The following general strategies are intended to help all children improve their organizational skills, work habits, and overall production.
Teach children to use assignment books and “To Do” lists to keep track of their short- and long-term assignments, tests, and quizzes. Use resources provided by the school —a “homework hotline” on voicemail or homework posted on the school Web site, for example— could help you support a student who does not yet consistently record assignments.
Give children a clear sense of how a final product might look by showing examples —perhaps samples of work from previous years (obtained from the teacher) to illustrate specific qualities of the work— and by sharing exemplary products. Do not, however, compare children’s work with that of peers or siblings.
Parents can talk with teachers about providing children with five minutes of planning time before beginning an assignment. Both can also provide guidance in effective planning when necessary.
Help students prioritize their assignments according to level of importance, difficulty, or due date.
Require children to break down tasks into parts, write down the steps or stages, and compile steps of frequent tasks into a notebook for easy reference. For long-term assignments, provide a due date for each step of the assignment.
Have children preview an assignment, collect the materials they will need before starting one, and keep their materials and notebooks organized and easily accessible. In middle and high school, conduct intermittent “notebook checks” and, if necessary, suggest ways to improve organization.
Parents can ask teachers to build in a due date that is one day before an assignment is actually due and should use this time to review the child’s work and check it with an adult. This will give the children enough perspective to catch errors or add more details and to produce better work.
Set a standard of work quality or criterion for success that children can follow and encourage them to self-assess the quality of their work before turning it in.
Have children set a short-term goal —such as completing all homework for the week— and post a record of their daily progress in a visible place. Graphic recording, such as plotting their own line graphs, may be particularly reinforcing for some children.
Because children benefit from estimating answers to math problems and science experiments, stress the real-life benefits of estimating and understanding what the correct answer might look like.
To slow down children who work too quickly and speed up children who work too slowly, remove any positive reward for finishing first and state the amount of time a task should realistically take.
So children understand which behaviors, actions, or work products are acceptable and which are not, create a feedback system by using specifics to praise good work and recognize when children use strategies effectively. Say, for example, “I like the way you drew a table to help explain the problem” or “Asking to take a break really seemed to help you come back and focus.”
Some children may benefit from a mentor who will work with them to analyze their academic progress, improve basic skills, brainstorm alternative strategies, and provide recognition of progress. The mentor/tutor must be seen as credible and may be an individual from either inside or outside the school.
Have children look back at past work and celebrate the progress they have made. Graph their weekly progress with them.