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Helping Children with Executive Functioning Problems Turn In Their Homework

By: Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Laurie Dietzel

Here are some strategies to help a child who does his or her homework, but doesn't turn it in:

Walk through the process with the child

Walk through the process with the child. For example:

  • There are many different ways that someone can get off-track in the process of getting homework from home to the teacher. Talk through the process with the student.

    Is the homework getting lost at home? Is the homework getting lost in the bottom of the backpack or the bottom of the locker? Is it in the proper notebook, but forgotten in the process of settling into the classroom?

    Once you have identified the sticking point, consider what needs to be added to the routine to get past it.

  • For those who lose track of homework at home, consider instituting the following routine (from Enabling Disorganized Students to Succeed, by Suzanne Stevens): "Homework is not done until your homework is in its proper folder or notebook, the folders and notebooks are packed into your backpack, and your backpack is on its launching pad."

    Try different ways of organizing homework to find the one that best suits your child. Some students do best with a separate homework folder so that everything that needs to be turned in is organized into one place. Others do better when they organize the homework by subject.

    If the teachers have set up a system that does not work for your child, talk with them about allowing alternatives. This can also be done as part of a formal individualized plan, like a 504 plan.

Develop templates of repetitive procedures

Develop templates of repetitive procedures. For example:

  • Teachers can create a checklist of things to be done upon entering or leaving the classroom.
  • Parents can create written checklists or photo charts for completing chores, preparing to catch the bus in the morning, gathering necessary stuff for sports practice, etc.

Provide accommodations

Provide accommodations. For example:

  • Involve your child's teacher(s) in building in reminders until the desired pattern of behavior (e.g., turning in homework as soon as the student walks into the classroom) becomes a habit.

    Teachers understandably balk at the idea of taking on responsibility for your child's job of turning in his work. However, repeated performance of a behavior is what makes it a habit; once the behavior is automatic, then the burden is lifted from the executive system.

    If you help the teacher to see this as a step in the process of building independent skills, with the prospect of fading out the teacher's prompting, it may encourage the teacher to get on board.

Teach the use of tricks and technology that help compensate for organizational weaknesses

Teach the use of tricks and technology that help compensate for organizational weaknesses. For example:

  • If the agenda book is the primary organizing tool for tracking assignments, it could also serve as a way to remind the student to turn in assignments.

    For example, after completing an assignment, the student could be taught to enter a note into the next day's assignments block for that subject. Then, at the end of class, when the student enters that night's homework assignment, he will see the reminder to turn in what is due that day.

  • Several versions of watches are available that can be set to vibrate and show a reminder phrase at the programmed time.

    "Turn in homework" can be a programmed reminder set to go off at the beginning or end of the class period. Cell phones often have an alarm function, as well, that can be set for reminder alarms.

    If this trick works for your child, talk to your child's teachers about allowing cell phones in the classroom for this explicit function only.

  • When the student prints out an assignment at home, prompt the child to also email it to the teacher and the child's own web-based email account. Then, if the hard copy is misplaced, the child can print it out during class (with the teacher's permission) or during free time.

Try this!

Few problems are as frustrating for parents and kids as not receiving credit for homework that was actually completed on time but never turned in!

One tried and true behavioral strategy to remedy this is to link an already established habit to one that your child needs help acquiring.

To illustrate, Ivan is a seventh grader who forgets almost everything - except his peanut butter and jelly sandwich! - when he leaves home in the morning to catch the school bus. With daily reminders from his parents, he puts his homework folder on top of his lunch in the refrigerator before going to bed each school night. Then, putting the folder in his backpack, along with his PB&J, is a "no-brainer." Ivan not only gets credit for his completed work but also learns how to creatively generate ways to manage his weaknesses.

Reprinted with permission from pp. 170-172 of Late, Lost, and Unprepared by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, Ph.D. & Laurie Dietzel, Ph.D. Published by Woodbine House, 6510 Bells Mill Road, Bethesda, MD 20817. 800-843-7323 www.woodbinehouse.com.