Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Executive Function

Normally at this time of year, I post about our back to school experiences with gifted at AJ’s school. But this year, there’s not a whole lot to tell, at least not yet. They’ve been in school for two weeks now, but there is still not a lot coming home and they are about to launch into round one of standardized testing (STAR and MAP) for the year.

But while I can’t talk much about academics, there is one thing I am definitely happy with about school, and that’s about the way his teacher is teaching study skills.

Like many gifted kids, AJ has some problems with what psychologists like to call “executive function.” To say he is not good at organizing himself is an understatement. He has classic absent-minded-professor syndrome. He forgets things. He loses things. He starts on one task and gets distracted by some shiner more exciting thing in the middle and forgets what he was doing. We have tried and tried to help him with routines and lists but nothing has worked. But this year, things are better, at least as far as schoolwork goes.

There are two reasons that AJ himself has identified for the improvement. One is actually a result of the overcrowded classes: no desks. Because they sit at tables instead of desks, AJ can’t shove stuff in there never to be seen again. Instead of desks, they keep their important stuff in fabric pockets that go over the backs of their chairs. These pockets are small and you can see everything in them, so there’s nowhere for things to hide. Most supplies are shared by the tables, so they are stored in a shared space and don’t get lost either.

The second tool, though, is something that is actually part of the curriculum: The Binder. The binder organizes all their school work. The teacher talks to them about it, let them decorate the cover, and showed them how to put it together. It’s an awesome tool. But mostly I just love that the teacher is backing up what we try to do at home. In the past, we’ve given AJ a calendar and a folder system to help him remember his homework, but without the teacher helping him with it at school, it failed.

The front pocket is for parent-teacher communication only. Inside the 3 rings, there is a zip pocket for money – both the real money that goes back and forth to school and the fake money that AJ’s teacher uses for certain types of rewards. We’re not quite sure what happens with the fake money yet, but AJ is already loaded. After the pocket are several pages of sheet protectors containing the monthly lunch menu, the weekly spelling list, and any other lists of terms to be studied. Next is an assignment book with a page for every week. Each day, the students write in their homework in each subject and other due dates and tests. Each time they finish an assignment, they check it off. Parents sign off on it weekly. After the assignment is a red Velcro pocket folder. This is where the daily assignments travel home to get completed and put back in the folder for the return trip. After this are several divided sections, each with its own stash of lined paper. So far these haven’t been much used, except for the daily journal section, which includes a story the class is writing one sentence at a time each day and a sheet protector with a list and explanation of the parts of speech on one side and a list of proofreading marks on the other.

Thanks to this binder, AJ always knows where his homework is and we always know what he’s supposed to do. It’s not up to his memory. It’s wonderful. It’s wonderful now, and it will be even more wonderful when he heads to middle school next year and has more responsibilities.

How about you, parents/teachers: do your children struggle with organization? What are some of the tools in your box?

9 comments:

FreshHell said...

What a relief! I'm glad things are positive at school so far. Dusty's school has always sent home important papers in a special plastic folder that has to be signed by the parent each Thursday. Also, 4th graders get an "agenda" - a notebook that looks like a calendar in which they record homework to do, etc. that is also signed by the parent. Since we've only had one day of school so far, I don't know exactly how it works yet. The Back to School night isn't until the end of the month. But, that said, Dusty has always been a pretty organized person at school. She's always on top of assignments. Except when she forgets. Usually, these are independent projects or things she's supposed to do with others without any external (parental) assistance. She's always been this way. Part of her makeup for which I am grateful. As for Red, we'll have to wait and see. Too soon to tell.

At home Dusty's not so organized and I've bought bins and bin holders up the wazoo for all her crafts stuff. Her problem is she's always working on five different projects and can't seem to ever tidy up after herself or put things away. Then she wonders why she can't find anything.

Cold Spaghetti said...

In the French system, the kids have daily homework books starting in 1st grade. They have short exercises everyday to do and bring back in le cahier. They have to glue the homework page into the notebook in school. Part of the learning is figuring out how to make it neat (it seems the girls get this more quickly than boys) and remembering it. In second grade, they get a weekly planner that they write their homework in -- along with the homework cahier like the year before. In other words, they are slowly teaching organization and responsibility, step by step. For English, they have a separate plastic folder that comes home each Monday with exercises to do each day of the week and a book to read. We sign off on assignments nightly, on a special form stapled to the assignments organized by week. Will is a pretty distracted and scattered kid, but manages to pull it all together quite well. I think, too, because all the kids have the exact same system (the school provides all materials, which are French, of course) they learn by watching each other as well as by the re-inforcement done at home and in class.

Harriet said...

Freshhell, it is a relief. Yesterday, Mr. Spy asked AJ how he was liking school so far. He replied, "I would like it if my teacher weren't so mean." "How is she mean?" we asked. But he couldn't come up with even one example. She has a reputation for being mean, but really, I think what AJ means is strict. If she smiled more, I don't think the kids would think she was mean. And I think AJ is mostly parroting what other kids say. But Cold Spaghetti, you make a really good point, which is that the kids learn from each other as much as they learn from the teacher. The French system sounds like a good one. I do wish they'd started the kids earlier, but better late than never.

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