Executive Functioning, Learning disabilities, School, Strategies

Breaking Down the Homework Monster

Tutor: “So what are some areas of challenge that you’d like to work on?”

Student: “Homework.”

This conversation happens in nearly every initial session I have for executive functioning coaching. The same is true for most conversations with parents: “Homework is a real struggle.” But what does that mean?

“Homework” is such a weighty term. We refer to ‘doing homework’ as if it is a single task or step, but it is actually a highly complicated string of tasks that all have various ways in which they can fail. Have one kink in the chain, and the whole thing falls apart.

As soon as homework is brought up in a session, I know that I will need to dig a bit to figure out where the various (and yes, it’s usually more than one) points of breakdown are.

That’s when I pull out my Homework Flow Chart. The chart includes 9 major steps required in completing homework from start to finish. Even still, it is a major oversimplification of the complex process, but it is a way to start the conversation.

HomeworkFlowchart.pngI give the student a printed flow chart and ask them to mark each box on the page:

  1. Place a star on any box that you feel is not a problem for you. This is something that you consistently are able to do independently and with no issues.
  2. Place an X on any box where you think “yeah, major problem”
  3. Place a ? on any box where you feel you need to explain. For instance, “this is a problem for me only in one particular class.”

Once we have identified which areas are challenging, we dive more deeply into those, trying to figure out what the system currently looks like, what has/hasn’t worked in the past, and why it isn’t working now. Through the conversation, each of the question marks will be converted into either a star or an X based on whether we think it is a problem that needs direct attention or not.

We usually take notes directly on the page as a form of record as we discuss.

Finally, we choose the first box with an X and that is where we begin our active problem solving. It doesn’t make sense to solve the final step if you’re rarely making it that far. So we start at the beginning and move along the flow chart over time.

This process helps with prioritizing, which can be a huge challenge when working on executive function skills. All of the problems can feel pressing, but it is impossible to make progress if you are working on too many things at once.

Strategically choosing one step in the process allows for more targeted intervention and increases the chances for success.

Once you solve the first problem, you can move on to the next, eventually troubleshooting the whole homework process!

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