Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Paper is the Enemy

Image result for how does paper beat rock meme

Supposedly it beats rock.  

I know it beats me.  I spend innumerable moments in a loop of looking for and losing papers, interrupted only by my own effort NOT to lose them.

And Jessica, my favorite ADHD YouTuber, has at least three videos managing it.

At times, I've successfully implemented Jessica's suggestions.  Most of the time, however, I hold myself to two basic rules.

  1. Anything that can be recycled should be recycled.  Immediately.  This includes anything I have digital copies of which could be printed later should I find out that I recycled something I needed.  
  2. Anything that seems vaguely important gets labeled as MONUMENTALLY IMPORTANT and goes into the "AS LONG AS YOU CAN FIND THE STACK, YOU CAN PROBABLY FIND THE PAPER" stack.  There it remains until one of the three random days a year on which I get the urge to file all the papers.  

My rules work for a few reasons. 

  1. As an adult, I have earned the right to keep my papers wherever I want to.  I am accountable only to me and occasionally the DMV. (By the way, as of today I am officially a legally licensed driver who resides at the address known by both the DMV and the voter registration folks.  This is big news.)
  2. As an adult, I have earned the right to determine my own schedule and am often able to let the current state of my brain dictate the type of work I'd be best suited for at the moment.  (Reference: 10:51 pm, blogging in the bathtub.)
  3. And mostly, because they're MY rules.  If they didn't work for me, I'd change them.
But this week I've been thinking about Alex.  And about my homeroom class, which is energetically populated by students whose ratio of ADHD brains to neurotypical brains is 1:3.  One of the biggest struggles for these kids is... you guessed it... paper.

If you're still reading this, I'm guessing you know and love an ADHD student.  And I bet you've heard these statements more times than I've lost a memo from my boss:

  • "I didn't do it because I can't find the paper."
  • "I did it, but I forgot to turn it in."
Sixth grade has been rough for Alex.  He is working as hard as he can (and so are Kirk and I) to implement strategies that will work for him.  We've figured out the accommodations that make it possible for him to accomplish the work.  And yet the kid still has six missing assignments at the end of first quarter.  I asked his SPED coordinator to do me a personal solid and stop in to check Alex's desk.  "Can you just maybe take a minute to help him get organized?" I asked.  Later that day, the coordinator showed me two stacks of paper, each two inches thick.  One was graded work that should have come home.  The other was various assignments, notes, worksheets, and organizers in various states of completion.  All of these papers had come from inside Alex's desk.  No WONDER he couldn't find the required steps of his completed writing cycle to turn in for a final grade.

As a teacher, this sort of thing is all sorts of frustrating for me.  I have solid, explicit procedures in my class which I break down into one step directions to try to help my students manage their papers. "Make sure this paper goes behind your grammar tab," I say to the class.  But if I don't watch with an eagle eye, there is always someone who raises a hand the next day.

"Ms. Fife, I can't find my grammar packet."  I sigh.  Breath deeply.  Admonish.  

"If you'd have followed the instruction to put it behind your grammar tab, then you would know exactly where it is," I say, with even tone as I help the student find it, crumpled and floating within the open expanse of desk.

  • ADHD adult brain says, "I can't be expected to put away papers where they go when I get them."
  • Mom says, "Why can't you turn in your papers?  I know you did them!!"
  • Teacher says, "I told you EXACTLY what to do with that paper.  How is it possibly lost?" 

And a little new info.  My significantly more dull second-favorite ADHD expert Dr. Barkley stresses the idea that strategies to manage ADHD can only be effective when practiced in the environment where the problem occurs.  In other words, nothing I teach Alex at home will have an impact on how he organizes his desk.

Huge sigh.

Followed by an epiphany.  

Clothes are also the enemy.  They beg to be sorted and folded and hung and... AAAH!! That is too many steps.  I bought new slacks for work, and I know I should hang them nicely to make them last.  But I can't.  Neurotypical brains see one step: hang up pants.  But ADHD brains see: open closet, find hanger, fold pants in that really nice way that works well on hangers, put pants through hanger, put hanger on rod, close closet.  So. Many. Steps.  So the responsible ADHD brain executes what it can: drape pants nicely over nearest edge.  Goal of preserving the pants is reached in the smallest amount of steps.  

But I don't want the room covered in pants.  So I found a solution.  I put an empty box in the closet.  I now drape my pants over the edges of the box.  Open closet, loosely fold pants, drape pants.  Close closet is optional.  Three steps I can do.  

When I say, "Put your grammar packet behind the grammar tab," 75% of my students have one task to do.  But 25% of them have to pull the binder out of the desk, put the binder on the desk, flip to the appropriate tab, open the binder rings, align the hole punches with the rings, close the rings, close the binder, and put the binder in the desk.  That is two more steps than it would take to hang up my pants.  Which I won't do.

And now the conundrum.  

My rules and strategies work for me.  Scroll back up for a reminder of the reasons why.  Mostly, it had to do with being an adult and being able to make my own choices.  

Reasons my sorts of rules don't work for students:
  1. They are students in a classroom with procedures for materials outlined by the teacher.  Specific papers have specific places, and teachers expect for them to always be in those places.
  2. They are students in a classroom with specific expectations placed on their schedule.  Whether 8:25 is a great time of day for their brains or not, that is when we put away the grammar packets.
  3. They are kids.  So they don't make the rules.
So here's my two-part challenge for teachers:
  1. Please don't change your expectations!  Our ADHD brains really do need a chance to develop coping strategies.  Someday our boss is going to want us to keep track of important reports, the airport is going to expect us to be able to present a passport to travel internationally, and... yeah, I already mentioned the DMV.  We absolutely have to figure it out.
  2. Please consider your methods.  How many steps are you asking an ADHD brain to take all at once?  Is there any way to build a PAUSE into the procedure?
Here's what I'm going to try out on 25% of my students next week.  I'm going to add a tray under their chairs.  (Our chairs have a little ledge there where one can rest.)  ALL papers will go in the tray.  The "AS LONG AS I CAN FIND THE TRAY, I CAN EVENTUALLY FIND THE PAPER" tray.  Then, at the end of the day when their focus isn't divided among other important goals, I will ask them to sort the tray.  Grammar papers will go behind the grammar tab.  Take home papers will go... well, home.  Recycle papers will get recycled.  

I'm going to stop expecting 10 year old ADHD brains to do something my 37 year old one can't do.  And then I'm going to teach them how to succeed anyway.

As for Alex, I'm glad I figured out what conversation to have with him.  "How can we reduce the number of steps that it takes to be able to find the papers you need."  He'll figure out his own rules.  Those are the best kinds of rules to follow, anyway.

(Just for fun: I also have a rule about how to handle the important papers that are put in my box at work.  I leave them there.  They are SO much safer there than if I touch them.  Want proof that my methods aren't needed by the masses?  Notice that all the other boxes are empty.)