The Most Effective Academic Coaching at Any Price

How could he lose the study guide for tomorrow’s exam? Why does she wait until just before bedtime to remember the school project, due tomorrow? When will he ever remember to bring home the books needed to do his homework? These are a few frustrations expressed by parents and teachers about students’ lack of organizational skills.

Last November at the Hill Center, Dr. William Stixrud extolled the value of a cornerstone technique for advancing the development of these kinds of skills for students of any age, which he simply referred to as the “Think Aloud.” This is a name for a mind-changing practice that addresses Executive functioning, the brain’s command and control system. Executive functions manage thinking and direct actions, the stuff of life and school.

Among the many techniques used to help a child develop executive functioning, “Think Aloud” is the easiest to implement, requiring absolutely no specialized training. It merely and literally requires adults to model the kind of organizational thinking they unwittingly perform all the time just by saying those very thoughts out loud.

For example, when preparing to go shopping, a parent might ask themselves out loud, “OK, what do I need to go shopping?” and answer with something like, “I need my purse, list of what to buy and my shopping bags.” If the child chimes-up with, “the shopping bags are on the counter,” all the better. A “Thank you!” from the parent tacitly invites the child to continue participating in this game of externalized thinking.

A next step is to join the child in his own preparation for school by asking something like, “What are you thinking you need to take to school tomorrow?” This is much more empowering than the wearying moment-by-moment directing that many parents fall into. A child can learn vicariously what kind of thinking is needed by seeing and hearing it modeled by adults and can benefit from thinking aloud, in effect, talking his way through a series of logical steps. Yes, a checklist or rewarding star chart may be needed to hone this into a routine that can keep a child on-track to success, but it starts with simply thinking out loud.

Colleen Buchanan is a Learning Specialist in private practice on Capitol Hill helping families optimize learning for their children. She can be reached at

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