Helping to Organize the Disorganized Student
By Dr. Kenneth Shore
Elementary school teachers often find that they are spending too little time teaching their students because they are spending too much time helping them get organized. Organizational problems may take various forms, including forgetting to bring the necessary materials to class, losing papers, having problems getting started with a project or report, using time inefficiently, not completing seatwork and forgetting his school schedule. Even such simple tasks as bringing a pencil to class may elude the disorganized student.
It is important that elementary teachers, particularly those in the upper grades, focus on these skills since they will be essential in middle school when students will be expected to keep track of their assignments and school responsibilities with little teacher assistance. Fortunately, organizational skills can be taught.
What Can You Do
- Encourage responsibility for bringing materials to class. Review with your students the materials you expect them to bring to school every day. Do spot checks periodically. If a student forgets to bring the proper materials, loan him what he needs, but consider having him to give you some “collateral” to be returned when he gives back the borrowed materials. You might keep a “pencil stubs” box on your desk or near the pencil sharpener so students who forget a pencil do not need to disrupt the class.
- Designate a place for students to turn in their seatwork. Having them turn in their work as soon as they complete it will lessen their chance of misplacing it. You might designate a box, file divider or file drawer for this purpose, with individual student folders arranged alphabetically. Or you might have folders for each assignment that are color-coded to decrease the chance of misfiling. You might also have students check off on a sheet that they have turned in the assignment.
- Have students organize their papers in folders. They might have a folder for completed work, a folder for work to be done, and a folder for parent information. Or they might have different folders for each subject. By keeping these folders in their desks and color-coding them, they can access their work quickly. You can help students avoid being overwhelmed by loose papers by having them bring completed work home on a specific day of the week. Let parents know of this procedure so they can help their child sort through the papers.
- Give the student a container for small items. Items such as pencils, pens, erasers and scissors can be easily lost in a desk or backpack. You can help him solve this problem by having him place them in a plastic zippered pouch kept in his binder or a box or re-sealable plastic bag kept in his desk.
- Require older elementary students to use a three-ring binder. Students as early as third grade can use a three-ring binder with subject dividers and a pouch for pens and pencils. Suggest they get a binder with pockets or three-hole punched folders and then have them label one pocket or folder “To Bring Home” for homework to be done and notes for parents and another “To bring to school” for completed homework and notes from parents. You might also have them place a monthly calendar in their binders on which they can indicate tests, projects and important school activities. Punch holes in the handouts you give to students so they can put them in their binder easily.
- Provide the disorganized student with a classroom buddy. Select a mature, responsible classmate who can help the student with classroom tasks when you are unavailable. Another way of doing this is to group students at tables, with students expected to help each other when questions arise.
- Teach the student memory aides. Teach him the acronym PANTS to remind him what he needs to bring to and from school every day (P = Parent information, A = Assignments, N = Notebook, T = Textbooks and S = Student, namely himself). Show him how to make a checklist of school tasks and his schedule that he can tape to his desk or binder.
- Meet briefly with the student before he goes home. Check to make sure he has the proper materials and has written down his homework correctly.