A written report brings together all the elements of the completed assessments - discussed in earlier blogs. The report will contain recommendations for what could be done to make things go better for the student, their parents/caregivers and the educators. It should be easy to read, concise as well as clear and understandable to a wide audience.
Unfortunately this often is not the case and there is clear research to back me up on this one (research references noted below). Recently I was checking out the website of a private psychologist who works in a different city and noticed that one of the services they offered was interpretation of existing educational psychology reports. This would suggest that we can do better!
So what’s the problem? According to the research I’ve mentioned above psychologists write their reports at the level of someone who has had 15-17 years of education. Psychologists, like many other professions, can use jargon and acronyms too much. The reports should be written for a broad audience with accessible language similar to newspapers which are written for a reader with a 12 year old reading level. Reports often tend to describe the tests used rather than focusing on the child/young person. Sometimes the referral question isn’t answered directly in the report and the recommendations are not goal oriented and can be too broad and not tailored for the individual.
What am I doing differently? I’ve spent significant time researching and thinking about how best to write reports so that parents and teachers can use them without further interpretation so that they are useful and easy to read. I met with a technical writer and a senior journalist as well as engaged in discussions with psychology colleagues who have provided me feedback on my report template and given suggestions for better report writing.
When you receive one of my reports you will see that there is a table of contents so that you can easily find where each piece of information is located within the report. Background information is presented in a table format so that visually it’s easy to find specific pieces of information. The reason for the referral is clearly stated and immediately after this comes the ‘so what’ from all the testing and assessment. As soon as I’ve provided information about what’s happening for this child/young person I go into the recommendations which give you specific information about what to do to help make education work for the student. Only after I’ve done that do I go into the specific assessments. I’ve footnoted each technical term so that if you are wondering exactly what a percentile is you only need look to the bottom of the page to find out. In case you are wondering, a percentile rank is the percentage of scores in a sample that fall below the score. This means for example; a full-scale score at the 70th percentile the individual scored better than 70 out of 100 individuals of the same age.
Throughout the report I’ve tried to stick with plain language. I’d love to get your feedback on my reports and have developed a feedback form to give to parents and schools to ask for your thoughts on my reports. If you have trusted me to work with your child/young person I’d like to ensure you can understand the work I’ve done, The report should be a useful resource that provides insight and concrete support.
In case you are interested I’ve provided the full references below regarding report writing for psychologists.
Eliot, B. (2003). Consumer-Focused Psychological Assessment. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 34(3), 240-247.
Fletcher, J., Hawkins, T., & Thornton, J. (2015). What Makes an Effective Psychoeducational Report? Perceptions of Teachers and Psychologists. Journal of Psychologists and Counsellors in Schools, 25(1), 38-54.
Kaufman, A. S., Raiford, S. E., & Coalson, D. L. (2016). Intelligent Testing with the WISC-V. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Mastoras, S. M., Climie, E. A., McCrimmon, A. W., & Schwean, V. L. (2011). A C.L.E.A.R Approach to Report Writing: A Framework for Improving the Efficacy of Psychoeducational Reports. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 26(2), 127-147.
Last week I left off my day with setting up the paperwork for report writing. The photo above is of my home office which is where I typically write my reports. You may be able to see that I’m fueled by cups of tea - on this particular day I had two on the go, my reference books are on the shelf next to me and all the paraphernalia of office work is at hand. My son’s laugh at my temporary laptop stand which is a couple of huge psychology textbooks. I have a lovely view out the window to my garden and sometimes if I’m lucky a Tui sits in the trees opposite and keeps me entertained. If I’m not meeting with a student or my intern I often start my day with report writing. To do this I reread the results from the assessments and the reports from teachers and parents and then think about how this all helps to make sense of what is happening for this particular student. I often get a blank piece of paper and hand write my thoughts and try to group insights on paper first before I start writing the report. My intention is to deliver a report that is easy to understand for parents and educators and that the recommendations I make are the right ones which can help make education work for this student. On this blog I’m going to try to provide the more general ideas and recommendations for supporting students so what you see in your individual report is very much targeted for the individual I’ve been working with. It usually takes me at least 3 hours to write a report although it can take longer if the situation is complex. Once I’ve spent time writing I may head out to an appointment at a school to observe a student.
If we’ve agreed that I need to observe at school the following is what will happen. I usually like to visit school on different days and at different times of the day for about 20-30 minutes each. If I do come to observe your child, please be assured that I usually tuck myself into an out of the way corner of the room and I ask teachers not to identify me as a particular child’s psychologist. Usually if a teacher wants to introduce me I ask them to tell the class that I’m a teacher (true) who is there to see some great learning happening (also true). If the child knows me it’s OK to say hi but I won’t initiate the contact. I certainly don’t want to embarrass anyone.
Quite often I’m asked about what to do if a child knows I’m there to observe them. This is a tricky question. If we were working in a laboratory situation it would be possible to control all the variables but we are working in the real world. Whenever a different person shows up in a classroom the situation changes and the children may behave differently. I assume that when I walk into the room and sometimes the school that I’m only going to see what is going on when I’m in the room. I can’t predict or know what impact my being there is having. This is why I gather all the other information about the situation. I like to listen to the teacher, parents and child describe what happens. I add in all the formal assessment I’ve done and when I combine all this information I get a clearer picture of what is happening. When I’m observing, I am looking for how your child is responding to the teaching that is going on in the room. I look at how they interact with their peers. I also look at the general environment. I consider where your child sits, how the classroom is organised and what kind of furniture is being used. I look at whether there are clear expectations of behaviour posted around the room and confirm if teachers and children refer to the expectations. I look to see if there are clear guidelines about how to behave in this class and observe teachers reinforce the positive behaviour of the students. After observing, if I’m lucky, I may have a chance to chat about what I’ve seen with a class teacher, principal or SENCo (Special Needs Coordinator at the school). After all this I’ll return to home base and read through my notes to organise thoughts and insights.
The following is an idealised day which has omitted the boring and mundane stuff.
My day might start with a meeting with my intern who is studying at Victoria University to become a registered psychologist. We might discuss his case work and the requirements of his university course. Once he’s headed off for a full day of work, I might call some parents to set up appointments. At that time, I clarify why they might have asked for the support of an educational psychologist. Usually during this phone call we make the outline of a plan for my support. We agree about what I will focus on and what work I will carry out. Sometimes as we work through the assessments we need to make changes so I try to remain flexible and will always be in touch to discuss any additional work that may need to be done. Immediately after this first phone call I will send out an appointment confirmation and information gathering sheets for both parents and teachers. These help me to get a better understanding of the situation.
If I’m seeing students I will then head off to my office at wonderful Auckland Normal Intermediate. Parents and children come to the office where we have a brief chat about what’s going on and we talk about what the assessment will be like for them. After about 15 minutes of chatting parents leave us to get to work. Often I might start with a Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Fifth edition, Australian and New Zealand). This test involves the child or young person working through a number of different activities which help me develop a thorough understanding of their thinking abilities. The activities while related to learning are very different from what is done in school. Typically students enjoy this assessment and have fun with the activities. When this is done, we both usually need a break for a drink and something to eat. Since we are at a school we usually go outside for a bit of fresh air and a play on some of the equipment for the student, if they wish. After our break we head back to look at what has been learned at school. I usually use the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (Third edition, Australian and New Zealand). This test helps me to understand what a student has learned. I often add other tests such as a handwriting test or a reading test, I make my selection based on what the student, parents and teachers have told me and what I am observing as I’m working with the student. If there are concerns about behaviour I might ask the student, teachers and parents to complete a standardised assessment to help me understand more about their behaviour. I might also pop in to your child’s school to observe or watch what is happening at school. After all this assessment has finished everyone will be ready for a break. Parents come to pick their child up and I’ll give you a brief rundown on how things have gone and might have a couple of follow up questions. I usually go back to my office, organise my findings and set up my paperwork for writing the report. By the time I’ve done this I’m usually ready for the end of my day so head home for the mundane stuff.
Look out for part 2 next week.
School holidays have started. It’s likely to be cold and wet outside. You may be heading away for a cold weather holiday or to a tropical destination for some sunshine. Maybe you are staying at home with a mix of school holiday programs for the children or parents/other caregivers are providing entertainment during the break from school. No matter what you are doing it is likely that you may experience a combination of wonderful fun times together along with some tricky moments.
It is sometimes hard to understand why these tricky moments arise when children are enjoying a break from the usual routines of school. The simplest explanation for this is change or transition. Any change in routine or transition from one kind of activity to another has the potential to cause us difficulty. If we put on our behavioural psychology hat, we can get some more perspective on what’s happening. Human beings’ behaviour is dependent on environment. In other words, where we are determines how we behave. In adult terms, the way we behave at the pub with our friends is very different from the way we behave at a funeral with the same set of friends. Children are exactly the same. The way they behave at school is different from the way they behave at home, or on the ski slopes or on the beach or at a holiday program or at their grandparents home. Whilst adults (mostly) have learned and had opportunities to practice this change in behaviour children are still learning these skills.
So how do we make sure that the wonderful, fun times outweigh the tricky moments? Planning and preparation is a great place to start. Talking with your children about what to expect from their holiday is key. Giving them multiple opportunities to talk about what will happen and to ask questions will help them organise in their own minds how they will behave and manage the changes. If you have a child who finds these kinds of changes very difficult you might even try a little role playing. This will given them a chance to practice how they might behave on an airplane or at the school holiday program.
If you are heading away to a destination for a holiday looking at photos and videos of the new place can also be helpful and can support conversation. Discussing the more challenging parts of a trip or new experience can also be very useful. Remember to describe them positively and provide solutions. For example, airline travel can be stressful. Explaining the processes and that at times there might be waiting involved or you may have to stay in a seat with a seatbelt on for an extended period of time is helpful. Remind children that there are benefits such as watching movies or playing games on airplanes and that the big pay-off is the fun to be had at the new destination. Travelling successfully with children is a whole other blog post I think!
Once the holiday has started look for those moments when your child is managing the transition well and give them plenty of praise and acknowledgement for this. Remember to keep the praise genuine and describe the behaviour that they are doing well so they are clear about what you think is good. If things don’t go well remember to be patient and give your child some ideas about how it might go better next time. Modeling this yourself is a good idea. If you make a mistake managing a change in routine, talk through how you might manage the situation for the moment and how you might do things differently next time. For example, if you are running late to drop your child off at the school holiday programme, instead of berating yourself for running late, catastrophizing that the whole day will now be ruined because you are going to be late for your first work meeting, instead acknowledge that it’s not great to be running late but it’s not a disaster and that tomorrow you will make sure to leave a little earlier. You could problem solve with your child about what could be done differently so you can leave a little earlier. You could talk about possible solutions such as letting people know you are running late, reducing the length of some meetings, rescheduling or shortening scheduled breaks. If you aren’t able to model this kind of behaviour at the time (I’m a parent too and have done my fair share of screaming up the stairs to get a child out of bed because we are running late then driving in silence to our destination because I’m so het up about being late) then try to model how you got over this kind of upset when you are feeling calmer. Talk to your kids about the fact that you became upset and didn’t necessarily behave in the best way then talk about how you would do things differently next time.
Although this blog post has mainly been about managing tricky moments my hope is that you all enjoy your school holiday with your children whether you are on holiday with them or not. Look forward to hearing about their triumphs and the fun activities they have been busy with in this short break from the school routines. Have fun with them and celebrate the joy children take in the freedom of school holidays.
Having been an educational psychologist for more than 10 years, I’m aware that people have a range of thoughts about this question. I’ve been told that being a psychologist must be like working for the tax department. The lovely lady who informed me of this, at my friends’ 40th birthday party, told me that people probably didn’t want to talk to me because I knew things about them just like the tax department did. I’ve been told that it would be good for psychics and psychologists to work in the same office building since we do similar things. I’ve had people say that they don’t want to talk to me because I will be able to tell what they are thinking. There’s a theme running through these comments. Some folks seem to think that psychologists can read minds or magically can tell what someone’s intentions and actions are. Sadly that’s not true. It would be super handy if I could tell what someone was thinking, although I can think of examples when I definitely wouldn’t want to know what someone was really thinking! In fact, people who are drawn to the profession of psychology probably are very interested in what people think and do but we can’t know without someone telling us just like everyone else. We also have the challenge of people telling us what they think we want to hear, just like everyone else does.
To provide an answer to my original question, educational psychologists are experts in helping people solve complex, persistent problems that interfere with a young person’s learning (credit to the psychology workforce group for this statement). We do what we can to provide a better understanding of the situation, taking into account the perspectives of the child, the parents or caregivers and the educators. I have been a qualified teacher for more than 20 years, and have always had an interest in how to teach so that children can learn, especially those children who learn in a different way. Educational psychologists take their knowledge of the theories and research around learning, and educational practice, and combine that with psychological knowledge or the knowledge of how people think and behave. All registered psychologists have undergone extensive training including a Masters degree and training beyond a Masters. We have a good understanding of research methods and how to evaluate research to ensure that the best evidence is used to support what we say and do.
Hopefully next time you meet a psychologist you are reassured that they don’t know what you are thinking.
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.