When my 28-year-old daughter, Celeste, was about 3 years old, she dumped her Cheerios on the floor of the family room. Both my wife and I were home but I nodded and said to my wife, “I’ve got this.”
I directed my daughter to pick up the Cheerios. She did not comply. So I told her if she did not pick up the Cheerios she would have to go to her room for a time out. She did not comply so I picked her up and brought Celeste into her room.
I went back to the living room and joined my wife. We listened to Celeste cry for a about a minute then I went to her room to give her another opportunity to clean up the Cheerios.
She sat in front of the Cheerios and I repeated the options she had. Pick up the Cheerios or face another time-out in her room. After directing her to pick up Cheerios a few times with zero compliance on her part, I picked her up and carried her to her room. She was crying and screaming as I deposited her to her room for her time-out.
After listening to her tantrum for about a minute I went back to Celeste’s room to bring her back to the scene of her crime to give her another opportunity to clean up the mess she had made.
Before I could talk, my wife looked at me and said, “Let me give it a try.”
My wife, Celeste and I were all on the floor sitting in front of the Cheerios. My wife looked at Celeste and said, “Let’s take turns picking up the Cheerios. I will pick up two and then you pick up two.”
After the about two turns, my daughter did not even wait for her turn. In less than two minutes, the same amount of time my daughter had spent in time-out, the floor was clean.
As my wife, a special education teacher by the way, and I reflected on the incident, we realized the reason my daughter was not complying was that the task of cleaning up the mess by herself seemed overwhelming. But, picking up only two Cheerios, she could do that. Once she realized the task was not as overwhelming when broken into smaller sub-tasks, she experienced success and had no problem completing the job.
My daughter did not lack grit. My daughter did not lack “stick-to-it-tiveness.” My daughter did not lack character. My daughter did not have an oppositional behavior disorder. My daughter lacked a strategy for how to break down a seemingly large task into manageable chunks.
Many times students appear to not be motivated, or do not have the desire to work on challenging assignments for extended periods of time. Do not discount the possibility that what seems like a totally reasonable assignment may be completely overwhelming to a student. Especially a student who has experienced limited success in the past.
Breaking large tasks in to smaller manageable chunks for students is not coddling them. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The ability to break tasks into smaller chunks is an important skill that will serve students throughout the entirety of their lives.