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Jul 11

The Five Keys to Unlocking a Successful School Year

By Samantha Feinman, Program Director, New Frontiers in Learning and Casey Schmalacker, Coach, New Frontiers in Learning Special Education Articles Add comments
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Executive functioning skills are essential to succeed in life. Certain executive functioning skills, such as time management and organization, help individuals in their jobs, daily chores, and day to day responsibilities. Students with a variety of learning challenges, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or autism spectrum disorders, may have deficits in such executive functioning skills, which can, in turn, adversely affect the school experience. Although these deficits may seem insurmountable at times, there are ways to tackle them to achieve success.

As a new school year is beginning, high school faculty and staff, parents, and students themselves, are searching for systems to put in place to develop such executive functioning skills and to maximize the classroom learning experience. To help, here are New Frontiers in Learning’s Five Keys to a Successful School Year:

Start Off (and Stay) Organized:

Having a system for keeping track of all notes, papers, grades, homework, assignment descriptions, etc. is an important start to any school year. Some students find it helpful to have separate notebooks and folders for each class. In this case, all books and folders can be color coded and labeled for easy identification. Another method of organization is to use a single binder with separate sections for each class. Each section should be labeled and should contain loose-leaf paper for note taking. All papers and handouts for the class should also be added to the section on a daily basis. Whichever method is chosen, be sure to figure out which one works specifically for the student early on and encourage them to follow it consistently throughout the year. Organizing all papers and notes daily allows students to be able to find class materials more easily.

Budget and Schedule Time:

We all face difficulties managing our time; therefore, students should set themselves up for success by using and maintaining a daily schedule. This schedule should include all class names, locations, and times, plus any other outside responsibilities that the student may have, such as work hours, sports practice, family obligations, etc. By maintaining a weekly schedule, the student can keep track of not only unchanged repeated responsibilities (i.e., class), but also any one-time obligations for each week (i.e., concert, special afterschool group study session, etc.). Further, following a daily and weekly schedule makes it much easier to see where the student can build in study and homework times, as well as study breaks. Once a schedule is made, students should be encouraged to stick to it! Having a planner that has both weekly and monthly sections allows the student to clearly see and review short and long term expectations.

Ask for Help

Many times, students with executive functioning deficits have a difficult time recognizing when they need help, as well as identifying who and/or where to turn to receive help. Students need to review the help-seeking process in the beginning of each school year: If something is confusing, if they don’t know how to start or structure a project or assignment, or if they have any other questions about class requirements, students should be reminded to ask for help! Students need to understand that asking for help will not make them look bad; rather, it will actually show their parents, teachers, and other professionals that they care about the class and want to be successful. Students should review the protocol in asking clarifying questions; some teachers use the beginning or end of the school day, while others encourage students to email them. Once students know what their individual teachers prefer, they should be encouraged to follow such systems as a resource to clear up any questions that may arise!

Write it All Down

Have you ever told yourself that you didn’t need to write something down because you would remember it, only to struggle to remember what that very thing was just minutes later? You’re not alone – it happens to everyone, especially students taking multiple classes with various responsibilities. To prevent students from forgetting key information in class, they should be encouraged to write everything down – even the things that they think they will remember later. Writing everything down can be difficult sometimes, thus an alternative for students could be to audio record their classes or to use some form of assistive technology, such as a Smart Pen.

Setting Reminders

Having a system in place to help remind students of important dates is essential. Sometimes teachers announce due dates infrequently during a course, or due dates for assignments and exams may be outlined far in advance and then not discussed again. In such cases, it may be the day of an exam or an assignment being due, and the student begins to panic because they are not prepared! To alleviate this, students need to learn to set reminders in their daily planner or on smart phones –students can set a timer to go off several times as the assignment or exam due date approaches. Utilizing reminders can also help students remember when to start studying or when to begin an assignment, preventing the anxiety associated with cramming or unpreparedness.

New Frontiers in Learning (www.nfil.net) is a high school and college support program for students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and related learning differences. New Frontiers provides coaching and tutoring services to students in high schools and colleges in the Westchester and New York City areas, allowing students to apply for and attend colleges based on their plan of study or personal campus preferences. For more information, please contact Samantha at (646)558-0085 or sfeinman@nfil.net.

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