Thursday, April 2, 2020

Part Four - Executive Function Help: Maintaining Organization, Minimizing Distractions, and Managing Logins

As we all remain on "lock down" and kids and adults alike are working from home, we conclude our timely four part series by Beth Guadagni on helping your children (and maybe yourself) organize their digital lives.

We are operating The Yellin Center remotely at the moment, complying with the Governor's mandate. We are responding to calls, speaking with families, and using telemedicine wherever possible. Please stay in touch, stay home, and stay safe!

Maintaining Digital Organization
Lots of parents and teachers help students implement systems to organize work and important dates, only to see those systems fall apart quickly. This can be frustrating. Parents/teachers/kids typically react to an initial failure of this kind in the same way: they throw up their hands and assume that the system didn’t work or that the student is simply beyond help in this department. Now, we’re not saying that every system works for every student. However, every student should be given ample opportunities to succeed within a system before it is discarded in favor of another.

If you read our last few posts or if you’re trying a new system of your own, schedule time every single school day (and maybe once on weekends) for your student to tidy up her digital life. Setting a time for this for this home schooling era calls for some flexibility but this is usually best done after the school day ends, before homework begins. Help you student put this on her calendar, if she keeps one. Set aside at least 15 minutes initially, and sit with her for at least the first few sessions.
First, she’ll need to work on email. Remember that her goal is to have no more than ten messages in her inbox. Look at each email that’s there and encourage her to consider the following questions: 

  • Which of these can be taken care of quickly. 
    • She should write and send a quick reply, add a date to her calendar, etc., then archive them.
  • Which of these are pressing? 
    • She should do what needs to be done in time to meet an upcoming deadline, then archive them.
  • Which of these can I leave here? How do I know this?
    • She should articulate a clear plan for why the emails aren’t as pressing as others and when she will return to them.
Now, on to files: prompt her to go through each folder of her digital file storage. Any document that is in the wrong place should be moved, and anything that is not titled should be named immediately. If she needs to create any documents for that day’s homework, watch her create them from the correct folder and title them right off the bat.

Habits take time to form, but these are so powerful that they are worth the time. Be consistent with practice and troubleshooting and your student will be develop skills that will serve her throughout her life.

Minimizing Distractions

For kids who struggle with executive function, doing online research can be a minefield. Watching a helpful YouTube video aimed at learning a procedure or conducting research (yes, those exist) can spiral into an hour-long session of following clickbait. Extraneous content on webpages can distract your student from the task at hand.

If your student uses Chrome, help her install an extension called DF YouTube; the DF stands for “distraction-free.” When it’s turned on, this extension hides all the thumbnails advertising related—or, often, not-so-related—videos that can tempt students down the rabbit hole.

While you’re installing things, add an ad-blocker. A good one like AdsKill will prevent pop-up banners and videos and even malware. Many people with poor executive function struggle to filter out distractions, so these tools can help students zero in on the material at hand, allowing them to produce better work, faster.

Managing Logins
Most adults are overwhelmed by the number of logins that need to be managed, so imagine the difficulties faced by young people with weak executive function! We recommend two ways to approach this problem: a master list or a password keeper.

If it would benefit your student to give teachers, tutors, etc. access to passwords for academic sites (think school email, typing practice, Schoology, etc.), consider a master list. Help your student create a document, to be stored in the cloud, with an innocuous name like “Jenny’s Stuff.” On it, put all the login credentials she needs for academic sites. (To protect her privacy, she should not enter anything social or financial.) Next, share this document with any professionals who might need it. Now your student has what she needs to access important sites, and if she struggles an adult can jump in and point her in the right direction.

If your student is more independent (and can be trusted to remember one master password), help her set up an account with a free service like LastPass or Keeper Security. These services are great because when a student is logged in to the service, she can open whatever page she needs to access and her saved login credentials will auto-populate. However, a huge word of caution here: If your student loses track of her device and someone else finds it, they may be able to get into all of her accounts. Help her set up preferences for her password keeper that will log her out automatically after half an hour or so. Also, be certain that your student’s laptop, phone, and tablet are all protected with a good password or passcode. “1234” will not cut it.

Technology can be hugely helpful to students, but the digital world brings challenges as well. We hope this series has given you some useful ideas for helping your student use these tools to her advantage!