When thinking about students with executive functioning deficits and/or ADHD, a visual that frequently comes to mind is what we like to call the “black hole backpack.” A vessel full of tattered binders with broken rings, all slowly compressing an ever growing collection of loose papers, broken pencils, and perhaps last week’s lunch at the bottom. Organization is a challenge for these folks, but it can go beyond organizing physical stuff, and also impact the way ideas and information are organized. This week, we tackle question number four from our Tech for EF series:
Can tech help me organize ideas and information?
The Problem: In addition to organizing their stuff, those with executive functioning deficits can have a hard time imposing structure onto ideas — both their own thoughts, and information being given by others.
For instance, this might mean having lots of ideas for a story, but not seeming to be able to put it together in a cohesive way that meets requirements. Or, getting stuck trying to come up with ideas because there isn’t a clear structure and it is too open-ended.
Similarly, trying to keep track of information like notes, research, and thoughts in a way where it will be useful to you later (i.e., not in “one of my notebooks but I’m not sure which one, or where it is…”).
Solution #1: Organize Ideas with Inspiration
Inspiration, at it’s heart, is a mind mapping software, allowing users to create visual representations of their ideas. It is commonly used with students to plan essays, much like a graphic organizer web that is on paper. But, the nature of it being digital adds a few features that make it much more useful than its paper-and-pencil counterpart. Here are our four favorite features of Inspiration.
Number 1: Lightning mode. Trying to fill out a web that a teacher drew for you, pretty much requires you to do the organization BEFORE you fill in the web. You have to decide your main ideas and supporting details before you write them in. While this might help once it comes time to write the essay, and shows you what components you need, it doesn’t actually help you through that process.
Lighting mode in Inspiration allows you to just put ideas on the paper in rapid fire. Type a though, press enter, it becomes a bubble. No need to organize as you go, just do a brain dump and get them all out there. Once that’s done, you can organize them, which leads us to our next feature.
Number 2: Easy to move. After you’ve got some ideas in bubbles on your page, with a click and drag of the mouse or touch on your tablet, you can start to group ideas together and see what kind of categories you have come up with. Realize something fits better in a different group? No erasing and rewriting necessary. Just drag it over.
Number 3: Map vs. Linear. Once you’ve categorized your ideas, deleted those that just don’t fit, and feel like you have some structure, you can turn your web into an outline with the tap of a button. Now, you essentially have created a step by step map for your essay (or other assignment/task) that you can view either in a web format, or in a linear outline format — whichever suits your style!
Number 4: Templates. If there is an assignment or task that you do frequently, you can use Inspiration to create a template and use it to walk you through the task each time. It not only makes work easier, but also helps you get start and boost productivity, as discussed in Part 3.
Solution #2: Organize information in digital notebooks.
Organizing information can be very tricky. Our memories are a faulty device, so we know that important information needs to be stored somewhere outside of the brain. But it can be hard to find a solution that is flexible enough to meet your needs. Physical notebooks can get lost, require penmanship you can read back, and often aren’t flexible enough to actually organize your information (unless you can predict exactly how many pages you might need on a given topic or remember exactly what page that phone number was written on).
Using digital documents like Microsoft Word or Google Docs helps because they are less likely to get lost and you can add information in wherever you like. But even here there can be some limitations depending on the type of information you want to organize.
Enter our solution: digital notebooks. Like a document, these can be searched and are manipulated as needed. But, like a notebook or binder, you can organize it by subject, have tabs for different topics, and include all sorts of information.
Microsoft One Note and Evernote are two of the more robust softwares out there, and both allow the user to include many different kinds of information, and organize it in ways that are easy to access and change.
You can put all sorts of data in there — pictures, text, scanned images, photos taken on your device, etc. with easy formatting. For example, when taking notes, you could include the handout your teacher emailed you, a picture you took of the whiteboard, an image from the internet, and your own typed notes, all in one place.
Both have web clipper chrome extensions that allow you to clip out pieces from a website and easily have them transfer right into the notebook you choose.
There are a few differences between the two, mostly in layout, so explore each and find the one that seems to best fit your needs.
Overall, the key is to help ease the process of organizing ideas and information, by letting the organization be its own step, rather than trying to juggle organizing and thinking all in one. Inspiration allows you to get your ideas out, and then manipulate them into an organized layout. Digital notebooks let you place all the information you might need into one place, in a sortable, searchable, changeable format so that you can organize as you go.