In this series we have been focusing on homework, and specifically using homework websites. Online homework portals have many benefits, but create new pitfalls for students, especially those with learning challenges.
Earlier, we talked about a system for getting the most out of these websites while still building strong executive functioning skills and habits. This system touches on each our 5 key principles for executive functioning support. The final principle is the slow and thoughtful removal of supports.
We’ve discussed support removal before, so here is a scaffolded set of support removal “levels” for using a homework website to create your own to-do list.
Level 1: Adult as model
In this first level, the adult is responsible for all of the steps and the student is strictly watching. The adult will go through the homework website and create a checklist of the specific items to be completed that evening — ideally with substeps where necessary.
The goal of this level is strictly to help the student learn to follow the checklist, not create it. Once they become accomplished at following the list and checking things off, they can move to level 2.
During this level, the adult can talk through their process aloud in order to model it for the student, or ask questions of the student to get them involved and thinking.
Level 2: Student as Navigator, Adult as Recorder
Once your child is able to use a checklist (and ideally has come to appreciate this tool) they can start to become more involved in its creation. In level 2, the student is responsible for navigating through the homework website and telling the adult what to put on the checklist.
The adult still creates the checklist (be it written or digital) and is there to offer suggestions (“are you sure there isn’t anything for science?”) to make sure that nothing falls through the cracks.
Depending upon how user-friendly the website is, the student may need a cheat sheet to remember to check each different page or class site. Help your child create a routine for systematically checking. For instance, always looking at each subject in the same order.
Once you find that the student is able to create a comprehensive list, it’s time to move on. Note: I rarely see level 2 passed before 7th or 8th grade, so depending on the age of your child, you might be stuck here for quite a while. I have high schoolers still in level 2.
Level 3: Student in Charge, Adult as Failsafe
Here, we really start moving toward independence. The child is now responsible for both navigating the online portal and creating the checklist. However, the adult is still present for this process, both reminding them to do it, and making sure that nothing gets looked over.
Eventually, you will find yourself giving less and less input on what to add to the list and how to format it. You can now slowly back out, but we aren’t done quite yet!
Level 4: Adult as Reminder and Checker
The student is now completely responsible for navigating the website and creating their personalized checklist for the evening. The role of the adult is now just to make sure the habit stays in tact.
At the start of homework time, give the reminder: “Okay, create your checklist now, I’ll be back in a few minutes to help you check it.”
Then, return and make sure it is complete. At first, this might mean actually checking that everything is there. If your child has been pretty reliably creating a complete list, this is more of just a check to make sure it happened.
Level 5: A Non-Human Reminder with Human Check-ins
Level 5 is where we finally start reaching something that resembles independence.
Together, decide on a reasonable reminder that is not dependent on another human. A phone alert, a recurring calendar event, a post-it on the computer screen. Whatever it is, make sure you talk about making it something that will actually be seen.
Continue to check in every once in a while to make sure that the habit is self-maintaining. If it isn’t, the major question is: Are you not seeing the reminder or are you seeing the reminder and choosing not to listen to it. If the former, changer the reminder. If the latter, back down to level 4 we go.
At any point in the process, if you move onto the next level and it all falls apart, take a step back. Troubleshoot where things hit a snag. See if you can either problem solve a baby step in between, or perhaps you just need more time in the previous level.