Q | A student in my fifth-grade classroom is very bright, but he turns in assignments late and the quality of his work is poor. Also, his desk and locker are messy and he often doodles during class. I have tried giving him enrichment activities, but those were done sloppily as well. How can I help this child become successful?

A | It sounds like this student, while bright, is struggling with executive functioning issues—trouble organizing himself, sustaining attention, and planning for the future.

To begin, try a couple of practical solutions: Use binders and folders to keep track of work and assignments; make checklists and scripts to help with careless mistakes or other problems that arise from rushing through assignments; and seat him near the front of the class. If you have the time, set him up with a planner, either electronic or on paper, which can help with time-management issues.

You can try many other practical executive-functioning interventions, but here’s the catch: For the interventions to be effective, they need to be reinforced outside of the classroom. Contact the student’s parents to evaluate what his behavior means on a broader level—if his locker is messy, his room probably is as well—and how it’s affecting his life at home as well as at school.

His poor work quality may be driven by other factors, such as diminished motivation or even a mood or anxiety disorder. In this case, all the organizational strategies in the world are not going to help unless other aspects of this child’s functioning are addressed. 

I would recommend a comprehensive evaluation that looks at your student’s executive functioning challenges, attention problems, and any other issues that could be interferring with his ability to focus—it’s crucial to address these to provide effective, targeted interventions. 


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Illustration: Brian Rea