Finish The School Year Strong!

ADHD in Children, ADHD Strategies    April 30, 2018

We are excited to have a guest blogger – Lisa Marsicano, MAT, Executive Function Skills Specialist at Solutions for Student Success, LLC.  We know that as you approach the end of the school year, it can be difficult to stay motivated. The stress of grades and looming exams put a strain on students and parents alike. Our suggestion: Do things differently this year. From organizing papers to creating processes and plans for efficiently navigating end of year deadlines as well as exams to managing procrastination, Lisa will walk you through it all. 

It doesn’t matter if you are reading this for yourself or as someone who works with students, Lisa is here to share her tools and walk you through exactly what to do to REALLY finish strong this school year.

My name is Lisa Marsicano, and I am an Executive Function Skills Specialist. I have ADHD myself and live with a houseful of ADHD’ers, so I know how difficult even the simplest of tasks can be (putting on shoes for example: Where are the shoes? Why is there only one shoe? Is that candy under my bed? Oh, look! A squirrel!).  

While my brain works in a unique way, and I have a deep understanding of the potential challenges that lie within basically everything, the upside is that I have a knack for figuring out exactly where the breakdowns are occurring and for customizing strategies and solutions to impart real change.

For many, it’s all about the process. The small details can make all the difference. It’s about HOW we do it and WHAT we are doing.  Too often, with our ADHD, it’s easier to avoid, escape or find 100 ways to distract ourselves. Sometimes it’s by accident, and sometimes it’s on purpose. As the school year nears an end, everything seems to build up, making the urge to avoid and simply “hope for the best” even greater.  This does not generally work!

One of the big struggles this time of year is sticking with it until the end.  Finding ways to sort through the overwhelm and manage the distractions are keys to finishing the school year strong. Every point counts, every choice matters. It’s time to stop the swirling and put one foot in front of the other – and, it’s much easier when we know HOW.

Living in the Chicago area, I know all too well how difficult it can be to weather (no pun intended) the remaining months of the year. As we settle into a string of weeks without really any days off of school and with everyone setting their minds (myself included) a bit early on the warmth and fun of summer, it can be terribly difficult to focus.

Unfortunately, this scenario generally also results in a decrease in motivation, occasional periods of frustration or annoyance with school and workloads, and often, a lot of procrastination and some poor choices. (“I just don’t FEEL like doing it”…“I’m ready for break”…“I just got back from break”…“I have so much to do, this is probably good enough”…”I’m just ready for summer.”)

Have no fear! I’m here to help.

The great news is that after nearly sixteen years of helping students through these seemingly endless stretches, I’ve figured out exactly what steps they can take to either turn things around or propel forward and keep the momentum going so grades don’t slip, stress doesn’t spike and finals do not become “make or break” or a mad scramble.

Here are the 7 KEY steps to finishing the school year strong (I’ve even created worksheets and a downloadable packet with relevant and student-friendly tools to help guide you):

1. Learn to calculate and predict grades. Most students wait far too long or assume they “know” what it will take to earn a specific grade. Keep in mind that out of sight often means out of mind. Start early, and update often.

Here’s a tool: Set up a calculator to plug in the semester or quarter grades (we love using a spreadsheet that auto-calculates with the formula for the semester grade), and then students can enter the semester grade desired and have it calculate what is needed on the final exam to secure that grade. We like to start this 6 or even 8 weeks prior to the end of the year. Frequently, it helps motivate students to go above and beyond when they can see how much the necessary exam grade comes down if they were to able to raise the current grade by a point or two (or more). They tell us they are more likely to push for every point, do the extra credit, and pay attention to detail and quality of work when they SEE how it impacts the grade needed on the final exam.  This also helps prioritize study time later. Simple, yet powerful.

2. Analyze current class grades, and make necessary adjustments to figure out what will take to reach their goals. Have students look at all of the details, not just where the letter grade is at currently. They can ask themselves the following questions… What grades do I feel I am capable of earning in each course? Where do I stand now? WHY are my grades where they are currently, and WHAT can I focus on to make improvements?

We ask students to look at individual scores and assignments and make a list of any questions, possible retakes, missing work or things to follow up with the teacher on. We do this every few weeks at least throughout the year.  Also, be sure to look at the individual categories. It’s common for students to assume they know why their grade is what it is; however, the numbers and the category weights can tell a different story. After this, it’s time to problem solve. When students break it down to this level of detail and write it out, they often can identify for themselves exactly what it will take to pull up the grades in a certain area.  Encourage specificity (instead of “study more”, be specific: “study each day for 3 days prior” “make my own study guide with key information” “re-do review packet” “write out how-to’s”, etc.) Now, they have specific and actionable steps which will improve the likelihood of follow through. Of course, these specific steps are what we would like to see laid out in their planner/assignment notebook as well.

3. Create a plan for semester exam preparation. Look at the big picture, and start to think about the BEST ways to prepare in EACH of their classes. We ask students to think about, research and brainstorm with others the most effective ways to study, understand and apply information for each of their subjects. They can make a list based on what they know about the class and what information or materials are available. Generally, the first step is to get all of the materials home several weeks before exams and sort by chapter/topic. Then, we have students go through the materials once and flag/star/highlight/circle all of the key info (getting lay of the land so they are beginning to refresh long before the teacher’s review packet comes home – it will save time later). This is a great project for a weekend, and it’s nice because many students feel since it is a more casual pass through the info that they can listen to music or find ways to make it more fun (and they aren’t feeling the pressure of the 2-nights-before-exams panic).

4. Plan for how to get everything accomplished. All of our students express that it is extremely helpful to lay out visual plans for managing all school (and NON school) related tasks and work. Once they have a list of HOW they plan to study, it’s time to map out the 7-10 days preceding exams. Start at the end with which subject exam is on which day, and work backward and forward to fill in the gaps (if Spanish and History exams are on Friday, Thursday should focus on the action steps related to those specific subject areas).  Consider outside commitments and fill these in to see all available study times, then enter all of the specific ways to study in the days leading up to each exam. Most of our students update this frequently or write more detailed one-day plans as well.

5. Get motivated and stay on track. We ask students to really think through what they want to accomplish and why. What’s the point? What will it take? What typically gets me off track? We suggest creating if-then plans and laying out all of the possible obstacles. Think about two pieces: what can be DONE if this occurs and what they need to REMIND themselves of in each case.  Seeing the plans and referring to those as they move along often helps move them in the right direction and feel more prepared (before they get sucked into two hours of YouTube videos or daydreaming). Many of our students love setting self-check timers to check for focus and even label alarms to cue/prompt them to refer to all of these plans they have created. We also encourage students to find an accountability partner. Often, it’s a parent (because it works), but we ask the student to set the criteria (“Mom, here’s my phone. Don’t give it to me until I show you I created a study guide for chapters 1-3 in English”).

6. Improve study skills. Instead of “looking over” all of the materials, be sure to encourage students to actually DO something with the information. Sometimes we have trouble thinking outside the box or get stuck in our ways (or overwhelmed with the amount of information to process). Try some of the ideas that follow. Students can create charts and visuals to organize and synthesize information. They can check answer keys, and make notes and reminders on their copy. Print visuals and search for additional images, then add notes from class/readings directly onto these. Write out how-to’s and if-then’s for different types of problems -again studying the process vs. simply checking whether they “got it”.  One of our most effective strategies is to have students create their own study guides with all of the key information, rules, formulas, etc., including steps and example problems. Many students like to print a second copy of the review packets and re-do these as the test draws near.

7. Use teachers to support your efforts. Teachers are there to help. Shocking, I know. Remind students to see teachers often, but first map out a plan. Circle problems to ask about. Check answer keys and do the work before heading in. Make notes on a post-it of exactly what they want to review. Be specific in their questions. Ask teachers to lay out the steps or record themselves doing a problem or explaining a concept so it can be reviewed later. Especially with ADHD, it can be difficult to process fast enough or digest large amounts of information. Many teachers are willing to get creative when asked. Again, early and often is our motto on this one.

In general…

  • have a plan

  • follow the plan

  • be SPECIFIC

  • make it visual and concrete

  • write it down

  • don’t skip steps

  • pay attention to detail

  • find accountability measures, coaching or guidance

You can download our FREE pdf including step by step planning worksheets, PLUS the fabulous templates and tools we use to guide students through each of the steps above to finish the school year strong, decrease stress, improve motivation and grades, and boost confidence.

Sign up here to receive your free Finish Strong guide today.

And don’t worry – summer vacation IS right around the corner in just a few short weeks. Just keep working and hang on!

Now…I wanted to take a minute to tell you a little more about myself…Lisa Marsicano, the ADHD and wildly creative gal behind Solutions for Student Success. I am a pizza fanatic; I literally could eat it every day of my life (truth be told I don’t because I am on a massively restricted diet due to an autoimmune condition, but I do not have full impulse control, so I splurge on a Lou Malnati’s every once in a blue moon – totally worth it).

I do NOT love following traditional rules or being told what to do, which is probably why I love working for myself and relate so well to my clients. I DO love problem solving, digging down to find root causes or explanations, and finding alternate solutions and simple, practical, different ways of doing things. The ideas we share and tools we create provide structures and allow students to generate ideas and make these their own (which is so important when it comes to ADHD – we’re big fans of encouraging ownership, independence, creative solutions, and accountability – we find most of us do best with deadlines and clear, black and white expectations).

Seventeen years ago, back when I was a teacher and math/science tutor, I found quickly that it wasn’t generally that students didn’t understand the content, it was that they didn’t know how to organize, study, learn, or plan. So many students had trouble self-regulating and problem-solving around obstacles. ADHD only makes all of this that much more difficult, and students can feel defeated quickly. I knew there had to be a better way for students to feel successful, learn skills that would generalize to all subjects, and really impact their ability to feel successful as a student (and person). So, I set out to help address those aspects and support students in effectively demonstrating their abilities.

A large focus during my classroom teaching and tutoring became developing simple, visual, concrete structures and processes for students to follow which guided them through actually planning, learning and managing in effective ways. The results were remarkable. Given the proper tools across the various areas of executive functioning, grades that were Cs and Ds became As and Bs. Parents were thrilled, students felt confident, and most importantly, the skills actually stuck!

The goal is to provide accessible tools that address many of the missing pieces and hone in on a level of detail that is often overlooked. The smallest tweaks and obstacles can have the greatest impact. We help find and address exactly where those areas lie and figure out what to do about it.

We’ve had amazing results with our Finish Strong strategies and materials. We promise, we can help. You can learn more at https://www.solutionsforstudentsuccess.com/

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