By Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.
The unorganized student usually starts out the school year with great intentions. Here is some advice on how to stay organized throughout the year.
This year will be different! I’ve got this!” Sound familiar? This is the cry of the chronically disorganized student at the beginning of every school year. For the first three weeks, everything is good and you are lulled into believing them. But then papers begin to getting lost and assignments aren’t turned in and everything is right back to being a mess. I’m not gonna lie, organization is just hard for some people and it will take some time and patience, but I promise it will be worth it in the end.
After years of working with organizationally challenged students, I have found some common pitfalls to organization:
1) Too much stuff — Big padded binders and binders that zip up don’t help, they just make for a heavier backpack. Extra paper, giant calculators, pencil sharpeners, staplers, etc. … too much! Keep it simple.
2) Complicated systems — Students always have some sort of organization system, but many times it doesn’t work because there are too many steps so they can’t sustain it. Again, simplicity is best.
3) Not a place for everything — Many students lose assignments because they don’t have a place to put them that is easily accessible. If they have to take out a binder, unzip it, open to the correct folder, put it in, zip it up and put it back in the backpack, they will, for sure, smoosh it in their backpack where it will become torn, crumpled and lost.
Since people are different and nothing is ever that easy, you may have to try a few different systems before finding the right one. Here are a few options that have proved to be successful:
1) A binder for each subject – If you have a geometry binder, when you go to class you only take out that binder so it would be unlikely for Spanish handouts to end up in there. Keep the syllabus before the first divider and then have separate tabs for notes, handouts, homework, and tests and quizzes. The size of the binder should be appropriate for the amount of anticipated work and be sure to get reinforced binder paper.
2) The exception – Since it may be difficult to carry a binder for each individual class, it’s okay to put electives and classes with little handouts and notes in one binder. But core classes need individual binders.
3) Some students prefer spiral notebooks and folders. If you go this route, make sure you color code, blue spiral and folder for algebra, and label. The folders should be plastic and labeled; one side for assignments, other side for handouts.
4) MUST. USE. A. PLANNER! It can be online or the old-school ones you can actually touch, but using one is non-negotiable. The planner should live in the backpack and only come out during class to write down an assignment and while doing homework, and then right back in the backpack.
5) Clean out the backpack weekly – In addition to getting rid of the moldy banana, make sure all papers are in the correct place, and toss the ones that are no longer needed. I find that Sunday nights are a great time to do this. Since students are usually a bit resistant to do this at first try making it a fun(ish) ritual. Ex.Backpack cleaning followed by ice cream or a family movie.
Remember, if a system doesn’t work it’s okay to try another. Repeating this mantra helps me, “Bad habits are hard to break.” Replacing bad habits with good ones aren’t a walk in the park either. Try to be patient and have some non-lowfat ice cream, or go shoe shopping. Yoga works wonders too. Namaste, good luck, and may the force be with you.
— Susan V. Schaefer, M.Ed., M.A.T.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Academic Coaching Associates, LLC, the first company on the East Coast to combine academic and life coaching, creating an extraordinarily effective holistic approach to student achievement. With a proven record of improving academic success for students, both nationally and internationally, Sue is committed to helping students realize their academic potential and achieve their goals.
Sue is also a sought-after speaker on many educational subjects, and has published numerous articles on education and parenting. She wrote a weekly education column for Patch.com, appeared on Huffington Post Live, and the WXLM radio show to name just a few. Prior to opening Academic Coaching Associates, Sue was a classroom teacher and holds teaching certificates in both Connecticut and Illinois.
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