How Mentorship & Modeling Make Academic Consistency Stick
It’s hard to be academically consistent when words on a page mean nothing to you.
Well-meaning educators sometimes rattle off lists of what needs to be done, assuming that this will leave a student prepared to take action. “You’re smart, you’ve got this. Some quick verbal instructions should do the trick. You’re all set - go get ’em!”
Unfortunately, students who struggle with organization and planning have trouble with both initiation and follow through. They also have difficulty visualizing the steps in a process. As a result, manageable tasks feel harder to do than they actually are, and then they can’t establish traction.
When my father taught me how to drive, he described how I would change a tire if I needed to. He spoke with confidence, reassuring me that if I followed such-and-such steps, I would be successful.
Needless to say, I have only a vague notion of how to change a tire. Yes, any automotive mishaps I contend with are covered by a popular emergency roadside service, but the point is…
My father, may he rest in peace, meant well. I have no doubt that for some teenager somewhere, one without ADHD, a verbal download would be sufficient to prompt them years down the proverbial road - to not only know enough to get out the lug wrench - but also how to use it properly.
I wish every challenge in life were that simple to master!
Neurodiverse students need to experience expectations and instructions as something tangible. To make academic consistency concrete, the coach your child is working with should guide them through every task that is a source of procrastination. While to-do checklists are helpful, your student’s coach should also mentor your child in persisting through the process of completing academic tasks, and helping them address each obstacle along the way.
We should not just tell struggling students how to get something done. We need to show them, and then let them practice it on their own, while making mistakes, and learning from them. Let students take a turn at it, and encounter everything that could go wrong. Then, help them make corrections along the way.
It’s not that supporting adults should do a student’s homework for them, but that we need to stay with them while they are struggling their way through to successfully completing each step in the process.
Before even starting an assignment, a student may first need help with logistical preliminaries: finding their backpack, locating a notebook, getting a working writing implement, finding a charger for their computer, retrieving login credentials for the academic portal, unearthing assignment instructions, interpreting instructor’s prompts, tracking down the teacher’s email address to request clarification of the assignment, etc.
The student described in the above paragraph has not yet even attempted to begin their homework, but they may already feel exhausted. A learner who struggles with organization needs more support than one might expect, if they are to arrive at the point where they can begin and complete just one task, let alone tackle multiple projects.
To have a prayer of developing consistent academic habits, neurodiverse learners need a level of support that not every coach provides: a mentor who will get in the trenches to help them succeed with the minutiae of each learning challenge.
We need to hang in there with them while the learning process is taking place, bearing witness to the student’s false starts, cheering on their continued exploration, and celebrating the resulting “aha” moments.
To develop greater tenacity in their academic pursuits, struggling learners especially need modeling when taking on tasks they dread. With support, they can experience actually getting them done - from start to finish. Rather than continuing to reinforce a habit of procrastination, they can be mentored in successfully completing anything, including things they dislike doing.
Ground-level support trains your child to understand and cull all the components that must be included in their academic life. Mentors can help learners persist in meeting challenges, and see that process through until the student experiences success firsthand.
A coach can comb through academic portals with students, explain course expectations, catch homework items that are missing or incomplete, interpret assignment instructions, help the student create a detailed plan for responding to prompts, model self advocacy, highlight and reinforce a student’s strengths, and provide a beneficial context for any struggles they may have with their learning process or environment. Along the way, they can help your student identify and practice organizing and planning techniques that will serve them in the future.
To make academic traction stick, struggling students must internalize the use of mental outlooks and systems that are effective for them, and make them repeatable. When we help a neurodiverse learner practice the completion of tasks, while receiving support, they discover beneficial problem solving skills and attitudes they can dependably use on their own. They encounter and make friends with their own grit. They come to recognize that they can learn ways to accomplish anything they want to, on their own.
Having experienced what progress feels like, my students typically report that assignments and projects are not especially unpleasant. They might not be as much fun as their favorite computer game, sport, or social activity, but they do uncover the willingness to do them.
They start enjoying the fruits of academic success, plus all the self esteem and external validation that goes along with that. They realize that even if they hadn’t identified as “academically oriented” before coaching, they actually COULD become an architect/marine biologist/entrepreneur/psychologist/composer, etc.
These talented young people start daring to dream!
And these transformational moments in a student’s identity rock my world as an academic coach.
To-do lists and goals are meaningless without an opportunity for a student to practice follow up and experience traction, but the right academic coach helps neurodiverse learners confront challenges on the ground level. To learn more about how your student can receive mentorship in improving their academic consistency, book a free consultation now.
As an executive functioning coach and academic tutor, I specialize in helping individuals with learning differences exceed their goals for academics, organization, and college transition.