Thursday, November 9, 2017

My journey with a disorganized 7th grader

Original Post on Medium (here)

Imagine my surprise. A few weeks ago, I did a mid-quarter grade check with my son. My son who has never been super organized but managed to get it together enough to get straight A’s in 6th grade and received the Presidential Educational award upon graduation. I was in for a shocker. ‘A’ for PE and a no homework elective class, all the core academic subjects ranging from F to B. I joking said to him.. looks like you got a whole rainbow of grades. I would be lying if I said, I took it calmly and with strides.
After *much* yelling, screaming, and lecturing, I put on my Program Management hat and work on troubleshooting this issue. The good news is that we don’t have deeper social problems with bullies, drugs, break up with friends, etc. This is really just a matter of scaling from few teachers to 6 teachers, all with different styles and higher expectations.
Following his work for a week and I identified many issues, roughly prioritized severity.
  1. Lost homework is the number one issue. It’s lost among all the mess with other papers. His backpack is a dump. I found homework from the first week of school that was never turned in, crumpled and partially complete, stuffed in some random section of the backpack. He doesn’t do the homework because the assignment is lost. Sometimes, he completes the homework, then didn’t turn it in or turn in late. Dispute with the teacher, turned in or not, on time or not.
  2. No clear understanding of the objective of the homework and how it would be scored. Not following up with the teacher on results of homework or quiz to look for opportunities for feedback and improvements.
  3. Multiple teachers, assignments, and different styles of homework. We had it easy in the good old days, teachers gave us homework on a tangible piece of paper and we turn in that paper. Easy! Nowadays, we have digital homework, semi-digital homework, and physical homework, and endless variation of things in between. All the teacher uses the digital resources slightly differently and multiple signup and login to different digital tools. It’s a mess. I can’t blame my son for this one. It’s really complicated.
  4. Time management is another serious problem. Unable to properly estimate the time needed to complete homework and taking numerous “breaks”. Large time spend on the computer with low productivity (unnecessary browsing online youtube, changing music, snacking, and sneaking in online games here and there.) Homework that should take 30 minutes to 1 hr stretches to upwards of 3 hours and with low quality.
  5. Lack of planning for longer range projects and assignments, unable to break down the phases of the homework and plan out the steps. If the assignment is due the next day, there is a higher chance of the work getting completed, anything that’s one week out, forgot about it. It will be a late nighter the night before and with terrible quality if he even remembers, which is unlikely.
  6. Cherry picking interesting homework to do first, instead of work in priority based on due time or estimated time to completion.
We all can relate to this challenges. It’s not just middle school, in my professional work when I have too many projects with different customers and teams, it’s hard to get them right. I broke down the root problems as follows.
  1. Need a system to track all work items for all the sources in one place
  2. Need to understand the full “lifecycle” of quiz and homework
  3. Need organized homework time and space
  4. Need communication with teachers and friends to understand the expectation of high-quality work (scoring rubric)
My goal is to focus on the process of managing and planning for the homework. I *TRY* not to manage the “content” of the homework. He is responsible for the quality and outcome of his effort. I can teach him the executive planning function and skill that he lacks at this time. I want to give him a starter system, so he’s not learning this skill through trial and error. Unfortunately, I’m still checking of the basic stuff (name on paper, fill in all the blanks, the questions answered completely). It has been about 5 weeks of struggle to help my son to get better organized. His grades stabilized and slowly improving, but this is not my objective. He is beginning to see the benefit of this system and very reluctantly practicing it. I need to work with him until he fully understands and sees the benefit of the system, customize it and own the system for himself. Ultimately establish long-lasting habits that will enable him to be independent.

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