HomeWork Therapy®

Executive Functions: Planning, Organization, and Study Skills

Students don’t want to spend an hour having someone help them get organized. They want to get things done. We have developed several methods for helping students overcome difficulty with these executive functions that can lead to trouble studying and performing well in school despite having excellent academic skills.

Communication is the most important way we help students with Executive Function (EF) problems. Our techniques include emailing with teachers about upcoming assignments and tests and previewing material to help students feel confident. Our most successful technique involves working with students at the end of each session to write a summary email of what we did in session. We send this email home and it outlines: What I did, What I have left to do, and How I will do it. This gives parents and students explicit instructions for homework time and also provides a model of organization and planning for students.

Organization and planning are frequently used interchangeably, but actually they are different. Poor organization suggests things are not properly sequenced whereas poor planning means things are not properly anticipated. Both have implications for students in school. Trouble with organization can lead to difficulty writing because students have trouble getting their ideas on paper in a logical order that allows someone to understand their argument. Students with planning difficulties may in fact be able to write in an organized way but may not be able to plan the steps involved to complete projects on time.

Students generally have trouble organizing things because there is something getting in the way of them seeing how to group items, how to get started on something, or how to produce material (e.g. poor handwriting interferes with the ability to think through organizational processes because it drains available cognitive energy). These difficulties can be identified through a neuropsychological and educational evaluation or through careful observation in HomeWork Therapy® sessions. We can then do exercises to remediate the problem, train students to have awareness and to ask for help that will get them moving, and give them templates to rely on so they can work independently.

Poor planning can occur for several different reasons. One common example is that poor handwriting leads to poor note-taking, which leads to not writing down homework assignments, which leads to not planning to study for a test because students don’t know about said test. Another reason students have difficulty planning is their inability to break large assignments into smaller pieces. One frequent technique we use is having students develop ‘bite-size’ steps to approach a task. In session we write the list of steps for students to follow and possibly map out when to do each step, but more importantly we map out how to do each step. This allows students to work independently.

Throughout sessions we address study techniques when we help students prepare for tests. We also help them anticipate what they might need should a test be announced in the future – in other words, we help them do their homework today as if a test is planned, even if it is not announced. This is a crucial skill for students so that they maximize what they get out of their homework time. It also usually makes schoolwork more interesting.