For children and teens, visual cues such as writing the daily schedule on the blackboard are very helpful because they help the student literally see where they're up to and reduce any stress associated without having to actually remember what to do next:
- Teachers can check off each item on the blackboard throughout the day and edit the schedule to point out/highlight changes in the usual routine.
- Parents can be asked to support training the child or teen to consult a visual list or organizer by using them in the home for the family's activities and asking the child to consult the calendar each day, check off activities, enter notes, etc.
As students get older, their schools frequently provide them with planners or agendas. Not all planners work for students with large sloppy handwriting, so do consider whether you need to look for another type. Similarly, consider whether the planner shows one day at a time or one week at a time.
The image at the top of this page is from the author's "Good Ideas Gone Horribly Horribly Bad File." The teacher wanted the student to be able to look ahead so that he wasn't surprised to turn the page and find out he had a test that day, so she picked a "weekly view" planner. The idea was fine, but the plan didn't work because (1) it didn't allow enough space for the student's very large handwriting, and (2) the parent and teacher tried to use the page for their communications. In general, it's usually best to keep parent-teacher communications in a separate notebook or folder.
Visual cues can also serve as reminders of events or steps we might neglect. Dornbush and Pruitt (1995) provide visual cues or editing strips that can be pasted on young students' desks (see their book,"Teaching the Tiger," published by Hope Press). These strips contain pictorial representations of steps in the editing process such as checking punctuation, checking for capitalization, etc.
Another way in which visual organizers are particularly helpful in the area of thought or idea organization. If you have trouble getting started writing a big paper or essay or organizing your thoughts for a presentation, have you ever tried a visual organizer? Inspiration.com provides software for children and teens that you may wish to explore or download for a free trial.
Color, used properly, can also be an organizing aid. If you're not already using this technique in the classroom, consider using color organize materials. Color code school books so that all "science" books, workbooks, and notebooks are one color, while all "social studies" books and materials are another color. At the end of the day, if the student has science homework, they just grab everything that is the science color. It saves a lot of time and increases the chances of the right workbooks and notebooks coming home. When I was in a school recently observing a student, I commented to the teacher that the use of color-coding notebooks seemed to be working well in her class. She informed me that the color-coding system was now being used building-wide. What a great idea! Once a student learns that "science is blue," they stick with that color code throughout all of their years in the school.
Color-coding notebooks and/or textbooks works even more effectively if the classroom teacher also uses color coding for corresponding bins where the students turn in their work (e.g., all science homework would get put in the blue bin, all language arts in the green bin, etc.). [Because some children may be color blind, adding easily discriminable shapes to the bins and notebooks may be helpful in some cases.]
Color can also be used to help prioritize, another executive function. Teach the student to color highlight information as they study, and establish a different meaning for each color (e.g., yellow for definitions, green for facts, etc....).
Cognitive cues are strategies that help you remember the sequence of steps as well as the content or steps themselves. They are especially important to those who can't seem to retain or follow multi-step or multi-element situations.
When you wanted to learn the order of the planets from the sun, did you develop a sentence (mnemonic) that preserved the order of the planets, as in "My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pizzas" (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto)? What other mnemonics have you used over the years to help you remember the sequence of items? And what are you doing to help your student use or develop useful mnemonics?
Mnemonics are an example of a cognitive strategy or cue. And whereas young children may need or benefit from pictorial editing strips, older students might be taught mnemonics for editing such as "CLIPS" (Packer, 1999), where "CLIPS" reminds them to check for: Capitalization, Leave space between words, Ideas complete, Punctuation, Spelling. At the beginning, you can leave a few paper clips on the desk with a reminder as to what the mnemonic stands for. Later on, you can just leave a few clips on the desk.
Providing your child with mnemonics or cognitive strategies will help them retain the sequence of steps. If you can teach them a general strategy that whenever they have a multi-step task, they should try to develop a mnemonic, you will be teaching them a lifelong strategy. And the funnier or wackier the mnemonic, the more likely they will remember it.
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