Projects and essays and tests, oh my!
Previously we looked at 5 red flag statements that could signal difficulties with your child's Executive Functions, or self-management skills. Maybe they sounded familiar to you. Having coached hundreds of students with Executive Functioning challenges, we've heard a wide variety of statements that set off our coaching alarms. Some of the most commonly heard statements are included in this article. If any of these give you déjà vu, don't panic. Like solving for X, skills such as project planning, time management, and organization can be learned.
The night before a long-term project is due countless students have said “Uh oh. I forgot about that project.” Long-term projects or papers take careful planning and a step-wise approach to stay on time and on target. Students who lack project management skills may not plan for having the right materials, or may not understand how to break a task into discrete chunks with a logical sequence. That project may have been a major part of a term grade, and a 0 in the books is a deep hole to dig out of.
Some of our students have been heard to exclaim “It’s not fair! Each teacher has different rules. Why can’t they all do things the same way?” As students enter middle school and high school, they need to be flexible in order to meet the demands of multiple teachers. One instructor may not even collect homework, another may want assignments submitted only online, and another won’t accept any late assignments, period. Effective students are self-advocates and know how to ask the teacher for help. This makes it a bit easier to get a handle on and to adapt to changing demands in each classroom.
Another thing we hear students say all the time is “I can multitask while I do homework.” The evidence is clear that most students are fooling themselves when they think they can be efficient doing schoolwork while texting, posting to Instagram, and watching You Tube. The result? Homework takes much longer to complete, and the ability to sustain focus on one specific task is diminished. Also, doing homework while distracted might make it that much harder to prepare for exams as the student isn't fully engaged with learning the concepts that the homework is designed to reinforce. Students who distract themselves with activities such as surfing the internet, texting, or watching television while doing homework are defeating the purpose. A better approach includes a plan to manage distractions, and keep them in their place as a lower priority activity or perhaps as a reward for finishing homework. It is also important to figure out the right chunk of work to tackle, a good sequence, and how to handle the stress of doing it all.
Students who struggle with writing might be overheard saying “I hate writing these stupid essays. I have no idea what to say." As material gets more complex in middle school and high school, students are expected to synthesize and analyze material in written form. Essays about literature, historical events, and even lab reports for science class require a range of skills: from understanding the teacher’s intentions, to organization of ideas, to persisting with a lengthy task, to asking for help when feeling stuck or confused.
You may have heard your child say "I don't bother studying for tests. Either I know it or I don't." Sometimes middle school or high school may mark the first time a bright student has ever needed to truly study material in order to master it. Without active study strategies, a student may give up and be unprepared to grapple with challenging academic content. Successful students know that they need to view each class meeting as test preparation, and that simply "looking over notes" is as dull and ineffective as it sounds.
Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If you counted one or more, your child may have some challenges with Executive Function skills. As with any skill, these can be learned through good instruction and practice. Your child's pediatrician or teacher may suggest other options, such as extra help after school, executive function coaching support, or possibly neuropsychological testing.
Please see this page for comprehensive information about Executive Function in middle school students.
Need a resource to help your child with a long-term project?
Download our free Project Planner Template. It's a great way to strengthen Executive Function skills.
Photo credit: Antti T. Nissinen via Flickr