April 10, 2015

Fire! Ready, Aim: The mixed up way students approach tasks

Your family is packing for a tropical vacation. Your children are in the other room, excitedly filling their suitcases with assorted items: swim goggles, a sweatshirt, frisbees, a bathing suit, and a pair of pants. “Done!” one of them shouts, and rushes around the corner into your room. He drags his small, zipped-up suitcase behind him. “What did you bring?” you ask him, and he recounts an odd list of garments and toys. “Did you remember any T-shirts? What about your toothpaste? Don’t forget your sneakers!” You send him back to his bedroom to find and add the missing clothing, toiletries, and more.

Sound familiar? What about when your son sits down to write a paragraph, what does he do first? Many students (and adults!) simply open up a Word document and either start writing immediately, or sit staring at the blank page until the right idea pops into their brain. What about when your daughter starts working on a diorama? Does she plan it out first, or does she just start gluing construction paper, glitter, and miniature characters in random locations, often times in an effort to get it done as quickly as possible?

Children, until they are well out of college and into early adulthood, are still developing their executive function skills, which means that they may approach tasks in a mixed-up order. Traditionally, adults follow the “Ready, Aim, Fire!” approach to their projects, academic or otherwise. They prepare first, plan accordingly, then put their plans into motion. As an adult, it would seem absurd to “Fire” first, then “Ready” and “Aim” a project after the firing has already happened. But, for children, who may lack sophisticated planning, strategizing, and time-management executive functions, this misordering of events is not only a common occurrence, but also a significant challenge.

When your son tries to write his paragraph, pack his suitcase, or start any other complicated project, without first engaging in planning, thinking, and organization, he skips an important stage of his work. These planning stages increase the thoroughness, structure, interest, and comprehension of his ideas and plans. When he “fires” first, he forgets his toothpaste and sneakers.

ready aim fire

In school, when your child “fires” first, he often skips over his instructions. He is forced to “ready” and “aim” his ideas, as he works or writes,without the necessary supports and toolsHe forges ahead without the support of a thesis, outline, schedule, plan, or even his assignment criteria. Probably, he struggles with the blank page for awhile, writes, and rewrites. By the time he has “finished,” long after he began, he feels defeated because, despite his best efforts, his work is still messy and confusing, even to himself.  “Fire! Ready, Aim,” did not work for him, but he doesn’t know why, nor how to approach his work differently in the future.

How to Help your Child Plan

Given that children do have a tendency toward mixed-up planning, it’s important for parents and teachers to guide them through the appropriate chronological steps, in their everyday life, and at school.  Until they build planning habits of their own, children will need this support from their parents, teachers, or even an executive function coach. At Engaging Minds, we use the phrase, “Begin with the end in mind,” to stress the importance of starting every project with the end goal or result in mind, and to plan an approach for every destination, real or theoretical.

At home, during homework time,you can teach your child to get Ready, Aim, Fire, and Check each one of their assignments. This strategy makes sure that children not only learn to prepare properly, but also develop skills to check, revise, and improve their original work.  With guidance and consistent practice, your child will produce more confident, focused, and successful results. They might even remember their sunscreen. Here’s how…

  • Ready: Consider the “Ready” phase as the brainstorm. Engage your child in a discussion about how they’d like to approach their assignment, what their best ideas are, and what kinds of supplies or resources they might need to get their work done. You might even record these thoughts using a graphic organizer, diagram, list, or other brainstorming tool.
  • Aim: The “Aim” phase is best described as the “gathering and sorting” phase. Use your child’s brainstorm as a checklist to gather all the research, supplies, and ideas you and your child deemed necessary. Then, separate ideas into categories, and organize a step-by-step plan. For example, while working on a writing assignment, choose which ideas will function as major paragraph topics, and which ideas will work as supporting evidence. If packing for a trip, determine what clothing will be appropriate for the weather, for scheduled activities, and for traveling, relaxing, and more.
  • Fire: Finally! Your child can get started. And, they will likely discover that the “heavy lifting” is already done. They know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, according to their plans, supplies, and assembled resources.
  • Check: When your child has created a finished product, go back to the original checklists and ensure that the “final version” followed the plan appropriately, met all the demands of the assignment, and, of course, is your child’s best work. If not, show your child that it’s not only okay, but also normal and necessary to edit and revise their assignments. They might have forgotten an item, or miscommunicated a crucial idea.

Having the right plan helps children with a vast array of skills, from task initiation, to follow-through, strategizing, motivation, and more.  These skills encompass all aspects of life, academic and beyond. Learning the order of tasks will help children plan to bring their hat and gloves to school on cold days, read their homework’s directions more carefully, and produce their best work in all arenas. So, when Ready, Aim, Fire, and Check are back in the correct order, there is no telling what your child can do! With practice, perseverance, and guidance, your child will soon be right on target.