- Homework: Prioritize, Plan, Follow Instructions – Organizational Skills is part 4 of Marcia Garcia Winner‘s article on Teaching Organizational Skills to Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Her article benefits all students who lack this much needed skill not only students with autism spectrum disorder, therefore teachers, parents, and all who live or work with an individual who needs a boost in their organizational skills will benefit greatly from Garcia’s sound and sage advice.
This article appeared in an Autism and Asperger’s Digest issue entitled Homework & Organizational Strategies. Reprinted with permission of publisher. We have added the photos.
Part 1 (here) What is Executive Functioning (EF) by Marcia Garcia Winner
Part 2 (here) dealt with the following three steps:
- Step 1. Clearly Define What Needs to be Done
- Step 2. Move It with Motivation
- Step 3. Prepare the Environment
Part 3 (here) Break Homework in Doable Tasks
- Step 4. Chunk and Time It
- Step 5. Use Visual Structures
Part 4 Know What Is Important,
Have a PLAN
- Step 6. Prioritize and Plan Daily
- Step 7. Hunt and Gather
- Step 8. Consider Perspective
Step 6. Prioritize and Plan Daily
Learning to prioritize is a valuable skill and helps the student get things done. Keep in mind that many of us make daily lists but don’t always complete all tasks on our list, and that priority is largely based on the value we place on the assignment. Within the school setting, “value” is often dictated by the teacher. Priority is a factor of the task’s value overall, its deadline and the time to complete it. However, just because a task is due does not mean a student needs to make a decision to complete it, especially if it is a low priority or low value task to the student or the teacher.
For example, during her sophomore year in high school my daughter was looking at her math grades online. I looked over her shoulder and saw she had mostly A’s and B’s but noticed she had two F’s. I exclaimed, “Robyn, you have two F’s”, to which she replied, “Mom, they were each worth one point. They were hardly worth doing.” Robyn realized that in light of the many assignments she had to juggle for all her classes, projects with the least point value were not worth doing; she’d rather save her time and effort for the larger, more important projects.
With a prioritized plan in hand, many students will still struggle with actually working on the tasks. Even students with high intelligence may have difficulty getting themselves to work on projects not of their liking. Their baseline attention span may be no more than 7-10 minutes. (Test one of your student’s baseline attention span by observing how long he can attend to mundane projects without self-distracting. You may be surprised by how short it is!)
Help students succeed with their daily schedule by teaching them to take frequent small breaks at the end of their baseline attention span. For example, a graduate student in theology found he could only push himself through 10-minute work cycles before feeling overwhelmed or internally distracted. He used a visual time-timer and gave himself a short stretch break every 10 minutes. Once he completed a number of these short work cycles he gave himself a larger reward.
The key to is to make sure the small reward isn’t likely to be distracting or absorbing (computer games, TV, reading a book). Instead make these small breaks quick and refreshing, just to refocus attention: sensory based activities (stretching or movement), a small snack, a quick trip to the bathroom or pencil sharpener.
Step 7. Hunt and Gather
Simply put: students need to plan time into their schedule to locate different resources to complete a task. For example, research at the library might be a “chunk” they plan for on their homework list (don’t forget travel time!)
Step 8. Consider Perspective
Homework is more effectively completed when students start by considering the teacher’s perspective before diving into the assignment. An assignment done well is one that meets the teacher’s expectations and follows the teacher’s instructions. A high school student went to great lengths to develop a computer program for his computer programming class. His teacher came to me exasperated, explaining that while well done, the project was totally unrelated to the class assignment.
Parent perspectives enter into the homework plan also. Many parents expect children to finish homework before watching TV. Even though children may have accomplished a great deal of homework (in their mind “enough”), trouble can still erupt because it wasn’t “finished” in the parent’s mind.
Perspective taking can be quite overwhelming to many students with social learning and organizational problems. A strategy called “social behavior mapping” (see SocialThinking.com Marcia Garcia Winner’s web site) can help students understand how expectations, actions and reactions affect not only how we are viewed by others, but how their responses ultimately impact the way we view ourselves.
Part 5 (here) Homework: When and How to Ask for Help, Completion and Rewards
- Step 9. Communicate and Then Communicate Some More
- Step 10. Completion and Reward