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Teaching Time Management to Students with Learning Disabilities

By: Patricia W. Newhall

Time management is a challenge for everyone. Students with language-based learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia and other disabilities, find it even more challenging than other students.

The concept of time can be particularly challeging. For example, being able to tell clock time is different from understanding the concept of time. Many students can read the clock perfectly well, but when asked to estimate how long an assignment will take, they can seldom provide an accurate answer. While some grossly underestimate the time required and set themselves up for disappointment and frustration, others greatly overestimate and feel overwhelmed before they even begin. Developing a sense of their individual task pace is essential for students to learn time management.

Students who have learning disabilities need high structure, explicit teaching and extended opportunities to practice strategies until they develop independent skills. All these things require time — a commodity in short supply for busy students and their parents and teachers. In this fast-paced culture, effective time-management skills are essential. Fortunately, some basic strategies — if practiced regularly — can help students become effective self-managers. Time management is a very important skill, which can often make or break academic success.

A good place to begin teaching time management is task analysis. It provides one illustration of a skill that many students do not develop intuitively, yet it is an essential element to developing effective time management. You can have a lot of fun with this one. It's also a great opportunity to get parents involved by asking them to practice this skill with their child at home. Ask your students and their parents to think about how long it will take to ride a bike to a friend's house, make a sand castle, feed the family pet or color a picture. Once they get the hang of it, students can move to more advanced time management skills when they return to the classroom.

Task analysis is something that many students do not develop intuitively, yet it is an essential element to developing time management. Task analysis is the process of identifying what needs to get done to finish a given undertaking — whether it is a homework assignment or a long-term project like a research paper. To estimate time with any accuracy, students need to know the steps required to complete a task. Students sometimes do not recognize that a single homework assignment might have three parts. For instance, an assignment to read a chapter and define the vocabulary for a quiz the next day requires students to (a) read, (b) look up words in the dictionary, and (c) identify and remember information likely to be on the quiz. Students unpracticed at task analysis are likely to complete the first and second steps, then assume that the third step will happen on its own. They might do poorly on the quiz even though they believe they did their homework.

Purpose

The purposes of the Task Analysis & Time Estimation Sheet are to raise students' awareness of the multiple steps that may be involved in a single task and to develop their perception of how much time it takes to complete that task.

Ideally, teachers should allocate class time over a week or so for students to work with the Task Analysis & Time Estimation Sheets (especially for elementary and middle-school students). If class time is unavailable, teachers can require students to complete the sheets at home and encourage parents or guardians to participate.

Materials

  • Kitchen-style timer with a bell
  • Stopwatch
  • Task Analysis & Time Estimation Sheets

Steps

Teachers first show students how to operate the stopwatch, then ask students to set their stopwatches to 0:00.

Choosing and analyzing tasks

Students should start with a basic task, such as making their bed in the morning. Students list all the steps to complete the task in the correct order.

Teachers then have students estimate the time they think it takes to complete the task, noting that students will have a fair idea if the task is routine.

When they return to the classroom, students next progress to a discrete academic task, such as a homework assignment or chapter reading. They generally need guidance at this point to avoid oversimplifying. For example, for an assignment to read the first section of chapter 6 in their social studies textbook, students might simply write one step — read — on their worksheets unless explicitly directed to break the task into smaller steps.

As students begin to grasp the complexity of simple, discrete tasks, teachers can extend task analysis to far more complex tasks, like writing a research paper and preparing for a final examination.

Testing students' time estimates

Once a task is analyzed and its time estimated, students prepare to complete the task and start the stopwatch. When the task is complete, they stop the timer and record the actual time on the worksheet. (Students should stop the timer if they are interrupted or have to stop for more than a minute so their actual times will be accurate.) Last, students calculate how much they under- or overestimated their task time.

As stated, students should use the Task Analysis & Time Estimation Sheet over a week or more. They quickly learn to look at the previous day's actual time to estimate the current day's task time. The activity is helpful to teachers as well as students, as it reveals the wide differences in task-completion times within a class.

Mastering the Routine

Accurately estimating how much time it takes to complete tasks is essential for long-term planning. When students complete Task Analysis & Time Estimation Sheets for a period of time, they learn that their actual times vary according to the length and complexity of the assignment, their level of concentration, and other factors like fatigue, motivation, and interest. They also learn which tasks are quick and easy and which require more time and effort. Students get quite good at this when they practice enough.

After some intensive daily work on task analysis and time estimation, teachers can require students to track estimated and actual time for completing homework assignments. Taking the time to teach students how to analyze tasks and estimate time, and practicing with them, helps students develop valuable study skills that will help manage their classwork and homework more confidently and effectively. Time-management is also a skill that enhances students' lives outside the classroom; they may find they have less anxiety about their work, more free time, and growing pride in a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives.

About the article

Time management is one of the three key categories of study skills that contribute to students' ability to organize, remember and apply their knowledge. The other categories are managing materials and managing information. To do well in school, students must develop strategies that make them efficient, effective managers in each of these areas. Unfortunately, many students do not develop these strategies intuitively. They need educators who are willing and able to provide them with explicit instruction, guided practice, and ongoing opportunities (and motivation) to hone the strategies they've learned.

This article was adapted from Study Skills: Research-Based Teaching Strategies. Published by Landmark School's Outreach Program. It was written by Landmark staff exclusively for LD OnLine.

Newhall, P. W. (2008). Teaching Time Management to Students with Learning Disabilities. Adapted from Study Skills: Research-Based Teaching Strategies. Prides Crossing, MA: Landmark School, 28-31.