Article Review – “Homework and Beyond: Teaching Organization Skills to Individuals with ASD” by Michelle Garcia Winner
Let’s face it. No two people organize the same exact way. In fact, many of us have a variety of different organizational strategies altogether. It’s complicated and it doesn’t make teaching organizational skills any easier. When it comes to homework, being organized is just one step to helping the entire process go easier. Many children struggle with homework which in turn leads to frustration for the entire family. Doing homework is a learned process and it can start with having better organization skills.
A recent article (https://www.socialthinking.com/what-is-social-thinking/published-articles/102-homework-and-beyond) I read by Michelle Garcia Winner, CCC-SLP, lumped organization systems into two different systems: static and dynamic. Understanding these two very different types of organization systems and when they occur in development can help all of us target our teaching and work on more specific goals related to a child’s development. It can also help us understand why we encourage children from a very young age to clean up and start learning basic organization. Michelle Garcia Winner defined static organization systems as being: same thing, same time, same place, same way. These are the skills we introduce early in education. We assist students in breaking down tasks and students have to complete defined parameters. “Write your name at the top of the page, read the instructions, complete the work, when done turn over the paper and sit quietly until time is up.” In comparison, she defined dynamic organizational systems as involving constant adjustments to priorities, sustained attention, time management, and environments. Teachers start introducing these types of organization systems by 3rd or 4th grade on most occasions with moderate levels of support. By middle school and high school, there is a larger focus on these types of organization systems. Michelle Garcia Winner outlined 10 steps to foster organization skills. Please use the link above to read the full article. It has some great advice.
Below I’ve added some additional information I find helpful.
- Start with the end in mind
Sometimes this is easier said than done. Starting with the end in mind I think works really well with Michelle Garcia’s points 1, 2, 3, and 4. Having a picture of the end helps us get started and keeps us motivated. We all need motivation at different points in our day. We need it even more when our work might seem somewhat ridiculous and never ending. When we have a picture of the end in mind, it helps us keep going and work….especially when we know there is something fun at the end- like special time with mom or dad.
A fun strategy I like to use was taught to me by Sarah Ward (https://cognitiveconnectionstherapy.com). Have children put on their imaginary future glasses and imagine what needs to be done. This helps in many different ways. For one it can help a child who is stuck get started because they now hopefully have an image in their mind to plan and get ready. The best model for teaching organizational skills is model, assist, and then have your child perform with you watching before they are expected to do it on their own. This is a teaching method called the Gradual Release of Responsibility (https://www.socialthinking.com/what-is-social-thinking/published-articles/102-homework-and-beyond).
- Think with Your Eyes
Thinking with your eyes is another concept taught my Michelle Garcia Winner. Thinking with your eyes means using your eyes to figure out what nonverbal messages others are sending or what the situation demands out of our behavior. Behavior is defined not only as what a person does with their body but also with their actions. Behavior in this context is not meant as being either positive or negative. Thinking with your eyes is accomplished through reading others’ eye-gaze directions, facial expressions, and body language. Mrs. Garcia explains that receptively we use our eyes to gather information about what other people are thinking about, feeling, what is happening around us, and what might be someone else’s plan whereas expressively we use our eyes to indicate our focus, which in turn cues others in on what we are thinking about. When you think with your eyes, you are engaging in an active process that helps you be aware of what is happening in your environment, determine what others are thinking and feeling, and subsequently know how to respond. This ability to ‘think with your eyes’ can also be helpful in assisting your children to plan, gather, organize, and execute the number of steps required to complete a goal. One example of using this concept would be a child having difficulties transitioning because he/she is unable to filter out the multisensory information from the environment and they miss important directions. As a result, they are often the last one to the group or don’t get started on a task. We can use the concept ‘think with your eyes’ to help teach the child to stop, read the room, make a guess about what is occurring, and move their body to the correct location.
- Teach time management
How often have you heard from your child “but mom that is going to take FOREVER!”? Developmentally, young children, and even some adolescents, routinely don’t estimate the correct amount of time required. Nowadays kids don’t learn time as their parents did growing up. There are many reasons this is occurring. For one simple reason, kids are not as exposed to analogue clocks anymore. All they see are digital clocks. They never see the passage of time or how time adds up or goes away. I don’t want to do something if I think it is going to take forever; however, if I can just learn that my concept of forever is really just 10-15 minutes, then maybe I will be more likely to just keep going and finish my homework. After all, if I start with the end in mind, I know there is something fun and rewarding going to happen at the end hopefully. Again, Sarah Ward (https://cognitiveconnectionstherapy.com) has some fantastic ideas on her webpage. Look up time trackers. One simple strategy I like is teaching kids the concept of time robbers and how to be a time cop. Having a consistent homework time can also help.
- Modify and prepare the environment
Once we have those troublesome time robbers identified, help your child to see how a little organization in their workspace can go a long way. Instead of having their cellphone with quick access to Instagram, Snapchat, twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc, let them see that those things are typical time robbers and would be better if we put our phone elsewhere when we are doing our homework. Maybe suggest keeping it under their chair? Having an organized workspace with paper, pencils, pens, markers, etc. will ultimately save time and the hassle of having to keep up and down multiple times or stopping to look for materials. There are some additional great books out there for identifying a child’s personal style of organization and make suggestions for purchasing school supplies as well as organizing materials. Some of my favorites include: 1) Organizing the Disorganized Child: Simple Strategies to Succeed in School by Martin L., M.D. Kutscher and Marcella Moran 2) Get Organized Without Losing It by Janet S. Fox 3) The Middle School Student’s Guide to Ruling the World! ® Work Habits and Organization Skills (http://www.middleschoolguide.com/quotes-orders/order-now/)
- Use visual structures
Michelle Garcia Winner recommended using visual long-term mapping charts such as Gantt Chart (www.ganttchart.com). Her article, as well as the website, provides more information. Other great ideas are making up a mnemonic and color coding different subjects. I’m a partial fan of “GOAL-PLAN-DO-CHECK” but others such as “GET READY-DO-DONE” are also great. Find what works for your child and family.
If you are struggling in any of these areas, contact Easter Seals and find out if having an OT evaluation for your child might be beneficial.