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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.
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Hey everybody. This is Seth with SethPerler.com and I’m glad you’re here. Look, this is an important day because I’m about to teach you about the Homework Continuum Deluxe. Now, you might be asking yourself, what makes it deluxe? And the answer is, absolutely, nothing. I just think it sounds cool and I have low self-esteem and I think deluxe it makes it sound cooler and makes me sound cooler, so it just helps me out a little bit. If you can accept that, we’re going to be good, all right. Here we go. How you doing? All right.
I am going to tell you about something serious and it is the Homework Continuum. The reason why this is so important is because the students that I work with struggle, they’re right-brain, they’re not getting the grades that reflect what they’re capable of or their intelligence or their mind or their creativity. These students often, pretty much always, struggle with executive function. That’s the brain’s ability to execute a task. If I were to execute a task, for example, picking up this marker, that is a very simple task that doesn’t require much executive function. But to do homework, it requires a ton of executive function. And the mistake that people make, that students, parents, and teachers make, is they think of homework as one thing. “Go do your homework. I got to do my homework.” It sounds like it’s one thing, but it’s actually many things. I’m going to break that down for you right now. The value of breaking down this Continuum Deluxe is, wait that that was kind of weird, huh? Ah man, the self-esteem just went down again. Alright, back to it. The value in doing and understanding the Homework Continuum and breaking it down into small chunks is that then you can look at each chunk individually and figure out real solutions to help work with that particular aspect of the Homework Continuum. There is a beginning and there is an end to homework. I’m going to go through how you get homework done beginning to end.
At the very beginning, you have the homework that has to be assigned. It has to be clearly assigned because a lot of times my students are coming into my office, I’m working with them, and they don’t understand the homework. They don’t have a good place to reference it online, a lot of teachers don’t make it clear on the papers that they hand out, what it means. I’m confused half the time! So is it clearly assigned? So if the teacher clearly assigns it in class verbally, and the student is having trouble taking it in verbally because they could be stressed, bored, or uninterested or unengaged, or they could be looking at somebody else in the classroom who’s talking. They could be engaging, talking, or writing notes. If they’re not fully engaged and the teachers trying to assign something verbally or if they have an auditory processing disorder or any of number of things, they’re not going to get it clearly. So even getting the clarity of what’s required on the assignment is one step in of itself. If that’s an area that’s troublesome, that’s one area you should address separately. It’s not just doing the work, it’s one piece right here. You have to accurately record the homework. Okay whether you memorize it, write it on a sticky note, look online to see what the teacher has written about the assignment, if they’ve even done that, look at the paper that the teacher gives you if it clearly states it, or use a planner. Using a planner effectively, the right planner, the right way, for right-brain students is very important. So that in itself. Some method of accurately recording clearly assigned assignment is a step in of itself.
Moving on, the student has to remember to even do the assignment. They have to even remember to look in their planner or to know that the assignment exists once they’ve left school. We begin with all of these, these deal with their prefrontal cortex, these deal with executive function, the brain’s ability to execute a complex, and this is a very complex, task. To remember to even do it, your brain has to use what’s called work memory which is like juggling balls, it’s keeping the things that are important in your mind. They have to use working memory to even remember to do it.
Next, we have self-starting. Now in executive function speed, this is called task initiation. To initiate the task, to start, to get going, to get the train moving. The train that stands still is very difficult to get started. It requires an enormous amount of energy, and for these students, it requires even more energy to get started. So just to start is a huge issue or 99% of the students that I work with, self-starting is an issue. That in of itself is one piece of the puzzle.
Then, they have to follow0through. They have to not only start, but they have to, if they get derailed, get back on track. That’s a great metaphor for the train, and people usually are able to get derailed and get back on it. My students tend to get wayyyy derailed and have a lot of trouble getting back on track. Follow-through, that’s a part of task persistence, which is executive function also. The task persistence is the EF term for follow-through or stick-to-it-evness. Now you have to follow-through until completion. A lot of my students don’t complete everything 100% and then they don’t turn it in at all. So, that can be problematic because they just need to get in the habit of getting it in even it’s 80% done. So complete follow-through isn’t always necessarily necessary, especially when we’re building habits. But this is a huge part again of executive function. So that’s a piece that needs to be examined and broken apart. How to just deal with the follow-through aspect.
Then, you have to worry about transport. Transport means, how do we get it from home, the kitchen table or the desk, or wherever they’re doing their homework, into the folder, into the backpack, into the bus or the car or whatever, back to the school. How do we even transport it? That in of itself is a system that a lot of students really take time to craft and families don’t understand, parents are often baffled at how can this piece of paper not make it back to school. Transportation, that’s an executive function thing too. Dealing with systems and details, getting it from point A to point B, that’s something that needs to be looked at.
Finally, it’s got to be turned in. So the student has to be in the class, use executive function to say to themselves, “Hmm, I need to get that out of my backpack and hand it in to the teacher.” Now, I think that my students are generally very well-intended, they often legitimately forget. The teacher can even be saying, “Everybody turn in your homework right now.” I have teachers who say, “Well, I ask for the homework at the beginning of every period,” well a lot of the times these students with executive function have difficulty with transitions. So they’re just transitioning into a new class, their mind is still in the other class or the social thing that happened in the hallway, or whatever. Turning it in is a real challenge for even more reasons than I mentioned. I often will be doing a backpack overhaul with a student and we pull something out from the bottom of the backpack, the bowels of the backpack, we find a paper that was due 3 weeks or 3 months ago, and they say, “Oh, that’s where that is. I thought I turned it in.” A lot of the time students even literally, envisioned themselves with the visual part of the brain turning in the work. But they didn’t do it. But they often will misremember. Anyhow, the point is that the Homework Continuum Deluxe has a beginning and an end. It is not one thing, do your homework, it is many things. When you break down these pieces and look at them individually, then you can help a student problem solve and come up with solutions to each one of them to help increase their independence so that they can better succeed at doing the homework. Now this video doesn’t even consider whether or not the homework is valuable. Some homework is completely meaningless, complete BS. I see that a lot here and I have strong opinions about this, but that this video doesn’t even look at that. That’s a whole issue altogether. I really am just a nutshell don’t think that homework should interfere with self-care time and family time. And there are sometimes legitimate reasons for homework, sometimes there’s not. You really have to look at that as well.
Anyhow, here you go, here’s the Homework Continuum, I hope this helps you look at the areas that you can break down to work on more specifically to problem-solve with so that you can increase independence and success in whatever you’re doing. Good luck to you, I hope you’re having an awesome weekend and I’ll see you in a week. Take care.
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