My husband, who is a special education teacher in the same district, and I had a conversation about strategies to teach students who are extremely disorganized. You know who they are. These are the students who loose their pencil halfway through class, can't seem to find their assignments in their notebook, locker or backpack and leave a trail of papers from class to class. The question is how do you help them?
The discussion started when my husband mentioned that he was starting a new unit on the Pythagorean Theorem. He is introducing some math vocabulary to his pull out eighth grade math students. My husband mentioned that his kids never can seem to find there notes from one day to the next. We talked about having them take the notes and keep them in the class in a folder. That is a good idea except for two things. First, one purpose of notes is to use them as a study aide, a way to review for tests, and quizzes. If the notes remain in a folder in school, when will the students have the time or opportunity to interact and use them. Sure they can use them in class, but that is not necessarily enough. Second, these kids are going off to High School in the fall. Is this doing them a disservice, especially if they attend a large high school. Should they be expected to have some responsibility and accountability for their notes among other things?
One solution we came up with to hold students accountable for not losing their notes and papers was to perform notebook checks. By using a rubric, my husband can easily complete these notebook checks and teach the students the skills they need to keep their "stuff" in a neat and organized manner.
For me, teaching middle school Social Studies, I struggle with many of the same issues. The big difference is the amount of kids I have in front of me is far greater than the five or so kids, my husband sees in a class period. Each day, over 100 students cross the threshold into my classroom. Of these 100 or so kids, many are disorganized. Despite my efforts to show how to put papers in the binders for safe keeping, or where completed work needs to be handed in, there are at least four or five students in each class that are so completely disorganized that they cannot ever find anything.
I am at a loss for what to do with them. Even after twenty years of teaching. Possibly because I am a clutter magnet, and lack some organizational skills myself. I have found notebook checks to be great for the students who are organized, but the students that are so utterly disorganized, these notebook checks are a source of great frustration for both me and the students. I have sat with some students and helped them organize their notebooks, set up folders for them and even cleaned out the notebooks. I have had peers try to help their classmates. These seem to be short term band aid fixes. Within a few days, the binders, notebooks and folders look pretty much the same as they did before sitting and organizing. There are papers falling out, math is in the science folder, English Language Arts is in the math folder and anything Social Studies related seems to be left in the locker, or another class or on the floor in the hall.
So here is my plea. If any one out there has an organizational strategy that middle school students can use, one that I can easily implement, please share. I know that many of you have great ideas to offer. I have seen them on pinterest. I am looking forward to hearing the many ideas. Thanks in advance.
I am a future empty-nester with two boys, a husband and a passion for writing, creating and teaching. I teach 7th and 8th grade Social Studies in Massachusetts. I am a self proclaimed history geek and proud of it! In my spare time ( Spare time, ha ha that's a joke! ) I enjoy photography, reading and hanging out with my family.