Chunking work in middle and high school
Breaking down work into manageable “chunks” is an incredibly useful strategy for students who struggle with executive functioning skills or have difficulty organizing their thoughts. Chunking is a strategy and approach that can help individuals manage their time, reduce anxiety, and improve the quality of their work. Chunking gets harder to do in schools at the middle and high school levels. Below are 7 strategies that teachers can use to chunk work at the secondary levels in order to help students be more productive and successful.
Start by reviewing the instructions for the assignment.
Before breaking down the assignment, it is important to review the instructions for the section of work that you want them to focus on. Make sure that they are broken down into step-by-step instructions that are simplified and focused on the action that you want them to take. Make sure that the child understands what is being asked of them and, most importantly, what the final product should look like. Have a finished product example ready for them to look at as a way to help guide their understanding in a more concrete way. Finally, make sure that they repeat back to you what they are supposed to do to ensure understanding and answer any final questions.
Identify the different parts of the assignment.
As the teacher, think through the assignment that you have created. Break it down into
smaller parts. For example, if you are assigning a research paper you might break it down into selecting a topic, researching that topic, creating an outline for the paper with key supporting details, developing a rough draft, and then revising and editing. Each of these sections should be given one at a time and not all together. Giving them all together can overwhelm a child and create undue hardships.
Create a timeline.
Once you have identified the different parts of the assignment, think about how much time it should take a child with a disability, who is in need of this accommodation, to complete each part. It will likely be longer than you would anticipate a neurotypical child would need. This will help you manage the time that it takes to complete each section and help keep the child on track. Be sure to build in, or think about building in, extra time for unexpected delays or setbacks.
Set small goals.
Set small goals for the student along the way. Help them understand what their goal is for each section. Using the research paper as our example, maybe the goal is to have found a certain number of sources within that class period or to have a certain number of supporting ideas generated by the end of the class period.
Use graphic organizers.
Graphic organizers can be helpful for breaking down assignments and organizing one’s thoughts. For example, mind maps can be used to brainstorm ideas for an essay or to help generate ideas for a topic to write about. Flowcharts can help organize the steps of a problem (i.e. science experiment).
Allow for breaks.
As the child is making progress through the chunks that you have laid out for them make sure to celebrate that progress and allow for them to take short breaks. These breaks can refocus them and help to avoid burnout. Plan to allow short breaks after completing each section or when they achieve the small goals that you have set for them.
Praise and encouragement
Throughout the process, make sure that you are providing specific praise and encouragement for their success at each step/section before allowing them to move forward. Providing praise and encouragement throughout their work in each section or chunk will also help them to feel encouraged and successful which will encourage them to keep working and trying.
If you notice that the child is struggling to stay on track, seems like they aren’t working, or seems lost, make sure to go and check back in. Ask what they understand, and what they
have completed, and then fill in the gaps. Utilize written checklists if need be to help keep them on track and help you to know where they are in the process while they are working.
Here are some examples of how to break down assignments at the middle and high school levels:
Math: You could break it down into different types of problems or concepts. You could focus on solving equations as one chunk and then move on to graphing.
English: For an English assignment, you might break down an essay into different sections such as the introduction, body paragraphs with supporting details, and conclusion. One could also create an outline before starting an essay to organize your thoughts.
Science: In science, you could break down different steps or components. In the case of an experiment, you could break it down into researching/learning about the purpose of the experiment, selecting a hypothesis, designing an experiment, collecting data, and then analyzing and writing up your results and conclusions.
Chunking is an effective tool that you can use for students when they are struggling to complete work in a timely manner or when they get overwhelmed by the steps that it takes to complete a longer project or task. Chunking can help with executive functioning and developing skills to be more confident and successful in completing assignments. As a teacher, chunking assignments can take some time and planning, especially for longer and more complicated assignments; however, it can and should be done.
The benefits can be huge, especially for the students who need it the most.