What is our mind doing when it selects information relevant to our goal while ignoring a barrage of irrelevant stimuli?  What about when driving?  When asking a classmate out on a date?  When interviewing for a dream job?  I often joke that I’m not going to let my daughters drive until they are 22 or 24 years old.  It’s not until then that the pre-frontal cortex of their brains will be fully formed.  This is the part of the brain that’s job is to sort through multiple bits of information, including internal thoughts and external stimuli, in accordance with a particular goal.  It’s the area of the brain most activated when multitasking, planning for and following through with set objectives.  Given this biological fact (that, I admit, I am oversimplifying for brevity’s sake), my daughters will be more prepared for taking on the demands of driving when they are older.

The same can be said for dealing with the demands of long-term assignments at school – for figuring out what to do in order to complete a science lab, for example, or a research paper or, heck, even as second graders, to tell stories about their summer on the first day of school.  The mental processes at work are connecting past experience with present action and future goals; they are planning, organizing, and managing time and space.  These nearly instantaneous processes are seemingly so easy and fluid for some, but a cause of much turmoil and struggle for others.

It’s our job as educators – whether as parents or school teachers – to teach students how to prepare and execute plans for reaching goals.  It doesn’t matter if these goals are externally given (e.g. a due date on a homework assignment) or internally driven (e.g. a strong desire to get to a friend’s house). The question is – how to teach these skills.  With over 15 years in the education field, I’ve learned a lot of “tricks of the trade.” I’ve also learned that a lot is at stake when someone has a goal in mind.  What if you don’t’ reach the goal?  What if you don’t reach the goal “in time?”  Some of you may flippantly answer, “ah, who cares?  Move on.”  Such flippancy, however, demands a great deal of self-confidence…or downright denial.  Constant struggle, continuous failure, frequent looks of disapproval from people in authority can wear a kid down – and exhaust his parents (and teachers) as well.  Most of all, it’s not necessary.  There are solutions.