The first part of the school year is in the record books, and already you see the writing on the wall. Your bright, funny, curious child brought home a backpack crammed with crumpled worksheets, last week’s PB&J…and a report card with less than stellar results. You know he or she can do better. Teachers may be wondering if it's just laziness, or is there something else interfering with your child's performance? Your child thinks, “I guess I’m not so smart, after all.” But succeeding at school is not all about pure intellect, or IQ. Rather, skills of self-management, or Executive Function skills, are the key to consistent academic achievement. Smart kids struggle in school when they don’t have tools and strategies to manage their academic demands. Here are 5 red-flag statements we hear from students that signal a need to build Executive Function skills. The good news? These skills can be learned.
1) “I don’t need to write it down. I’ll remember”.
Oftentimes, students think they can remember all their homework without writing it in a planner. Some days that works, but more frequently students find they have completed the wrong assignment, or they forget about it altogether. As for taking notes in class, they make the mistake of thinking that they should only write down what's new or unusual information, instead of seeing note-taking as a documentation of what was covered in class.
2) “I hate that teacher/ that subject!”
Students without good self-management skills get derailed when they don’t like a teacher or a subject. Their emotions get in the way of their investment in the class, and ultimately their grade can suffer. Successful students make 1:1 connections with all their teachers, because they know that it's in their best interests to build strong relationships with instructors.
3) “But I know I did that assignment…”
When a student doesn’t have a system for managing materials, completed homework can get lost before it ever gets turned in. Grades suffer when homework completion is spotty, even if a student does reasonably well on tests.
4) “This work takes forever. It’s so boring.”
Longer, more complex assignments draw on a student’s ability to maintain their effort over time, or persist, in the midst of the temptation of other (more fun) activities. Without strategies to follow through and tolerate the “boring stuff’, students tend to give up and seek more satisfying diversions.
5) “I’ve got plenty of time to do homework. It’s only 8:30.”
Time management looms large as a critical skill for students, and for life in general. When a student has poor ability to estimate how long tasks will take, and plan his evening accordingly, this can lead to increased stress, last-minute panic, and sloppy or incomplete work.
How many of these sound familiar to you? If you count one or more, your child may have some challenges with self-management, or Executive Function skills. As with any skill, these can be learned through good instruction and practice. Ask your child’s pediatrician or teacher about your options. Your child may be recommended for neuropsychological testing to determine the nature of his/her difficulties.
Please see this page for comprehensive information about Executive Function in middle school students.