If a student isn’t taking the initiative and doing what is expected of them, the first question we must consider is whether they truly understand what they’re supposed to do. We can’t assume that students with challenges of ADHD or Asperger’s know what to do or how to do it, no matter how simple the task. Moreover, we can’t assume that they will ask for help if they don’t understand. In fact, many of our students hate to ask for help and may go so far as to act out in these instances, particularly if this is unfolding in front of their peers. In their minds, asking for help makes them look “stupid” and they would much rather appear to be oppositional.
Setting and communicating clear expectations is a critical component to helping our students take initiative and complete their work. Below are some tips on setting clear expectations that will lay the foundation for quality work and results.
1. Start with a clear vision of what you want the end result to look like. Don’t just consider what you want done. Consider the results you want to achieve when the task is completed as well.
2. Articulate how you define “quality” work or performance. Paint a clear and complete picture for the student. Give them specific examples as models that they can refer back to and compare to their work.
3. Establish a due date. Although students may need extra time to complete their work, we must nonetheless establish a definitive, realistic due date, and consequences if they fail to complete their work on time. What I have observed lately is a tendency to give students too much freedom in this respect. When giving extra time to a student, we must bear in mind the reasoning behind this accommodation. When the accommodation is given in an effort to prevent the student from being penalized for Executive Functioning deficits in areas such as time management, planning, prioritizing and organization, it is because the student has not yet developed the skills to overcome these challenges. Inherent in this reasoning is our responsibility to teach the student the skills they need to address these challenges and the student’s responsibility to learn them. The student has no incentive to take on this responsibility if they are allowed to turn in their work whenever they choose without consequence.
4. Put your expectations in writing. Where appropriate, use rubrics, with specific, objective criteria that is not subject to interpretation.
5. Keep your focus on the desired outcome. Many students need to be explicitly taught, step-by-step, what to do. Nonetheless, your goal is to guide, not control. Encourage students to use their strengths to their fullest potential and to develop strategies that are in line with those strengths. Research shows us that students who are given the freedom to find their own route toward productive outcomes are much more motivated and independent learners.
6. Stay on the sideline. Our students need to be supervised and supported in their efforts until they are able to manage on their own. Determining how much support you provide can be a bit tricky, however. If you don’t provide enough support, you risk having the student shut down or become oppositional out of frustration. If you provide too much support, you risk the student going into a state of “learned helplessness” wherein they will assume, without even trying, that they are unable to do it on their own. Either way, their ability to learn is impeded significantly. The rule of thumb is to use what I call the “Goldilocks” approach – providing the student with the amount of support that is “just right” for them at that point in time. Then, as they become more proficient, gradually fade the amount of support you provide them, allowing them to step in and take control.
7. Give feedback—and often! A report card is too late to let students know whether they are meeting your expectations. Input and reviews should be ongoing and informal. Students are more receptive to feedback that is given in this way because it takes on the persona of coaching, not punishment.
8. Encourage students to give you their feedback on how they think they are doing. Aside from the fact that this promotes two-way communication and greater clarity around the expectations, this also helps the student to develop the self-determination, metacognition and self-evaluation skills that are essential if they are to succeed on their own post high school.
9. Give positive reinforcement (and don’t mix negative and positive). Mention the thing you like and you’ll get more of it. Be specific and prompt. The type of praise that is most effective, that is most likely to leave a lasting impression, is the type that is given at the time and point of performance.
10. Don’t take it personally. When students don’t perform as you think they should have, look for solutions, not blame.
If you’re confused as to how to implement these suggestions, or if you feel your child would be resistant to engage with you in the process, you could probably benefit from some assistance. CLICK HERE to contact me for a complimentary consultation.