5 Keys to Unlocking a Successful School Year

The team at New Frontiers in Learning offers some advice to help the parents of students with learning differences prepare their children for a successful school year.

Executive functioning skills are essential to succeed in life. Some of these skills, such as time management and organization, help individuals in their jobs, daily chores, and day-to-day responsibilities. Students with a variety of learning challenges, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, or autism spectrum disorders, may have deficits in such executive functioning skills, which can in turn adversely affect the school experience. Although these deficits may seem insurmountable at times, there are ways to tackle them and achieve success.

As a new school year begins, you and your children may be searching for systems to put in place to develop such executive functioning skills and maximize the classroom learning experience. To help you along the way, here are New Frontiers in Learning’s Five Keys to a Successful School Year:

  1. Start off (and stay) organized
    Having a system for keeping track of all notes, papers, grades, homework, and assignment descriptions is an important start to any school year. Some students find it helpful to have separate notebooks and folders for each class. In this case, all books and folders can be color coded and labeled for easy identification. Another method of organization is to use a single binder with separate sections for each class. Each section should be labeled and should contain loose-leaf paper for note taking. All papers and handouts for the class should also be added to the section on a daily basis. Whichever method is chosen, be sure to figure out which one works specifically for the student early on and encourage them to follow it consistently throughout the year. Organizing all papers and notes daily allows students to be able to find class materials more easily.
  2. Budget and schedule time
    We all face difficulties managing our time, but students can set themselves up for success by using and maintaining a daily schedule. This schedule should include all class names, locations, and times, plus any other outside responsibilities that the student may have, such as work hours, sports practice, and family obligations. By maintaining a weekly schedule, the student can keep track of not only unchanged repeated responsibilities (e.g., class), but also any one-time obligations for each week (e.g., concerts, special afterschool group study sessions, etc.). Furthermore, following a daily and weekly schedule makes it much easier to see where the student can build in time for homework and studying, as well as study breaks. Once a schedule is made, students should be encouraged to stick to it. Having a planner that has both weekly and monthly sections allows the student to clearly see and review short- and long-term expectations.
  3. Ask for help
    Many times, students with executive functioning deficits have a difficult time recognizing when they need help, as well as identifying whom and/or where to turn to receive help. Students need to review the help-seeking process in the beginning of each school year: If something is confusing, if they don’t know how to start or structure a project or assignment, or if they have any other questions about class requirements, students should be reminded to ask for help. And they need to understand that asking for help will not make them look bad; rather, it will actually show their teachers that they care about the class and want to be successful. Students should review the protocol in asking clarifying questions. Some teachers reserve the beginning or end of the school day for students' questions, while others encourage students to email them. Once students know what their individual teachers prefer, they should be encouraged to follow such systems as a resource to clear up any questions that may arise.
  4. Write it all down
    Have you ever told yourself that you didn’t need to write something down because you would remember it, only to struggle to remember what that very thing was just minutes later? You’re not alone—it happens to everyone, especially students taking multiple classes with various responsibilities. To prevent students from forgetting key information in class, they should be encouraged to write everything down—even the things that they think they will remember later. Of course, writing everything down can be difficult for some students, so an alternative could be to record their classes or to use some form of assistive technology, such as a Smart Pen.
  5. Set reminders
    Having a system in place to help remind students of important dates is essential. Sometimes teachers announce due dates infrequently during a course, or due dates for assignments and exams may be outlined far in advance and then not discussed again. In such cases, students may panic on the day an assignment is due or an exam is given because they aren't prepared. To avoid such situations, students need to learn to set reminders in their daily planner or on their smart phones, which they can use to set timers that will go off several times as the assignment deadlines and exam dates approach. These reminders can also help students remember when to start studying or when to begin an assignment, preventing the anxiety associated with cramming or unpreparedness.

New Frontiers in Learning is a high school and college support program for students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and related learning differences. New Frontiers provides coaching and tutoring services to students in high schools and colleges in the Westchester and New York City areas, allowing students to apply for and attend colleges based on their plan of study or personal campus preferences. For more information, contact Samantha at 646-558-0085 or sfeinman@nfil.net.

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