Odd as this may sound, students who struggle with homework aren’t just struggling with homework. They’re struggling with many things that have a lot to do with “executive function.”
Executive function refers to the brain’s ability to “execute” a complex task. In the case of homework, which sounds like 1 single task, there are actually many subtasks that must be done in order to successfully complete it.
This series of subtasks is what I call The Homework Continuum. When you understand this continuum, then you can intentionally isolate and address each specific aspect that a student is struggling with. When homework is seen in this light, we can find solutions that make a real impact.
Here’s how the Homework Continuum works:
1. Clear assignment – First, the assignment must be clear. The teacher’s part is to clearly communicate expectations and the student’s part is to take in these expectations with clarity. Obviously, there are often problems on both ends and we need to get to the bottom of this issue first.
2. Accurately record – Somehow, the student has to have a system for accurately recording homework details. But these kids aren’t great with details. The right planner is the preferred method.
3. Remember – Next, the student has to remember to do the homework! Often times it’s not even on their radar, so they need to build an effective system/routine just for remembering to do homework.
4. Self-start – In “executive function terms,” self-starting is called “task initiation.” Starting homework is often very challenging for my students. They resist, avoid, procrastinate, etc.. They need tips, tricks and tools to just get the train moving.
5. Follow-through – This is called “task persistence.” Students often get derailed, and must get back on track in order to finish the homework.
6. Transport – After the homework is complete, how does the student get it into the right folder, then in the backpack and into the class?
7. Turn in – Now that it’s in the classroom, how does the student get that homework into the teacher’s hands? Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s often an executive function issue again. Students who don’t turn in completed homework is one of the most baffling things for parents and teachers. They just can’t comprehend how a student could manage to forget or accept a 0 on work they already did.
So you see, homework isn’t just one thing. It’s a continuum that requires a great deal of executive function that some students haven’t yet developed. The key is to deconstruct each of these areas to find solutions that will work to build executive function skills and help create lasting change.