Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Homework Tips For The Easily Distracted

Getting through homework can be a major battle for some students and gifted students are no exception. The reasons are varied: some have ADD/ADHD; some have already been bored by the material in class and just can’t face doing yet more of the same at home; some find it difficult to resist the pull of other more interesting projects. Young people today are digital natives in a vibrant and fast-moving world of technology and information. It must be incredibly difficult for them to switch their minds away from all of that and to focus on the rather more mundane task of homework, particularly when they have been told to use the internet as a resource. Whatever the reason, there is a problem as most teachers expect students to do the homework. It doesn’t matter whether or not they clearly understand the material, it matters that the homework has been assigned and everyone must do it. Over recent years, I have been given some advice which my own easily distracted student has found helpful and I thought it would be useful to share it.

There are two parts to maximising your chances of success:

1. You must establish a routine and a system. Everyone is different in this respect, so you may need to try a few alternatives before you find the one that works best for you. Then you must be tough on yourself and stick to it.

2. You must set yourself up to succeed. The psychology of this is important as constant failure will drag you down whereas constant little successes will make you feel more confident and more likely to succeed further. It doesn’t matter how small the success or how trivial it seems to others. This is about removing fear and dread and replacing it with confidence. As the saying goes, success breeds success.

Before You Go Home

At the end of each class, make sure you have made a note of the homework assigned. If you have any doubts, now is the time to ask.

At the end of the school day, to go through the list of homework and pack your bag carefully before leaving school. A few minutes spent at this point making sure that you bring home all the necessary books and materials may save a lot of time later.
Getting Ready

Have a specific starting time so that you can’t keep putting it off.

Some people need a break after school before they begin, others find it better to just keep going. If they take a break, they find it hard to get back into the right frame of mind again. Be very careful about watching TV or going on that games console, as they switch your mind into a totally different mode and it can be very difficult to escape from them and switch back to study mode!

Exercise raises the body's levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline which aid concentration. You may find that things go better after a rugby game, dancing, a run or even walking the dog.

Make sure you eat something before you start. It’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.

Don’t kid yourself. You cannot do homework in front of the TV or while facebooking and texting. Find a place with as few distractions as possible and get your head “in the zone”.
Getting Started (the hardest part!)

Have a list of the homework to be done so that you can tick each item off as you finish it.

Decide how much time you think each item should reasonably take.

Then do something quick to begin with, or something you quite like. This way, you will find it easier to get stuck in and get one item ticked off on your list.

Next, do the item that you least want to do so that it isn’t hanging over you all evening. It will give you a boost once it’s done and it’s best to do the most difficult item before you get too tired.

Make a note of the time you start each item and the time you finish it. This helps to show you how much time you are spending and will, eventually, show you how you are improving. It will also be useful to show to any teachers who might doubt your effort!
Keeping Going

Some people find doing something active helps concentration. Try chewing gum, using a stressball or a piece of modelling clay/bluetack (this can be used in school too). Try sitting on a move-and-sit cushion or an excercise ball.

Contrary to the usual advice, there are a few people who work better with music in the background...Try it, but be honest about the results! Others find that white noise helps.

If you find yourself drifting off too frequently, set a timer to ring at intervals to bring you back. You might need to begin with just five minutes, or less. Set the timer and know that once you have done five minutes, you have succeeded. Enjoy the success and then go for another five, and so on. It is far better to set the bar low and succeed rather than constantly fail and feel frustrated and panicky. Over time, you should aim to increase the amount of time you go for. Often, when the stress of facing an enormous task is removed, your brain works better and you will actually get much more done.

As you complete each item of homework, tick it off on the list and get up and move around. Get some fresh air or a drink/snack. Just don’t get sucked in by the TV or a video game, though...we all know that vast amounts of time can whizz by when doing those things and before you know it, you will have left yourself with no chance of getting all your work done. 

If All Else Fails

If you find that, despite your best efforts, you are spending hours and hours getting through your work and really struggling to get it all done, speak to your teachers about the problem, or get your parents to do so on your behalf. Once they appreciate that you are trying, they may very well be happy to support you. Maybe they can help you decide how much time each piece of homework should take and maybe they will be happy to accept an incomplete assignment once they know that you have spent a reasonable amount of time on it. Maybe they will suggest that you don’t need to do all the homework at all and that a shorter assignment will do. After all, homework is supposed to reinforce what you learned in class and show the teacher that you have understood it. There is often more than one way to achieve this.

For Parents

For students who have difficulties, it is important that their parents accept the problem as genuine and that they support them. They will be feeling bad enough about themselves as it is, without you adding to the sense of hopelessness and inadequacy. This will include speaking to their teachers to make them aware of the problems so that they can help. It may even mean seeking the advice of a psychologist. Don’t let the fear of labelling get in the way of seeking help. Teachers will have come across similar problems many times before and may well have some useful suggestions to make. Psychologists are trained to offer advice for problems such as these and a little input from one of them can make all the difference.

As with the organisational difficulties discussed in the previous post, it is important that, as your child gets older, they take ownership of these difficulties for themselves. Finding a teacher/mentor who is willing and able to help is very important in this regard as it means your child doesn’t have to continue depending on you, but learns to recognise when they need help and to seek it for themselves as they will have to do once they head out into the world on their own.

Further Reading:

How To Improve ADHD Symptoms With Excercise interview with  John J Ratey, MD

Does Your Gifted Child Have ADHD? by Kathleen Nadeau, PhD

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