Disorganized students come in various guises: younger students, older students, male students, female students, well-mannered students, disruptive students, and, all too often, failing students. What these seemingly different students do share, however, is the tendency to be disorganized and overwhelmed. They are the ones still looking for their homework when everyone else has turned theirs in. They are the ones who never have a pencil or paper. They are the ones whose backpacks are stuffed with wadded up papers, broken pencils, and overdue assignments. Fortunately, there is a great deal that caring teachers can do to help our students become more organized and successful. If you are currently teaching a student who needs help with organization, here are some simple strategies that may help.
Don’t let the problem grow. As soon as you notice that a student is disorganized, spend time working together to help that student become organized. Think in terms of small increments each day instead of an overwhelming clean out once in a while.
Make getting organized and staying that way part of the daily culture of your class. When students are aware of the expectations that their teachers have for them, then they are more likely to rise to those expectations. Good organization should be everybody’s business. The few minutes that you spend on this each day will reap big benefits when students can find work quickly.
Insist that students copy down their homework assignments in a planner. They should do this even if you allow them to photograph their assignments from the board or if it is posted on a class website. Using a planner encourages students to plan their work instead of just copying down homework in a rush.
Assign students to study teams or, at least, allow them to work on organization with a partner. Many students benefit from working with a study buddy so that they can check each other’s folders, binders, and book bags before leaving class. They can also take notes for each other and gather assignments when a team member is absent.
Keep the requirements for paper management as simple as possible. For example, ask students to use just one folder or binder for class instead of requiring them to several items to keep up with such as a binder, a spiral notebook, and folders with pockets.
Help students develop helpful routines for keeping belongings in good order. These routines should be as simple as possible so that they are easy to follow. Even simple steps such a packing up the night before will make a big difference for many students.
Make a point of checking in with disorganized students every class period to see that items are stowed away in a logical place where they can be easily retrieved. With frequent checks, the problems with disorganization can stay small.
Although creating methods of organization may seem obvious to you, be explicit in directing your students. For example, say “Clip this handout into the assessment section of your binder,” instead of “Put your papers away.”
Allow enough time at the end of class for students to pack away their belongings neatly. Insist that students clip their work into binders instead of stuffing them into a binder pocket or, even worse, into a book bag. Just two or three minutes of time with careful monitoring while everyone packs up will send the message that it’s important to be organized.
Provide students who struggle with organization problems with items that will help them stay organized. Calendars, planners, color-coded divider pages or notebooks, assignment notebooks, to-do lists, self-sticking notes, checklists, and pencil pouches will all help these students stay organized.