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Can This Fish Save You Time? A Versatile OT Activity

As we all know, the process of evaluating students can be time consuming. From a Facebook survey of 150 therapists, it takes about 2.5 hours to write the report regardless of experience in addition to the time it takes to complete the record review, in class and informal observations, consultation with a teacher and parent, and administration of the assessment.  The process can be redundant, which is something that I discuss with Sarah Putt on her OT4Lyfe Podcast. Below I’ll share with you an amazing OT activity that I use with all my students.

How can you kill two birds with one stone while still completing a thorough evaluation?  Here is what I do for every student regardless of age, function, disability, hair color, ethnicity, favorite Pokemon, etc. Not necessarily in this order.

  1. Record Review.  
  2. Consult with the teacher.  I prefer in person but if that’s not possible I send a generalized questionnaire. I typically use a form that uses comment boxes rather than check boxes, because it allows the teacher an opportunity to explain her concerns rather than just checking boxes. Here is the teacher questionnaire we offer on Double Time Docs.  
  3. Observe student in their habitat. Based on referral or consultation. I like to observe a student at the end of one activity into another. For example, at the end of a writing activity when the student transitions to math, I can see how he ends an activity, transitions to the next, as well as observe his organization, attention, sequencing, and initiation of the next task. If possible I combine the consultation with the observation to save time.
  4. Test the student. I always start with the same activity, which is this fish task. It’s an activity that I modified from being in the Stone Institute of Psychiatry. Sorry, I meant working at the Stone Institute of Psychiatry! I modify this activity based on the child’s abilities, such as reading the directions out loud, changing step 4 to print the alphabet or your name, etc. I gather as much information as possible, such as organization, hand dominance, grip, coloring in the lines, cutting on the lines, posture, focus, attention, sequencing, etc. At this time, I will also complete the student interview.
  5. Use Double Time Docs.  Shameless plug, but it’s true. When I use Double Time Docs during steps 1-4, I can complete 90 percent of my report writing during the observation. This means I have more time to spend on activities that I value more than writing reports, such as spending time with my wife and family, going to the gym, eating, staring at the wall, watching water boil, etc.

How is this possible? I’m glad you asked. I tell the teacher or parent that I have my questions on a form on my phone. Then I go straight through each section, question by question. It takes about 15 minutes and the software automatically writes my report.  Here is a sample video of how easy it is to complete some of the template as a child does the fish activity. All that needs to be done is to add the scores and interpretations from my standardized assessment, which we also made easier by providing interpretation questions in the areas of visual perception, fine motor, and sensory processing. Answering these questions generates your interpretation. Voila! Time saved.

One note: please be sure to check your state or district requirements which can vary. OT School House has a nice US state map to help you find your state requirements. I was a guest on the OT School House Podcast where we talk about documentation.


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To end this lengthy post, here are some common thoughts that go through my mind while administering an assessment.

  1. Why are these standardized directions so long? Isn’t it just as easy to say “which one of these looks exactly like this one?”  Or “copy this here”.
  2. Who are you competing with to get this done so fast?
  3. Can you see the answers from the reflection off my glasses?
  4. So close to being done, please no fire drill.

What goes through your head when you evaluate a student?  Please share below to make a somewhat boring topic a little more interesting. And tell us your experience with using this fish activity. I would love to hear it!

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