School begins soon and possibly some anxious moments of lost homework, a disheveled backpack and unknown test dates. Whether it's keeping track of homework or remembering to bring home a backpack, students from middle school through college need to be organized to succeed in school. For many students academic challenges are often due to disorganization rather than intelligence. Organizing for academic success is a learned skill and with the right tools and routines can make a difference for any student.
A planner is a vital tool for the organization plan. The planner helps your student keep track of long range and daily assignments, tests and homework. A “week at a glance” format is best, and be sure there is a space to record assignments for each class each day and extracurricular activities. The best choice is a planner sold by the school which will include vacation and exam dates. To begin the year, gather all syllabi and record all the dates for major projects and exams. Then go back, working backwards and write in the “baby steps” that lead to preparation for the work. Daily assignments should be written in each day, as soon as assigned, regardless of how small the assignment is.
Each afternoon review the planner, adding to it using additional resources found on the teacher’s web page and any additional assignments or test preparation. With consistent use, your student will know when to turn in papers for class in a timely fashion. The planner should be the one calendar the student uses, so be sure to include all other activities from sports to social engagements. Consistently using a planner is a lifelong skill well worth investment in the student’s time and effort.
Papers can be overwhelming to students. Having a “home” for all the papers is important in order for them to complete and turn in assignments and keep up with notes for tests and exams. An accordion file is an excellent tool to keep papers from getting lost. The accordion file should have from 7 -13 dividers, depending on the number of classes and other activities the student is engaged in. Whether polka dotted, camouflage or whatever cover design or color, be sure to choose one that the student loves!
Inside the file, label the divisions with the following: “planner”, “homework to do”, “homework done” and the subjects (math, English/reading, science, Spanish/language) in order of the time of day they occur. Use each slot as designated for papers received during the school day. At home, review the planner and complete the assignments and homework and replace the papers in the correct section. At the end of each week, papers should be transferred to a notebook. By having a “home” for papers, student can locate the papers to return for homework and have papers available for study at test time. Most importantly students learn the lifelong skill of where to keep papers of all types and have confidence in their ability to work with paper in general.
Routines are a critical aspect of organizing for academic success. Creating a structure for homework time is equal in importance as the other aspects of organizing. Check with your student’s teacher to find out the amount of time homework should be taking each night. Set aside that amount of time and designate it as "Homework Time" on a nightly basis. On a given night, if your student has fewer assignments or finishes up early, the remaining time should be spent studying for an upcoming test, working on a long-range project, or reading a library book. If your student knows that 30 - 45 minutes will be spent on school related activities each night, he will be less likely to try to rush through assignments, or to skip them altogether.
Create a daily routine that has homework at the time of day that is best for your student. A snack and a few minutes of time to unwind before beginning homework is a good break and then your student is ready to begin. For effective and efficient study time, it is best to limit distractions. Low music can help some students concentrate, however other technology such as television or computer should be discouraged. Many studies have shown how ineffective “multi tasking” is for all of us, and students are no different. The final part of this routine is to repack the backpack and place it at a “to go spot, ready for the next day. By reinforcing consistent and committed use of the planner and the accordion file as well as homework routines, your student is best prepared for school each day.
Establishing good organizing systems and routines should begin at the outset of the school year. Talk with your student about the importance of being organized, what benefits your student and your family will experience from being organized, and how to begin and incorporate the process. Commitment to the organizing process and your student’s desire to be organized is all it takes to make a difference!
Please contact me if I can assist with your student’s success. Happy Organizing!
Ellen R. Delap
Making Time and Space for what's important to you!
Member/Past President NAPO Houston
Member National Association of Professional Organizers
Member National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization