The Weekly Text, September 18, 2015: A Lesson Plan on the Executive Skills and the Medieval Commonplace Book

Students with learning challenges almost invariably present to their teachers with executive skills issues. How might teachers in their content areas, while conveying the facts and skills on which students will be tested, build opportunities into our lessons for students to have useful experiences in learning to organize themselves? Since some colleagues and I conducted a professional inquiry into executive skills a few years back, the possibility of this kind of synthetic unit, using abstract content to teach concrete, real-world living skills has nagged at me. This Weekly Text is a prototype for the kind of learning activity I imagine. I use the word prototype deliberately. I have never used this lesson on the commonplace book in the classroom.

We expect students to manage larger and larger amounts information, but at least at the school in which I work, we offer no formal instruction or training to assist students in discovering and developing their own methods of organization. For students with even mild executive skills challenges, this is a devastating omission. But what would we use to teach organization, and how?

You can click through the link above to learn the basics on the commonplace book from Wikipedia’s good page (from which I was edified to learn that by “the seventeenth century, commonplacing had become a recognized practice that was formally taught to college students”). Fortunately, cloud computing gives students and teachers a variety of formats in which to start a digital-age commonplace book. Evernote and Dropbox are two of the better-known places to start and maintain a commonplace book.

I don’t know your school’s policy is on smartphones, but both Evernote and Dropbox offer apps on the major mobile applications platforms. I believe that the smartphone has potential to serve as a powerful learning adjunct for struggling learners. If your school permits the use of smartphones in the classroom (mine, for reasons that strike me as both foolish and ignorant, if that’s possible, doesn’t), then this lesson has room to help students learn to use their smartphones to aid them in their school work in both learning and organization.

So, the Commonplace Book Lesson Plan is a reading and writing lesson that introduces students to the concept of keeping information (at least at the beginning) in one place. I expect as I begin using this lesson, I’ll find ways it might be adjusted or adapted for greater sophistication and complexity, e.g. teaching students to create, use and organize useful filing systems, so that it can be used along a continuum that matches students’ abilities.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

2 responses to “The Weekly Text, September 18, 2015: A Lesson Plan on the Executive Skills and the Medieval Commonplace Book

  1. Mark, this speaks to me. You asked what happened to Grace at Hampshire? This exact thing. She’s a smart kid — one might even say brilliant (well, I think so anyway, but then, I’m her mother) with NO executive skills. Our nephew was talking to me about this and pointed out that executive skills are often about 6 years behind chronological age. Therefore an 18 year old going to college has the executive skills of a 12 year old. It is painful to watch. Grace will be OK eventually, but this is such an issue for so many kids. I applaud you for recognizing it.


  2. Thanks Suzy, and thanks for raising an important point. Students all along the continuum of academic preparedness, intellectual ability, and emotional disposition struggle with executive skills issues. Indeed, one of the books I read for my profession inquiry into this learning issue was Peg Dawson and Richard Guare’s Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential (New York: Guilford Press, 2009). As for Grace’s experience, I am sorry to hear about that. Moreover, I am distressed to learn that she was unable to find the support she needed at Hampshire. When I was there, the College maintained the Student to Student Academic Resource Center (STAR) to help students with managing their workloads.

    College in general would be a struggle for students struggling with executive skills issues (which may well be why I didn’t arrive at Hampshire until age 31), but Hampshire, which demands so much more from its students in terms of engagement with planning their own educations, would be very difficult for those struggling with organization.

    Thanks again for writing, Suzy.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.