I’m one of those busy guys who likes always being involved in something…everything…all the time! My drive to be busy is complicated by the fact that I also have a somewhat forgetful personality. This combination tends to make it that I regularly forget to complete tasks that I had sincerely planned to complete, which drives my wife nuts!
As a K-12 public school employee, I watched students grow up with this challenge. It’s probably no surprise that these kids, be it forgetful, lack of organization, lack of support, or whatever, tend to have low grades, fail to participate in many activities, and, all too frequently, become children who are often punished for failing to complete activities. Many of these students end up hating school and frequently become that “trouble-maker” as a way of defending themselves because they forgot!
One fall day, when I was in my 20’s, I was taught a trick that I use to this day. I was working with the local handyman, Bill. Bill was a coal miner who retired and became a tinkerer, working on cars, tractors, and other stuff to keep himself busy. He was an older guy with years of experience and a larger-than-life personality who wasn’t afraid to call me out whenever appropriate. I appreciated this and he knew it! We were leaving his shop, which was an abandoned water reservoir that had previously served as the water supply for the local town, when he closed the giant sliding door, locked it, and then grabbed a large metal bar, leaning it against the door. “What’s the bar for Bill?” I asked. “It’s to remind me tomorrow that I need to take a load of firewood over to my neighbor,” he replied. Interesting…a metal bar…reminded him to take firewood…to the neighbor. “I don’t know how you ’college educated’ people remember things, but that works for me.” I smiled and took that nugget of information with me. Now, twenty years later, when I need to remember to drop the garbage off at the curb Monday morning without hauling it with me to work in the bed of my truck, I put a pen on my dashboard in the evening when I load the garbage. That pen has never once failed to remind me to drop off the garbage!
Far too often we develop organizational systems that don’t serve the students. Sometimes we need to support these systems in different ways. Bill helped me to see that some kids may just need a physical cue that serves as a reminder. Consider the student who regularly fails to complete assignments, return signed papers, or finish other activities, demonstrating the inability to remember tasks. Could a cue-based reminder system help? Perhaps the cue is a small token that they place in their pocket, a Round Tuit, reminding them each time they touch it that they need to complete a task. Tie a string around your finger and don’t forget!
- Don’t do it for them – It is important that we work beside a student, helping them to develop a method to organize and remember tasks. When a student is a poor reader, we write goals and teach them so they develop reading skills. This same mindset needs to be adopted when a student struggles with organization and remembering to complete tasks. We need to teach them, developing their skills so they are able to be independent. It’s always worth the time to teach!
- Presume the positive – Far too often, especially with older children, we assume that they didn’t complete an assignment due to some defiant act when it is totally possible that it has more to do with a forgetful nature. By presuming the positive, we can turn things around for this student and help them to develop a system that works for them.
- Consider supporting a student with Action Driven Education’s Accomod B59 – Use a cue-based reminder system to support the student’s ability to complete tasks. If a student is struggling to complete tasks, find a way to support them past their need so they are able to find and experience success.