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Strategies to help when dealing with Paperwork, Giving Presentations or Reading Lengthy Material

by Stephanie Barry, M.S., CCC-SLP of Independent Speech, LLC.
Read Across America
March 2nd is Read Across America Day in honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday. We all know how important reading is not only to our success in school but to our success in life as well. Reading is all around us and plays a part in almost everything we do, from the TV guide to menus at restaurants to a good book to food labels or the mail. This list could go on and on.

But if you struggle with reading these daily tasks can become frustrating. As your reading demands change with higher academics or with job related tasks you may need to learn different strategies than you have used in the past to address reading difficulties. The key is to be flexible, always keep the strategies that have helped you throughout the years but be willing to try new things. Remember the material is different so you may need to use different strategies to read it effectively.

This article will cover strategies for three areas that affect higher level education and employment. These areas are paperwork, giving presentations and reading more complex text.

The first is paperwork. It seems that the amount of paperwork continues to grow. More things need to be documented now than ever before. Many companies try to "go green" by utilizing e-mail rather than memos, and other computer programs rather than printing things off. There are many things you can do to help manage the growing amount of paperwork, here are just a few ideas:

1) Break things down into smaller chunks. Set small goals for each task and take a short break between chunks. This helps you focus on what you are reading because you have set an achievable goal. Make simple notes about each section so you have an outline when you are finished that highlights the main points, this can prevent having to go back and re-read to look for a key point.

2) For work on the computer, change the screen settings. You can adjust the size of the font, the background color and the text color. These small changes can help focus on the reading as many find that a white background with small black type can be harder to read. Try out different colors to see which works best for you.

3) Use technology! There are screen reading programs that will read what is on the computer screen which may be helpful for documents, websites, etc. There are speech recognition programs where you speak and the computer types out what you are saying. There are "reading pens" that you can run over an unfamiliar word to hear it pronounced correctly and even find out the definition. There are also "note taking pens" that work like highlighters, you run the pen over the important information and it saves it for you to download to your computer.

4) Adjust your schedule. Being tired or hungry can affect your overall ability to read. Try to plan ahead so you are not trying to read right before bed or dinner. Try to schedule difficult reading tasks for the morning as you do tire throughout the day which may make dealing with large reading tasks more challenging.

5) Be organized. Ask for things in writing so you can refer back (so you don't have to rely on your memory). Make "to do" lists that you can mark off things that have been completed. This can help provide a sense of control and success as you cross things off. Keep a calendar of important dates such as meetings and deadlines so you can plan ahead (and to prevent forgetting important dates). Keep this in a place you can see and check it frequently. Organize your work space so you can easily find things you need and know what needs to be completed first.

The most important strategy is to be your own advocate, ask for help and clarification when needed. You know what you need to be successful, if you present a solution to the problem rather than just the problem your boss, coworkers or instructor may be more willing to make the adjustments or accommodations you need to be successful.

We often need to give presentations whether they are full presentations in front of a large group or short updates in a meeting, this can be intimidating to anyone! Here are a few things you can do to help feel more at ease in these situations.

1) Be organized. Use note card to help you remember your key points. Don't try to write out the entire presentation just the key points to help you move through your presentation. Highlight the key words on each card to help you focus on those words without having to read the whole sentence in case you get flustered.

2) Uses the A-B-A strategy:
A: Tell them what you are going to tell them (introduction)
B: Tell them (the body)
C: Tell them what you just told them (conclusion)

3) Use visual aids if possible. This can help with the flow of your presentation and can highlight points you are trying to make. They also serve to help with memory as looking at the visual aid can help you remember what you wanted to say.

4) If you have to answer questions during your presentation, here is an easy method to follow. First, rephrase the questions to ensure you heard them correctly, answer the question as best you can, check with the person to make sure you have answered their question, then thank them for asking.

Remember, many people (both with and without reading disabilities) have anxiety about giving presentations. Going in prepared can help you feel more in control and the more you have to give presentations the better you get at it, as the old saying goes practice makes perfect (well better anyway).

When tackling a large reading task, particularly one that may have new vocabulary or technical information can be a daunting task. Here are a few strategies to help make it more manageable:

1) First, skim through the material. This will help you get an idea of what the reading is like, what kind of vocabulary words you may come across and the length of the book or reading selection. Start with the title page and introduction to get an overall view of the book. Then read the table of contents to see how the book is organized which gives you an idea of the flow and organization of the book.

2) Now that you know what the reading entails you can break it down into manageable chunks. Maybe reading one chapter at a time is good for some books but for others one section of a chapter is plenty. Take breaks after each section, people typically perform better when they are fresh, so do something else for a few minutes and come back to the reading refreshed and ready to read.

3) Make notes along the way. Some use visual maps, some use the "note taking pen", some make note cards or outlines. Use whatever strategy works best for you, just don't rely on your memory. You may forget details or remember things out of order. Taking notes while reading gives you a summary or study guide for later use. This way you do not have to go back and find the information somewhere in the text, you have it right there for easy reference.

4) Plan ahead. This helps you avoid trying to read the entire book the night before the test or the report before your presentation or meeting. The stress of knowing it has to be completed in a short time puts added pressure on you that can negatively affect your reading and note taking because you are trying to "get through it". Avoid this added stress by giving yourself plenty of time to complete the reading in a stress free way!

This article has provide some strategies to help when dealing with paperwork, giving presentations or reading lengthy material. Of course, these are just a few suggestions. There are many more ideas out there. You know yourself best so be creative and find out what works best for you. Employing effective strategies can help reading become an more manageable and even enjoyable task.

Stephanie Barry, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist and Educational Consultant
Tel: 602-793-2958

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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