The biggest challenge many students face may not relate to academic skills at all but rather getting organized. They may have well-developed academic skills, but they struggle when it comes to everyday organizational skills – bringing the proper materials to class, keeping track of papers, using time wisely, writing down assignments correctly, and turning them in on time. These are school survival skills that affect almost every phase of his/her performance.
It is not hard to recognize a disorganized student. Their desk is usually a sure giveaway. A kind of black hole, it swallows up papers almost as quickly as teachers can pass them out. Their backpack may be just as much of a jumbled assortment of school materials. Displaying an almost magical capacity, the disorganized student can make papers disappear in the blink of an eye. As a result, they may spend a lot of time in school searching for materials and re-doing lost work.
The problems of the disorganized student are often most apparent in homework habits. They may forget to write down
the assignment and not remember what to do. Or they may write it down, but copy it incorrectly. Or they may write it down accurately, but forget to bring the correct materials home. Or they may complete the work, but forget to bring it back to school. Getting the disorganized student to develop good homework habits can exasperate even the most experienced teachers.
What can we do?
The ability to be organized is one of the key building blocks of school success. It is also a skill that can, and should, be taught in school. Try the following strategies to help your students manage their school responsibilities:
- Provide Structure and Routine
Lessen the confusion by providing structure and establishing routines. Clearly and simply spell out the rules of the classroom, and tell your students what materials they must bring to class daily.
- State Directions Clearly and Simply
Use as few words as possible to explain what the student must do. Do not give every detail, or your student will miss the key points. Have him/her repeat your directions to ensure that they are understood. When introducing a complex task, demonstrate it to the student, and then have them do it while you observe.
- Require Students to Use a Three-Ring Binder
Consider requiring your students to organize their materials in a three-ring binder with subject dividers, blank notebook paper, and a plastic pouch for pens, pencils, and erasers. Adding pockets that can be designated “To bring home” (for assignments to be completed, notes to parents, and papers to bring home and leave there) and another “To bring to school” (for completed assignments, notes from parents, and signed parent permission slips).
- Have Students Keep Their Work in Folders
Some students use the “crumple and shove” method of storing papers. To help them organize their papers so they can get them when they need them, suggest that they keep them in folders in their binders or their desks. One folder can be for completed work, one for work to be done, and one for parent information– or they might have different color-coded folders for each subject.
- Require Your Students to Write Assignments Down
It’s important to give them a choice of how (but not whether) they will do this. They might use a small assignment pad or datebook, or a monthly assignment calendar. Another option for recording homework is a three-hole-punched student planning book, which can be placed into a binder. Whatever system is used, make sure that they write down assignments on the due dates, and to note tests and projects. Make time to check that assignments have been recorded accurately.
- Minimize the Clutter on Your Handouts
Students can be distracted not only by the clutter in their desks but also by the clutter on their papers. Simplifying the visual presentation of papers you hand out is as easy as limiting the amount of information you put on a page, or by having the student fold the paper to focus on one part or problem at a time. With multiple page tasks, consider giving the student one page at a time.
- Provide a Place in Your Classroom for Students to Turn in Their Work
This might be a box, crate, file divider, or file drawer. You could provide a folder for each student, and arrange the folders alphabetically. Another alternative is to have students place assignments into a folder specific to that assignment and color-coded to minimize the chance of mis-filing. Instruct students to mark on a sheet next to the folders that they have turned in the assignment by placing a check next to their name and under the column for that assignment.
- Teach the Student How to Keep a Neat Desk
Keeping a desk neat does not come naturally to a disorganized student. Remember that the goal is not to have the desk meticulous but rather to have them keep it neat enough so they can find what they needs with little effort.
Explain specific ways to keep a neat desk– perhaps even listing them on a poster for display. You might have him make a list (with guidance) of the items allowed in the desk and then have them tape the list on desktop or in their binder.
- Assign the Student a Classroom Buddy
Arrange for a responsible peer to assist a student with organizational problems when you are unavailable. Tell the student to first see their “buddy” if they need help before coming to you.
- Encourage the Use of Checklists
Have the student make a checklist to keep track of school tasks that must be completed. Keep the list in an accessible place, perhaps on the desk or in their binder. Model how to put the checklist in priority order so that the most important tasks are accomplished first. Mark off items on the list once they are completed.
These are just 10 examples of organizational strategies, what are your ideas?