December 17, 2014

Making a list, and checking it twice

With the holidays approaching, there’s a good chance you are making a list, and checking it twice. When crossing items off your holiday to-do list, you feel festive and satisfied. You know you are one step closer to achieving your goals and making loved ones very happy. And when that to-do list is completed? There’s no better feeling!

The same senseof accomplishment can be a motivator for students of all ages.  List-making in academics has far-reaching benefits, from organization, to motivation and self-monitoring. There are many types of lists that can aid in decision making, task management, task initiation, and more. For students who struggle with executive function, usings lists effectively is an important skill to add to their toolbox. So here’s a list of lists we hope you check it twice — and share with your child!

  1. The Long-Term Goals List: This type of list most closely resembles a traditional to-do list, and includes anything from making the honor roll to becoming a famous athlete. While no long-term goal is immediately attainable, creating a goals list can initiate planning and promote intrinsic motivation. Write everything down and keep the list in a safe and visible location. This will remind your student to look toward the future and set high expectations for her own achievement.
  2. The Daily To-Do list:The Daily To-Do List applies goal-setting strategies on a practical, day-to-day basis. It includes only what you can do today to achieve a short or long term goal. making-a-list2Your student wants to complete her science project? No problem. Start today by having her add an incremental goal (like “Determine the major requirements of the project”) to her daily to-do list. You can even incorporate check-boxes to help your child track her progress.
  3. The Pros and Cons list: Decision-making is as much a part of academics as reading, writing, or mathematics. Your child may be the best writer in the world, but if she can’t decide what subject to write about, she’ll never get her essay written. Creating a Pros and Cons list is an apt tool for overcoming indecision, since it creates a clear visual representation of your child’s mental “tug-of-war.” You might even suggest a weighted pros and cons list, which considers both the amount of pros/cons and the importance, or “weight,” of each individual entry.
  4. The Locker Checklist: Does your child always leave her homework at school by accident? The Locker Checklist can be a useful solution. Have your child write down all the things she needs to check on before leaving school. She can even list helpful questions like, “Do I need to bring home my textbook?” Then, hang her list in her locker for easy reference. The Locker Checklist should include reminders for anything and everything she might need, from her assignment notebook to her instrument or sports equipment.
  5. The Brainstorming List: Lists can also be used as a brainstorming tool. Your child will receive thousands of assignment prompts over her academic career, so learning to generate ideas, through listing or graphic organizers, is both a crucial and timeless skill. Litemind, a company invested in the “mind’s efficiency,” suggests trying out The 100 List: Have your student brainstorm 100 ways to solve her problem. The first 30 items rid the brain of obvious solutions, the second 30 dig deeper, and the final 30+ reveal her most profound ideas.
  6. The Chronological Order List:  Listing ordered events has a wide range of applications. If your child has trouble initiating or completing tasks, listing an order of daily responsibilities, like “1) Get up, 2) Eat breakfast, 3) Brush teeth,” can act as both plan and reminder. Chronological lists can also help visualize story plots, history timelines, or multi-step biological processes. Moreover, ordered lists help organize the ideas your child plans to cover in an essay or presentation. Chronological lists can be used a checklists, too, which monitor progress toward learning, writing, or completing a sequential goal.
  7. The “Distractions” List: If your child is frequently distracted during designated “work times,” a Parking Lot Strategy, or “Distractions List” can be the way to go. Give your child a pen and paper to list extraneous thoughts while she works. Then, discuss these thoughts during break times, so she knows they haven’t been forgotten. The act of writing thoughts down frees up the mind to focus on the task at hand. You can even challenge your child to cut down her number of “distraction” thoughts over time!
  8. The Venting List: Is your child a worrier? Do her worries get in the way of completing her school work? A Venting List, or “anxieties” list, can be a cathartic and triumphant process. Have your child write down all her concerns before she gets started with her work. Discuss these concerns and talk about a plan to address them. With a clear plan in mind, and her anxieties discussed, your child will feel more in control. And when your child is in the “driver’s seat,” she’ll feel empowered to initiate and complete the task.
  9. The “Successes” List: With so many lists focused on achieving future goals, it’s important to make a list that reflects on past successes. Help your child understand her progress by listing her achievements together. Success breeds success, and often builds intrinsic motivation. So, this list is sure to inspire your child to aim high and keep working hard!

An executive function coach can help your student learn and practice the lists above. Or, you can challenge your student to try out a few lists over their winter break. Need help with your grocery shopping? Have your child manage the list. Can’t decide on a gift for a distant relative? Ask your child to help make the decision with a 100 Brainstorm or Pros and Cons list. The possibilities are endless; just make a list and check it twice.