Students often find the transition from primary to secondary school a challenge. Especially those who experience issues with executive-function skills. Many of my students (and even their typically developing peers) particularly struggle with organization and time management. For example, kids spend most of their time in one classroom in elementary school, while from 6th to 12th grade, they move through classes with different teachers and subjects.
I spend a lot of time working with my kids to develop these skills for many reasons. I stress that if they think it’s hard now, it will only get trickier as academic demands increase. Below are just a few ways I work on organization and time management with my students:
Students should use separate folders for each class. Many students already do this, but my kids must work harder to keep them organized. They pile everything into one folder and can never find what they need. Spend a session going through your students’ folders and putting papers where they belong. We also discuss what’s important to keep versus what they should throw out.
I don’t think I could get through life without some kind of planner or organizer. Introduce students to how and why to use a planner. It’s a visual reminder of what they need to do each day and for planning steps for future tasks or assignments. Check if your school has free planners. Also, you can print out weekly planning pages for your kids and make them a planner. If your students are tech savvy, show them how to use a calendar app. Or check out the many downloadable planning apps to see which ones they might like to use.
Similar to a planner, checklists and schedules provide students with a visual reference of tasks they need to accomplish.
- Checklists are great to organize all the things needed to get done for the day or week. We feel accomplished when we cross things off. Help students generate a checklist of what they need to get done. It can include homework, projects, reading, chores, etc…. You can also show them how to break down projects into smaller chunks, so they’re not as overwhelmed with assignments. For example, if they have a five-paragraph essay due, they spend each weekday working on just one paragraph, versus facing the WHOLE thing in one day.
- A student struggling with time management may find a daily schedule helpful. Drafting a schedule together will help you see what the student does or can do with his or her time each day. It’s also a good opportunity to help that particular student come up with a plan.
I don’t know if it’s just my kids, but their backpacks are a MESS! Sometimes I take a look inside and wonder how they find anything. I’ve spent entire sessions just organizing and cleaning out bags. The kids are amazed at the things they find—lost homework or projects due months ago, for example. As with folders, this is a good time to discuss what they need to carry with them and what they should leave at home.
I hope these ideas will help your students with executive-function challenges. I like to try different strategies and see what’s successful. If one thing doesn’t work, try something else!
Gabriella Schecter, MS, CCC-SLP, is a full-time SLP working in a grade 6-12 school. She posts regularly on Instagram (@middleschoolSLP), sharing ideas and activities for this age group. Check out her blog or email her at MiddleschoolSLP@gmail.com.