Case Studies and Strategies

> Attention
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> Mental Energy
> Processing
> Production

Mental Energy

Evenings at Amani’s house are always interesting. By the time her mom picks up Amani and her sisters from their various after school activities, it is already time for dinner. While Amani’s mom prepares the meal, the girls settle down at the kitchen table to complete their homework.

“Mom, Amani won’t stop kicking my chair.”

“Amani keeps tapping her pencil on the table, and it’s driving me crazy.”

“Amani is on the floor playing her Gameboy®.”

Every day it’s the same. Amani fidgets and wiggles until her mom intervenes. She knows that once she sits down and helps Amani get started on her work, she will work independently until dinner time. However, there are just so many other things to do. Will this child ever outgrow this? Why is it so much easier with the other girls?

Apart from homework time, Amani is an excellent student. According to her report cards, she participates in class discussions and always completes her work. Amani loves basketball and enjoys reading stories to her younger neighbors.


  • To get rid of excess energy, Amani needs downtime before starting her homework. For instance, she might come home and shoot baskets outside for 15 minutes. If she comes in when the 15 minute timer goes off and settles down to work quickly, she might be rewarded by being allowed to read a bedtime story to the kids next door.
  • Amani’s mom and sisters could take turns helping her start each assignment. For instance, they might help her do her first math problem, listen as she reads instructions, or help her with the first sentence of a writing assignment.
  • It might be helpful for Amani to have her own homework area away from her sisters and other distractions. She could help choose the location, seating, and materials. This area should only be used for homework or other quiet activities, such as independent reading.


Andrew has become a “poor test-taker.” In elementary school, he always performed so well; it just does not make sense. He studies the night before the test for hours. When his dad quizzes him before bed, Andrew can recall the answer to every single question. Yet when he takes the test, he blanks out.

“That test was so unfair! She changed the wording of the questions.”

“None of what I studied was even on the test!”

Andrew’s parents also report some frustrations at home. He gets overwhelmed so easily. If they give him too many instructions at one time or present multiple options, he freezes or blows up. For instance, when his mom asked him to sort through his old books to decide which to keep and which to donate to the yard sale, Andrew had a complete meltdown! It was just too much.

Typically, Andrew is a gentle, sweet boy who likes to please others. He gives 110% in all he does and he loves his various collections of rocks, stamps, and old records.

“If Andrew’s collections keep growing, we’ll have to buy a bigger house!”

  • Andrew’s parents should help him obtain structured study guides from his teacher or his textbook Web site to ensure he is studying relevant information.
  • When quizzing him before bed, Andrew’s father should ask the same questions in multiple ways.
    Example: What is the capital of California? (Sacramento) Sacramento is the capital of which state? (California)
  • Andrew’s parents should help him identify a system for sorting, paring down, and organizing his collections. For instance, if he’s going through his record collection, label three different boxes: Keep, Donate, Undecided. By including the Undecided option, he can hold off on difficult decisions and return to them when the pile is less overwhelming.


April’s motto could be “Act now. Think later.” She has never had many close friends. It’s not that she’s moody or mean-spirited; she just has a tendency to say things without thinking first. For instance, when she saw a classmate at the mall, April noticed the girl had just gotten a new hairstyle. Before she could stop herself, she blurted, “I liked your hair the other way. That cut makes your face look fat.” As soon as she said it, she wished she could take it back; but it was too late. April’s thoughtless statements are the source of many fights with her siblings, especially when they are at home alone after school.

April and her mom have had a very strained relationship lately. Her mom thinks she’s lazy. For example, April is supposed to clean her room on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. This has been a house rule since she was a little girl. Each time she cleans, April’s mom gets frustrated by her lack of effort. The room is still a mess! April gets frustrated when her mom makes her clean her room again.

April and her mom also clash when it comes to completing long-term assignments. April always waits until the last minute. They have had to make countless last-minute library trips, and it is not unusual for April and her mom to pull an “all-nighter” in order to get a project turned in on time.

April is a talented young lady. She loves to read and watch movies, and she’s fearless and articulate when speaking in front of large groups. April is interested in studying photography in college. She enjoys taking pictures of wildlife and landscapes.

  • April and her parents could watch movies together, identify awkward social interactions, and discuss how characters handle those interactions.
  • April should consider joining a debate team. This would allow her to leverage her public speaking strengths in a forum that requires her to prepare her responses ahead of time instead of speaking impulsively.
  • April should take pictures of her room when it is clean. Each time her mom asks her to clean her room, she can use the pictures as a model of what her mom expects from her.

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> Elementary
> Middle/High School


Homework time has always been a breeze at Miguel’s house. To help him learn addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts, his dad used to time him during fact drills and record the time on a chart. Miguel enjoyed trying to beat his fastest time; he even began competing with his dad!

This year is different. As a fourth grader, Miguel is required to apply his strong math operations skills to solving math word problems. He gets so frustrated trying to figure out how to solve the problem, especially when there are fractions involved. Now he has “melt downs” during homework time or even avoids doing his math altogether.

Miguel has many strong interests. He enjoys cooking family recipes with his grandmother, and he loves attending sporting events with his dad. They are always amazed by how Miguel memorizes recipes after seeing them once and recalls countless sports statistics.

  • Miguel’s parent might use measuring spoons or cups to help him visualize fractions.
  • Miguel’s father should incorporate sports analogies to make fractions more concrete. For example, to demonstrate 1/2 + 1/10, draw a football field (rectangle) and draw a line to represent every 10 yards. Have Miguel shad in half the field plus another tenth of the field.  Ask him how many tenths are shaded.
  • Help Miguel break a word problem into smaller steps.
    • What is the question asking you to find?
    • Which information is important?
    • Which operations should you use to solve the problem?

Middle/High School

“When am I ever going to need to know geometry? There are no angles to worry about in medicine!”

Minh, a 10th grader, detests geometry! It’s not that she isn’t a good math student; she just doesn’t “get it.” She knows how to measure an angle, but proofs do not make sense to her. She already knows she wants to be a doctor, so why should she have to take this “useless” class to graduate?

Recently, Minh’s parents received a call from school. According to her geometry teacher, Minh has failed two unit tests and has zeros on four homework assignments. Without additional tutoring at home or after school, Minh is not going to pass the class.

Minh loves fixing things. Whenever there is a computer problem, her parents call on her first. Even as a small child, she loved to take kitchen appliances apart and put them back together. She likes to understand how things work.


  • Minh should do research to determine if and how geometry is used in the field of medicine. She might accomplish this by doing an internet search or speaking with a physician or medical educator.
  • Contact the state AARP or a local senior center, or post a classified ad to locate a retired physician who would be interested in tutoring Minh in geometry.
  • Help Minh relate aspects of geometry to her interests. For instance, since she enjoys fixing things and learning how things work, she might enjoy watching a television show such as Discovery Channel’s “Myth Busters” or “How It’s Made.”

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> Elementary
> Middle/High School


Eight-year-old Randall reads at a very slow pace. He labors over every word, sounding out each individual letter before forming a whole word. Randall’s dad struggled with reading at that age, but one day “it just clicked.” As long as Randall continues to put forth great effort and tries his hardest, his parents are confident his skills will improve.

Recently, Randall’s six-year-old sister came home with a chapter book. Excited to be reading such an advanced book, she could not wait to read to the family before bedtime. Ever since, Randall has refused to participate in bedtime reading with his family. Instead, he goes into his room alone to draw pictures.

Randall is a talented artist. His favorite drawings are of animals. Even as a toddler, Randall was interested in the visual aspects of the world around him; geometric figures and toys around his crib would entertain him for hours.


  • Randall’s parents could obtain a list of common sight words from his teacher or on the internet. For each word, Randall could write the word on one note card and draw a picture representing the word on another note card. He and his parents can come up with games in which Randall must match the word with the picture.
  • Every good story needs an illustrator. Randall and his sister might alternate reading and drawing roles each night. While one reads aloud, the other can draw a picture relating to that night’s reading.
  • Children have a hard time believing that even parents and teachers are not perfect. In a private setting, Randall’s dad might consider sharing his early reading difficulties with Randall. That way Randall will recognize that people can overcome barriers and become successful.

Middle/High School

Rita does not enjoy reading. She never has. While her brother can usually be found curled up on the couch with his latest library treasure, Rita would much rather tune into a reality television show or check out the latest fashions in a magazine.

Rita excels in most academic areas; therefore, she was placed in an honors literature class. This semester has been a struggle both at home and at school.

“What is the point in reading these so-called classics? I don’t get all this symbolism stuff. Why can’t they just say what they mean?”

“There are so many different characters. I keep getting them confused. What does one have to do with the other? What’s this book supposed to be about anyway?”

On the other hand, Rita “gets” the literature when she sees it in a movie format. “Romeo and Juliet,” a play she once hated, is her favorite movie!

“It was just so much more interesting and not as overwhelming when I watched it on TV. I could see and hear the characters, so I didn’t have to try to keep everything straight in my head.”

Rita has a great memory, and she loves to tell stories. She includes thorough details and keeps her listeners engaged at all times. After high school, Rita would like to go to college to become a fashion designer or filmmaker.

  • Rita might find literature more interesting and relevant if she integrates her own interests. For instance, if she’s reading “The Great Gatsby,” she might look up information about 1920’s fashion or culture. That way, she can get a better mental picture of the characters.
  • Since Rita has strong visual skills, she could consider using story webs or maps to outline each chapter or section of a book. This will help her keep up with characters and major events. Rita can find free templates and examples of tools on sites such as
  • Rita might benefit from reading a list of comprehension questions prior to reading each chapter or section. Doing so will enable her to preview the important details. She could consider asking her teacher for a list of questions or doing an internet search to find questions. For instance, has a number of free study aids for classic literature books. Note: Before using internet sources, Rita should check with her teacher to determine which sources are permissible.

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> Elementary
> Middle/High School


Every day during homework time, Wendy’s parents hear the same thing.

“But I can’t make the story longer. My arm is tired! My hand hurts!”

“I hate writing in cursive. My teacher says my handwriting is messy, and she makes me do it all over.”

At times, it is hard to determine whether Wendy is really struggling or just doesn’t want to do her homework. She has always held her pencil with an awkward grip, but she’s never really complained until this year. As a third grader, she is required to write an entry in her journal each night. Her parents have noticed how her stories are brief and lack detail.

Wendy is a wonderful storyteller! Her oral stories are full of creative ideas and are quite detailed. An excellent typist, Wendy keeps her stories on her computer. Some day she hopes to put them together into a book.

Wendy enjoys playing video games, especially those with fantasy and science fiction themes. She also enjoys leading her younger brother and neighbors in arts and craft activities.


  • Wendy’s parents could speak to her teacher to find out the objectives of her daily journals. If handwriting is not a primary focus, they could ask the teacher if Wendy may complete her journals via word processor or blog.
  • If journal topics are flexible, Wendy’s parents could encourage her to write about her interests (e.g. science fiction).
  • To preserve Wendy’s creative details, her parents might encourage her to tape record her stories before transcribing them into her journal.

Middle/High School

English is Wyatt’s least favorite subject. It frustrates him so much that he rarely turns in his work. When he does complete his essays and papers, his teacher comments on his spelling errors, poor grammar, and disorganization. She constantly reminds him to use the “introduction, thesis statement, supporting details, and conclusion” format they’ve learned in class, but Wyatt’s thoughts appear in a random, haphazard mess.

Wyatt’s mom has offered to read over his work before he turns it in, but he is not interested in the extra assistance. He’s determined to do it himself – if he does it at all.

Wyatt’s writing struggles are all the more mysterious because he is such an articulate speaker. His parents often joke that he should use his “debate” skills to become a lawyer. He has always been a hard worker and takes pride in his work.

Wyatt loves using his computer. He stays up for hours e-mailing and instant messaging his friends and researching new software.


  • Wyatt’s parents could encourage him to research educational software designed to facilitate the writing process. For instance, some programs and Web sites provide interactive templates and graphic organizers. Wyatt’s teacher might even be willing to give him extra credit for conducting this research and presenting it to his classmates.
  • Wyatt could wait at least 24 hours before proofreading his writing. He is more likely to catch mistakes and make improvements if he is seeing this information as if for the first time.
  • Wyatt could consider preparing for writing as he would for a debate. He might benefit from articulating his thoughts on a tape recorder or by instant messaging a friend before settling down to write.

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