and to the particular goals of the student. In sessions with Dr. Fader and me, this student and we can then step back to assess the benefits and drawbacks of whatever strategies he is using, which in turn enables us to fine-tune our coaching and provide further supportive opportunities for increased self-reflection.

Project Management: Executive Functions and Self-Awareness                                                               

It gets late early out there.—Yogi Berra 

Baseball clock

Self-awareness (also referred to as metacognitive awareness) is a key area of growth for adolescents and young adults. The region of the brain that mediates the skills underlying self-awareness—the frontal lobe—is the one that develops last, from the teen years through the mid-twenties. A recent study involving close to 2,000 European college students found a strong correlation between the students’ awareness of their attention, planning, controlling their actions, and self-monitoring, and the number of credits they successfully completed by the end of their freshman year. These are the components of executive functions, and they can be directly taught and practiced so that students can then transfer them to new learning experiences (just as Fader’s stress management techniques can be practiced and transferred to new situations). Honing stress-management tools in tandem with learning techniques for handling actual coursework sets up students to be more self-aware of their thought processes during learning and to regulate their feelings in real and successful ways.

We owe it to our kids to make them aware of these tools and strategies. College can, and should be, a time for personal enjoyment and growth. For parents, it should be a time to watch their children successfully experience this new milestone. While there are bound to be moments of transitional stress as children adapt to campus life and the different patterns of studying that college demands, they can weather those blips with the stress management and executive function techniques they used while in high school. As graduation time becomes sharper in its focus, and we can soon begin to see the light at the end of the Common App tunnel, have your child take some time to practice these techniques. Entering this new life stage with confidence and awareness will help ease many of the anticipated (as well as unanticipated) bumps in the road.

Rebecca Mannis, Ph.D.

To learn more about Dr. Rebecca Mannis & the Ivy Prep Approach to school admissions and executive functions strategies, contact us at Ivy Prep has proudly entered its 31st year providing customized educational remediation and instruction to students– in New York and across the globe.

Dr. Mannis thanks Karyn Slutsky, Assistant Director of Queens Paideia School,  for her insights in developing this blog series, Pre-College with a Broader Vision.  

Images: Wikimedia Commons and Rebecca Mannis, PhD

Pre-College with a Broader Vision


The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.—Lao Tzu

51+XSdHdy7LThese Duke booties are a sports-fashionable way to launch a diehard fan who can dream in his or her parents’ arms of an exciting college future. From early on, parents are conscious of the transition and promise that college holds for their children. As we and our children follow the NCAA brackets or enjoy college reunion weekends, the paradox of college looms large: the wonder of potential and the challenge of gaining acceptance at the school of our child’s dreams. In recent time, this paradox has generated significant anxiety among college-bound students and their parents alike.

Recent New York Times articles highlight some patterns observed in college counseling offices and on campuses across the country. Turns out (and is it really any surprise?) that the college years are replete with stressors, be it routine ones like adjusting to lecture halls and the dorm room; unexpected losses like saying goodbye to a chronically sick pet; or the issues around work, money, and relationships that arise throughout adulthood.

College as the Promised Land
By the start of upper school, most adolescents crave a positive college experience. As they slog through readings about the French Revolution and master the Spanish preterit, they overhear siblings and friends sharing stories about their college experiences, and they can’t help but yearn for their turn. So they manage the academic demands of reaching that goal, while close friends and family around them are so encouraging of their efforts that they may overlook or minimize the stress and anxiety that accompany them. College is idealized in our culture as the promised land after high school, and yet so many young people are faltering at its threshold, as well as once over it. What is it about the exertions required to get into college, and to thrive once there, that overwhelm the excitement and expectations of this much-anticipated time?

Every new life stage brings challenges, and therefore growth opportunities. But the trend of intense anxiety among college-bound high schoolers and students on campus is a truly worrisome development. As one head of college counseling put it: “Anxiety has surpassed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students.” Lost in our discussions and concern is a recognition that Upper School could be (1) a time for inculcating thinking skills that lead to independence; and (2) a training ground for stress management techniques that can ease the transition into the greater expectations of college life.

At Ivy Prep, we work with students, families, schools, and other specialists to help students optimize their pre-college time—at home or at boarding school—toward preparing for this transition. We promote solutions and strategies to ameliorate their anxiety and stress because they exist and they are available. We owe it to our kids, whose booties and toddler-sized college jerseys hang framed above their desks, to teach them these tools and help them anticipate the bumps that are a given in any big life-change. There are strategies you and your children can learn and practice right now—from both the brain-behavior world and straight out of the Citifield dugout—that can help you prep for this change with confidence. Our approach to college planning is based in the here and now, meaning, getting students skills and tools starting today, and which they can hone and use for the rest of their lives.

College is often the first real transition students encounter, and it can be needlessly tougher if students or their parents have spent the high school years focused primarily on mastering information or relearning course material rather than also on acquiring strategies and systems for independence and growth. While our children are in high school, with faculty who know them well and provide guidance and support, there is a unique opportunity to coach and expose them to metacognitive strategies, that is, methods for self-awareness of one’s own thought process.

Research in learning and emotional development suggests that if we are aware of how we think and approach an experience, we can use those insights to aim for other goals with success. Not surprisingly, self-awareness, plus lots of practice, is also the theory behind training on the sports field as well as managing sports-related stress. Training students in self-awareness and managing stress in the high school years results in new skills that will pay off in college, and in life beyond.

Executive FunctionsLearning to Learn
Thinking about stress management is the first step to achieving this goal. Pre-college students are used to strategies that help them learn information “for the test.” They typically don’t care about the theories behind what they are learning—if it’s not on the test, there’s no room for it in their brain. But pre-college time is also when students can begin to work on their executive function strategies so they can transfer them to a college setting later on. Students need to shift away from test-oriented performance and toward a broader vision that emphasizes how to actually think. Students can move from merely acquiring information to developing an internal instinct for approaching any stage of the learning process if their routine includes:

  • Review of content and skill-building within the basic 3R’s
  • Understanding how to attack a task.
  • Awareness of your learning style.

Research in transfer of training strategies, plus feedback from former Ivy Prep students out in the work force, demonstrate that metacognitive approaches work. The strategies transfer as self-awareness and skills increase, and honing those techniques reduces stress so the path toward college and professional development is more enjoyable than burdensome.

Ivy Prep’s next post will share tips on how to make this critical shift in thinking—a shift you will be glad you made for yourself, your child, and your family.

Getting Back into the Groove After Winter Break

Winter BreakWinter break is a gift to students and families, but it can also pose a challenge. After a long time off from school, it can be difficult to get back into the groove and reestablish routines and strategies that were second-nature before the long vacation. Here are some strategies to help you and your children start 2015 off on a good note:

Reinstate your daily routines

Routines provide stability and security. During vacation, you may have gotten used to going to sleep late and waking up whenever your biological clock woke you. But now that school has started, it’s important to reinstate a regular bedtime, schedule homework time and institute regular meal times.  Set an alarm on your phone for ten minutes prior to bedtime or other evening transitions to remind yourself to get ready to switch gears.

Eat a good breakfast

It’s tempting to stay in bed for a little longer and roll out of bed just in time to walk out the door. But a filling and healthy breakfast fortifies you for an entire morning. If you don’t have time to make breakfast in the morning, find something you can grab on the run or prepare something the night before. If you are able to spare a few more minutes in the morning, do some stretches or even some actual exercise to get yourself in the game. Although a recent study of Breakfast in the Classroom programs, which provide nourishing morning meals to students, showed inconsistent performance,  the research and anecdotes of Ivy Prep students and their parents speak to the benefit of taking some time to eat, whether at home or en route to school by Via, prior to starting a busy day of physical and mental activity.

Get to class early and get organized

Lack of organization can make it difficult to concentrate and take proper notes. Come to class a few minutes early and take out the correct books and notebook. Check that you have writing materials and paper.   Put only what you need on your desk and leave the rest in your backpack so it doesn’t distract you. If you have a choice of seats, choose a location that will allow you to see the board as well as the teacher, and stay away from students who are distracting. Refer to your planner or app to determine which materials you need during breaks so that you can collect appropriate materials from your locker.

Getting to school and class two minutes before the late bell enables you to get out the necessary books, work sheets and pens. It also prepares you to be ready when the instructor begins (as well as making you stand out as a student who is ready to learn). Come merely 1 minute after the bell and you label yourself as an unstructured, unconcerned and unprepared student:  Do you really need that 3 extra minutes in the hall?  Is the immediate gratification of playing around worth what you are giving up in learning and getting ahead in your work?

Create a study plan

Study PlanAs soon as papers, tests and assignments are scheduled, put them in a calendar (paper – or electronic, such as Google Calendar) and break down study tasks in advance. Plan to do a small task each day so you don’t end up stressed before deadlines.  Develop reinforcements to insure that your plan will work (for example; decide not to use the phone unless history note cards are completed).  You need to replace immediate (and fleeting) rewards and satisfactions with meaningful rewards in the future (for example; decide not to watch a tv show with the goal of being able to go to a movie/party/out for a bite after you have completed work).  Exercising self-control enables you make better use of your time.  By using strategies you create to complete your assignment you will  be in control of the work you face and practice the techniques that enable you to get to the finish line. This approach, which strengthens a person’s ability to delay gratification and increase mental control, is an example of the frontal ‘executive functions’ discussed in my earlier blogs. This PBS interview about New Years Resolutions with psychologist  Dr. Walter Mischel provides a 2015 reminder about the lessons of his famous ‘Marshmallow Experiments’ conducted with preschoolers in the 1970s. As Mischel and behavioral economists note in this video, some people find it much easier than others to delay control toward longer-term goals. But the more children and adults practice consciously delaying gratification toward goals by using plans or otherwise substituting smaller rewards, the more they develop the muscle memory and capacity to stay the course.

Schedule in some recreation

Going back to school isn’t all about studying. It’s also about getting back into school social life. To avoid the going-back-to-school blues, arrange some fun activities with your friends in between tests. Plan to go out and have fun after you have finished school-related tasks, so you will have a reward to look forward to.

File and paper management – neverending but negotiable

Take ten minutes twice a week to sort through papers at home while listening to your favorite music downloads so that you can more efficiently access the ones you need in class. Similarly, when you need to take a break from heavy-duty reading or writing, set the timer on your iPhone for ten minutes and organize your files into proper desktop or download folders and sync the computer to your other devices.

Plan for the next day, but not too much!

Before you head to sleep, take a few minutes to tee up for tomorrow and to them permit yourself to unwind. As my earlier posts about metacognition and time management mention, the practice of breaking down tasks into manageable units is a skill just like hitting a baseball or juggling. Use the Evernote app (which has a cloud-based component for easy access across devices), the voice memo function on your electronic device, or a paper post-it note to list key to-do’s for tomorrow. This way, you will be able to remind yourself in the morning of key tasks and can reassure a restless mind that well-deserved rest is in order.


How to Juggle School Demands During the Holidays

Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child recently published a guide for parents and educators about the development of executive functions during childhood.

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

The guide, Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills from Infancy to Adolescence, links the changes in the child’s growing brain to developmental expectations and strategies for school and home.

The Harvard publication’s section on The Adolescent Brain is particularly helpful and reminds readers about teens’ increased capacity for planning. This change reflects increased frontal lobe development and gradually increasing ability to regulate feelings about stress.

Harvard’s take home? Teach teens to set goals, plan how to actuate those goals, and self-monitor  which strategies contribute to  their success. Harvard and Ivy Prep emphasize the role of verbal mediation, or using self-talk strategies for  breaking down a task and for self-monitoring as one way to accomplish these goals. A terrific resource for information about verbal mediation is Dr. Jane Healy’s Your Child’s Growing Mind.

December is an ideal time to commit to developing these executive function skills as a step toward less stress and greater independence. Although the advent calendar is counting down the days until Christmas and our students are dreaming of down time during  holiday break, at school this is a time when exams, papers, and greater expectations for reading and memorization increase.  Students and families juggle these realities while they also  desire a chance to enjoy holiday celebrations, which in turn further increases the need to multitask.

Harvard’s three-point plan for executive function skill-building becomes even more important and sets up our students with techniques to ease their way into the new year as cumulative exams await. For that reason, we have designed a program that offers a taste of these strategies in December with ongoing fine-tuning and practice after the new year.

Credit: A Screenshot of Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child Report: "Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence", pg 12.
Credit: A Screenshot of Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child Report: “Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence”, pg 12.

Ivy Prep’s Weekend Study Skills Workshop offers practical coaching for these very executive functions that this Harvard publication discusses. This workshop is designed to provide scaffolding for students using actual course assignments each student has, with an eye toward the individual student’s learning style and the instructional approaches of  the specific school that each student attends.

This workshop is offered to  students in grades 8-12 (maximum enrollment: 8). Please contact us at for more information about this new weekend program and our 30 years of tried-and-true individualized instruction.

Note: Dr. Rebecca Mannis (HGSE 1985) is an appointed member of the Harvard Grad. School of Education Alumni Council.

Learning to be an independent learner

Independent LearningA trend is underway toward increased amounts of homework and more sophisticated thinking about schoolwork for middle and upper school students. Teachers often assign homework and projects or schedule tests for their students under the assumption that the students are able to learn new material on their own in advance of it being covered in class. This trend toward using homework to learn or apply, rather than to just practice and reinforce, is different from the way many parents (and these teachers) experienced homework when they were teenagers! Nowadays, many teachers ask students to pre-read and annotate chapters that will be discussed the next day in class, so the task of ‘reading for meaning’ and of ‘reading to learn’ new information has greatly increased at the middle to upper school levels.  A student’s ability to work in this way is a developmental process, with ages and stages that are predictable based on a variety of factors. These factors include the children’s age, physical and thinking stamina, stage of  development for language and critical thinking, reading and writing ability, capacity for frustration tolerance, and executive functions.

This change in expectations over the past five to eight years is happening in part to changes in attitudes toward learning and policies (whether mandated by federal or state law or as part of an independent school’s mission) that reflect philosophies of instruction.  Education policy and methodologies go through cycles and trends, just as other aspects of society shift with the changing of time. One example of this in the twentieth century was ‘The Great Reading Debate” between those, such as Goodman, who valued progressive ‘Whole Language’ or  “Look-Say’ methods and researchers such as (my former Harvard Ed School Professor) Jeanne Chall, whose research validating the necessity of formal phonics instruction served as the impetus for the United States government to recommend the return of formal reading instruction for phonics and reading comprehension to the curriculum.

These debates are now at play and impacting the lives of millions of middle and upper school students as they return from a day of learning in the classroom, football practice and debate team meets. The Common Core, developed in response to education reform mandates by the United States Federal government, is a key factor in this trend. This approach outlines an approach to developing curricula that requires children of all ages to absorb, integrate and use information in new ways. Some of this approach has been  developed, presented and effectively used for decades in systematic forums, whether as optional enrichment work or via math clubs such as well-respected, vanguard Continental Math League. Here, students often are mentored after school or in honors classes about ways of approaching tasks or finding solutions in different ways.  However, the pendulum has swung beyond CML as a helpful enhancement and toward constant integration across many courses. We are moving toward a culture of speeded acquisition of facts and application to new formats as basic elements of the schoolday, evening homework and weekend prep.

When modeled in the classroom, this philosophy of instruction and the materials  the teachers use can effectively tap into general concepts. Teachers can break down or scaffold how to use the content with new twists and turns. The hope is that students will be able to apply the concepts in a new way with independence, and the impact on America’s children is significant. Nevertheless the experiment of Common Core is that, a work in progress, and one in which millions of children and parents are attempting to adapt to this new format. Teachers are learning how to create road maps and cues that students can use in their independent work, but these waters are largely unchartered for the teachers and their students. One result is that students are being asked to ‘read to learn’ much more material on their own and to think critically about concepts. Often students are asked to develop their own systems for recognizing connections and for applying ideas or sequences to new questions after a long day of formal classroom instruction.

A critical goal for middle and upper school learning is that our children to learn how to think about information and ideas rather than simply memorize facts. Nevertheless, many of our children require guidance in understanding themselves as learners, or metacognition as they practice applying the information on their own. Same for note-taking for podcasts or primary sources that introduce information they have not been taught in the classroom as preparation for independent work.

While this can be stressful, there are specific tools that some teachers opt to include in the classroom (I often consult to teachers and schools about linking content instruction to metacognitive awareness). These strategies can also be taught to students in 1:1 customized instructional sessions. At Ivy Prep, we are embarking upon a new program that is available as a supplement to the individual work we do or as a workshop for students who could use guidance and practice in developing these independent skills with the mentorship of specialists who are aware of their specific goals. We present it to our students in this way:


The first step in independent learning is to take responsibility for your own studying. This includes developing personal strategies based on your learning style and seeking out resources beyond those provided by teachers and tutors. This will enable you to to push ahead through work and still have time to enjoy special hobbies, friends and activities that offer a balance to the grind that school can become, especially as the amount of daylight turns shorter and the to-do lists seem to be ever-expanding.

Identifying your learning style and tailoring your study habits to reflect it will help you learn independently. There are ways you can better understand the type of learner you are and how to maximize that style for each class you are taking. For example, if you are more of an auditory learner and the History textbook reading about the impact of the Constitution on the institution of slavery has confusing ideas, you might have an easier time if you first ‘warm up’ by listening to this video podcast interview with Professor (and US History textbook author)  Eric Foner on the topic and reviewing the outline that covers the basics.


The second step is to set goals and deadlines so you don’t find yourself cramming at the very last moment. Break down large tasks into manageable chunks and decide when you will complete each one. If there is one task which you are consistently pushing off, figure out why you are having difficulties with it and find a strategy that will help you get it done. For instance, if you have trouble getting the first few sentences on paper, “make a deal” with yourself that once you have three sentences written or a basic outline jotted down, you will take a break and do something fun. When you return to the writing, you will find it easier to continue now that the first barrier has been broken down.

As my prior blogs about managing time notes, one part of managing tasks is knowing what the mini-steps of tasks are,  how to best approach them given your learning style and the teacher’s requirements and how long those smaller steps will take.  Each of these elements is a key ingredient in the recipe you will use to learn on your own and manage the tasks of learning with greater success, more ease, and less stress.


Once you have completed your work (and hopefully enjoyed doing something truly fun later that night or weekend), you can move toward assessing what was helpful and effective about the approach you used. So, the third step is to look back at your completed schoolwork and reflect on why specific techniques were useful and how your approach can be improved in the future.  By meeting with your teacher and reviewing teacher feedback, you can pinpoint where you have grown and identify challenges or complications you’d like to troubleshoot for the next assignments. Ivy Prep offers customized techniques to do that (ones that match the student’s learning style and the methods and philosophy of instruction of a given school, insights I have from thirty years of teaching students 1:1 and collaborating with faculty about their curricula). And, of course your teacher is a critical resource to identify strategies that can move you ahead. If your teacher does not provide you with feedback, ask for it!


You may find that you need some help in following these three steps. If that’s the case, we recommend you join us at Ivy Prep Learning Center’s new Structured Study Room. Ivy Prep Learning Center aims to provide students with the customized tools to develop independent learning strategies using actual school assignments. The center’s learning specialists help students identify their learning styles and develop strategies for working effectively at home and at school. Our newest Structured Study Room course is a weekend program aimed at teens who learn well in a group and who want to get to that next stage of independence and efficiency. In two-hour sessions, the students will learn study and time management skills and have the opportunity to practice them by bringing their school assignments to the course and working on them with the help of specialists, who will advise each student on how he or she can best tackle the work. I will be speaking with students and their parents to identify specific goals and strategies that instructors can help students learn and practice, with an eye toward ‘getting the job done,’ learning techniques that are effective, efficient and transferrable, and reducing stress for students and their families.  Technology and print materials will be introduced and offered as resources to make those connections in a strong and speedier way.  Individual game plans will be developed based on those discussions and more than 100,000 hours of direct experience as a learning specialist, in teaching students individually, getting to know the subtleties of schools, and mentoring instructors since 1985 at Ivy Prep. The course begins December 6 and registration is now open. To learn more and register, please contact us at

Planning the Transition from High School to College Life


As we gear up for a new school year, it’s a good time for the college-bound and their families to turn their attention toward creating a smooth transition between high school and college life, in particular for students who contend with learning and attention disabilities that complicate this new stage.

If this is you, heading off to college can feel both exhilarating and loaded. Especially when considering your goals of adjusting to new rhythms of academic and social life on campus while also introducing yourself to student service administrators who will ensure that you receive accommodations and services to which you are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights act that ensures a range of entitlements for documented needs. As this New York Times article highlights, you are not alone: some 11% of college students require these accommodations for issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mobility issues, medically based disabilities, and dyslexia.

This is understandably a source of concern for you and your parents. The professors to whom you will hand your certification for accommodations will be familiar with this process from having taught other students who receive test, note-taking, or other accommodations. However, professors are content experts and usually not process-focused when it comes to students’ learning. Reports such as this show the ongoing need to sensitize educators at all levels to less common disabilities such as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Nevertheless, even among this unusual though ever-growing area (approx. 1 million new TBI cases are diagnosed each year, teens age 15-19 among the two highest risk groups), I have found educators at all levels eager and committed to providing for the hundreds of students with TBI with whom I have consulted over the past 20 years.

The ADA, professors, and your university’s student service center are on your side. You can also build upon the advocacy skills you and your parents have developed in high school and while ensuring appropriate standardized test prep. You also have your parents, who know you well and can assist you in starting this process, and you have the encouragement of teachers and other advisors from your high school days.


True, you are moving from a structured, supportive home life to a seemingly limitless, and therefore harder to organize, dorm life.  You are ready for this, and you can ease the transition by putting into place systems that will help you enjoy the fun of meeting new friends in the dining hall, take a broader range of classes, and enjoy new experiences beyond the lecture hall, like pledging for a sorority, trying a new sport, or volunteering at a local agency.

It’s only natural for you to want to cast off your parents in great anticipation of a much more independent form of existence. However, don’t be too quick to cut those parental strings, as you will need their support, guidance, and reassurance. And they may just remember which crate contains the file with the testing report that needs to be provided to the Disability Office.

College LifeIt is normal to want the freedom to do it your way and to simultaneously feel a tug to check in with your parents at this time. Developmental psychologists have conducted studies over the past twenty years that suggest that the late teens and twenties are their own unique life stage in which this push-pull happens. It is sometimes referred to as “Emerging Adulthood.” In fact, according to the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, directed by psychology professor Jeffrey Arnett, “Most young people still want their parents’ guidance and support as they navigate their way toward adulthood.”


With that in mind, below is a checklist of practical matters you and your parents can attend to before you head off to college:

  • Verify that neuropsychological testing and other documentation are up to date and ready to be filed with the Disability Office. Call or e-mail the office before arriving to set up an appointment to meet with one of the officers to review your case.
  • Discuss with your parents whether you are comfortable providing written consent to the Disability Office for communication with them. Some good reasons to do this are (1) stressful times, like before exams, and (2) if the schools needs to contact your parents to confirm that additional materials from local specialists have been received at the office. The office’s contact with your parents may also prove helpful if you have mobility concerns or medical issues that necessitate some breaks, or if you at some point need accommodations due to medical reasons.
  • Develop and practice a script that communicates what your learning style is and why you require accommodations. In my work at Ivy Prep Learning Center, I coach my students in this process of understanding themselves as learners and how to communicate not only the what of entitlements (which are required) but also the why, i.e., the context of why certain accommodations are necessary.  This helps professors understand, and may perhaps even lead them to fine tune their methods of instruction or assessment. It also gives them insight into you as a person and why a specific accommodation is important, be it access to PowerPoint presentations in advance of lectures or the opportunity to clarify essay questions when taking tests at an off-site location.
  • Use your last sessions with your  hometown learning specialist to develop a list of strategies and materials you have used in the past that may serve you well when going forward. At Ivy Prep, we prepare lists for our students that include the essentials of their learning styles along with a reminder of ‘tried and true’ strategies, PDFs and links to charts, and other resources that have been useful in upper school and the college application process: the chart you  used for note-taking in you AP Psychology class may also do the trick in outlining responses for your freshman writing seminar.
  • Locate a local learning specialist (if none on campus) for transitional support if it is not provided at your school.
  • Practice executive functions for list-making, time management, transitioning between places, and estimating time required for tasks as you pack up your bags for the big move.
  • Set up and practice using your new computer and other technology throughout the summer.  Update your apps and software, and be sure to set up a schedule for offsite backup .
  • Review syllabi or key readings from prior versions of courses you might take or preview the supplementary websites for your survey courses. Identify which ones feel more user-friendly to you and how long it might take for you to read a chapter outline.
  • Arrange for a bank account and other services over the summer, and practice using them with parental guidance. Start by making a list of the life skills you will need: using a credit card, shopping for and preparing food, doing your laundry, negotiating public transportation, defensive driving, etc.
  • Meet with your psychopharmacologist to check on dosage and get a supply in advance of leaving. Discuss alcohol use and driving limitations. Also, whether you can monitor your needs with the university health service or if you will need a local specialist.
  • Incorporate midterm and finals dates onto your calendar and in planning family visits or vacations over Thanksgiving and other holidays.
  • For the first semester, consider taking more familiar coursework or a lighter course load, and discuss policies for summer courses at local universities or five-year university options.

These are some suggestions to give you a head start in taking what is perhaps your first big step away from home. But we also want to hear from you (and your parents, too)!

College-bound students: What advice do you need? What are your greatest concerns?

Parents: What advice do you give your children as they head off to college? Please share suggestions of what has proven most valuable.

Graduates: What was the best advice you received before or during your college years? What advice do you wish you had received but didn’t?

Images: Wikimedia Commons.