“But I forgot!”
“There’s too much stuff!”
“Where do I start?”
“What did you say?”
“I can’t remember.”
Do any of these phrases sound familiar in your household? Many students with executive function challenges in junior or senior high school can feel overwhelmed when it seems like there is too much information coming their way. Task completion can be especially challenging for students who struggle with their working memory. When there isn’t a step-by-step “plan of attack” in place, anxieties and frustrations arise...for everyone!
One of my favourite strategies to use with students who are having a hard time getting started on assigned tasks, whether completing a list of chores at home, a science fair project, or an English essay, is CHUNKING. Chunking allows me to say, “Let’s figure out the first step and then we’ll move from there.” Momentum is built when the first step is defined and then taken.
WHAT IS CHUNKING?
'Chunking' refers to organizing or grouping separate pieces of information together. When information is 'chunked' into groups, you can remember the information easier by remembering the groups as opposed to each piece of information separately. The types of groups can also act as a cue to help you remember what is in each group.
HOW TO CHUNK INFORMATION
There are several ways to chunk information. Chunking techniques include grouping, finding patterns, and organizing. The technique you use to chunk will depend on the information you are chunking. Essentially, chunking means that you take lots of information and ‘chunk it’ into manageable pieces, tackling one ‘chunk’ at a time, making more efficient use of short-term memory by grouping information. The resulting ‘chunks’ are much easier to remember than longer random strings of information.
Good chunking facilitates comprehension and retrieval of information. So, when you ask your child to clean their bedrooms, do their chores, finish their homework, study a list of vocabulary terms, plan or study for the upcoming social studies test, consider supporting them by CHUNKING information and requests:
- Breaking larger amounts of information into smaller units
- Identify similarities or patterns
- Organize the information into categories
- Group information into manageable units
This means that before heading off to complete chores, assignments or studying, you can ask questions like:
“What’s your plan of attack?”
“Do you have all the necessary materials needed to complete the assignments? If not, let’s find them.”
“What’s your first step?”
“Which items on this list are a HOT? A SIMMER? A BACKBURNER?”
“Are there any patterns here? Let’s put all the things that are similar together.”
The idea is that the support will gradually be faded, so that student will develop the habit of independently asking themselves these questions to make a plan. However, these thought processes need to be explicitly modelled and taught. It’s definitely frustrating when it seems our children “can’t get it together” but it can be even more stressful and overwhelming to BE that student.
When your child appears to be avoiding a larger task, ask yourself if CHUNKING could be the answer to creating a more manageable, step-by-step approach. This is not ‘spoon-feeding’ or ‘coddling’ but instead explicit teaching of a life-long valuable skill that adults have learned to ‘just do’ through experience.
Many of our students come into our offices overwhelmed with a mental ‘to do’ list but after working with their coach, leave with a concise, manageable and CHUNKED plan, allowing them to face achievable challenges, one step at a time. In fact, when we asked our students to name a strategy they often use in their Kaizen toolkit, they highlight the power of CHUNKING, like this young man does...