Disclosure: If you don’t enjoy reading intricate plots in your blog posts and prefer that authors get to the point, I encourage you to keep scrolling.
Welcome to the confessions of a doctoral student blog post where you can expect a non-linear tale and potentially too much oversharing. I hope that if you stick with my meandering mind, you may learn a little bit more about how your brain works
My name is Katie Coder, and I am a third-year doctoral student at the Bridges Graduate School of Cognitive Diversity. I am a cisgender female and have many roles that I play in my life, including learner, wife, mom, sister, and educator, to name just a few. My path to entering Bridges Graduate school was full of chance encounters with Dr. Susan Baum, professor, author, and advocate of twice-exceptional learners. I still remember buying her book from an NAGC exhibitor stand, talking with her in person, and learning about the doctoral program at Bridges. It wouldn’t be until two and half years later that the seed Dr.Baum planted fully bloomed. I had just given birth, my husband had recently returned from a deployment (did I mention he’s in the military?), and we were in the middle of a pandemic. It seemed like the right time to enroll in a doctoral program! Some might look at my context and say “Wow, you are crazy!” Others may better understand the passion for learning that feeds my soul and my long-term goal of receiving my doctoral degree.
Fast forward to the current moment…my capstone proposal has been approved! While at the same time, I am frantically finishing an assignment from my Social and Emotional Diversity course, which requires that I write an intervention plan to support a twice-exceptional learner. In typical fashion, I have procrastinated horribly on completing this final piece to the course; shocker, it is due today.
Gasp! How can you be a doctoral student and function in this manner?
I am glad you asked because I have been trying to unravel how my brain works for almost 33 years. If I look back at myself as a learner throughout the K-12 grades, I see a pattern emerge of executive function challenges, high achievement, and anxiety. To begin with, I honestly don’t know if the school district I attended as a child even had gifted education services or identified students. At the start of middle school, one of my teachers saw something in me, and at the beginning of 6th grade, I was enrolled in all honors courses. In high school, I was the typical overachiever who enrolled in any honors, AP, or college level courses I could get my hands on, all while working part-time to save for college. I also participated in varsity sports and band. (Spoiler: I am what my therapist calls a “recovering overachiever.”) I noticed that everyone in these courses seemed to know the secret to managing their time, breaking down large projects, and turning in work when it was due. It seemed effortless to everyone else, but a huge struggle for me. I would typically wait until a few nights before a large paper or project was due to start it and then stay up all night to complete it just in time. This pattern continued through my undergraduate, master's, and doctoral studies. I just didn’t understand how other learners could figure out what seemed like an impossible process: how to break things down into steps and manage my time. The story I kept telling myself over the years goes something like this: “I work better under pressure and I need to feel motivated to work on large projects.”
While writing my dissertation proposal, I quickly realized that I would need firm boundaries and a clear project path to finish my degree, so I sought out help. I checked in with an educational therapist to see if working with them would be a good fit. When the educational therapist asked me the best times to meet, I quickly responded at 5:00 am or 9:00 pm. I am thankful for the sage advice that this educational therapist shared with me during our consultation: “If those are the times you can meet, then maybe your plate is too full to take on another commitment.”
At first, I armored up, and my initial response (in my head) was that, of course, I could take on one more thing, but in reality, our time is finite, and I was not managing it well. In the end, I didn’t work with an educational therapist due to my current time constraints, but I did develop an intervention to build my own time awareness as part of a class assignment.
Ok, if you have stuck with me so far, thank you! We probably tell stories in a similar way, and I promise I am getting to the point.
So here I am, scrambling to finish yet another assignment on the cusp of the due date. I have got to get this social/emotional intervention plan for a 2e student pulled together. And I am struggling with making a decision on who to target for the intervention.
A lightbulb goes off. Instead of designing an intervention for a hypothetical 2e learner or a previous student, I thought, why not for myself? I self-identify as a twice-exceptional learner; however, I have never been identified in school as gifted or formally with ADHD (I do have anxiety and depression; overshare or transparency? You decide). I started thinking about 2e adults and the generations of people who may be 2e but are just learning that the term exists and finally discovering that their feelings of “other” or “different” are just how their magnificent brains work.
So with all that being said, and now that we are clearly starting to become close friends through this blog post, here is the executive function intervention I designed and will implement for myself.
After spending way too much time going down the Google rabbit hole to find the best planner for individuals struggling with time management and breaking down projects, I purchased The Work-Smart Academic Planner, created by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. I liked that this planner included research on executive functioning and an executive skills questionnaire. To help scaffold the tasks of taking the questionnaire, identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and selecting tips to implement, the authors created a structured checklist to follow and even have a coach or classmate sign off once completed.
Based on the executive skills questionnaire, my top three executive skill strengths are metacognition, flexibility, and goal-directed persistence. My top three executive skill weaknesses are…drum roll please… planning/prioritization, time management, and task initiation. I shared my results with my husband to get his thoughts on these being my strengths and weaknesses, and he agreed wholeheartedly with the results.
The next step guided by the planner was to identify areas that significantly interfere with accomplishing tasks, then review the list and select the top three interferences to learn more about implementing strategies (aka an intervention). My top area of interference was under the time management category, specifically that I struggle to accurately estimate how long a task will take (I am a notorious underestimater of time, which adds to my last-minute scrambling).
Based on this information, I created a four-week intervention cycle to help me create a better awareness of time. The intervention strategy was one of the executive functioning tips included in Dawson & Guare's text; they recommended, “Estimate how long a task will take and check to see if you are right” (p. 15).
It sounds simple enough; however, the challenge with this intervention will be to hold myself accountable for completing time estimation, specifically while I work on homework assignments for my doctoral program.
To keep the time tracking simple (I tend to overcomplicate tasks), I write the time estimate next to the reading or writing assignment listed in my syllabus. Then I start my watch timer (I always wear a watch, so this is easy for me to remember) when I begin a task, stop the timer, and record the actual time it took to complete a task. To hold myself accountable, I check in after my homework sessions with my husband because he has strong executive functioning skills.
I am tracking my progress over the next four weeks against my estimates, with the goal of being able to make time estimations more realistically. This intervention is one small step towards improving the executive function areas I struggle with, enabling me to have a more balanced approach to completing my doctoral coursework, including my dissertation.
Stay tuned to see how my time estimation intervention turns out and for more confessions of a doctoral student.
Dawson, P., & Guare, R. (2017). The work-smart academic planner revised edition: Write it down, get it done. The Guilford Press.
About the Author: Katie Coder received a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education from Gustavus Adolphus College, a Master of Arts in Literacy Education, and a Certificate in Gifted Education from Hamline University. She has seven years of classroom teaching experience and served as the Advanced Learning Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) at Oak Harbor Public Schools in Washington State for the past five years. In this role, she found a need for better communication and services provided between the Gifted and Special Education programs. Katie Coder is pursuing an education doctorate in Cognitive Diversity in Education through Bridges Graduate School with a focus on leadership for innovation. Ms. Coder’s primary research interest is providing strengths-based approaches to educating and identifying twice-exceptional (2e) learners in a public school setting. She is passionate about facilitating educators’ professional development to ensure that all students find a love of learning through creating positive classroom experiences, including assisting educators with using research-based instructional strategies and honoring individual learner variability.