Helping Students Get Organized

One of the most frequent struggles parents and students ask us to help them with is the disorganized student.  Given the stress that so many students are under in high school these days, often it can feel like a Sisyphean battle, and one that undergirds so much else - academic success, calm at home, family dynamics and even general happiness.

Not to fear!  Organization and time-management are both developmental skills that improve with age (if properly guided) and learned skills that can be internalized. Learning organization is like anything else - it takes time, practice and dedication and the process can be as rewarding as the goal.

Before you jump into these resources, we also recommend perusing our page on teaching principles. Many times, organizational issues can be compounded by academic issues, and helping students find the right approach to learning the material can help tremendously with their ability to organize it. Of course, the reverse is also true, and organization can help improve academics. In that vein, here are ten quick things to think about to help students on their way:

  1. Create an office.  Your son or daughter isn’t a CEO yet, but they might as well be. With up to ten classes, plus extra-curricular affairs, students are drowning in paper-work the way most of us are too. They need a proper workspace if they are to keep proper filing methods. Do they have filing cabinets?  Do the cabinets have a clear system? Does everything have a place? Is there enough light, desk space, ample pens, paper etc.? Would you want to do your most important inspired creative work there? If not, how can you help fix it?
  2. Break down complex topics. Most major tests and papers will require multiple steps to prepare for and complete. Help your students plan out these steps with clear goals and schedules. As planning goes up, anxiety goes down!
  3. Check in with your son or daughter. Ask them if there is any area in regards to school that they need help. Often simply the reminder will prompt them to reflect upon their school work in a new way.
  4. Try different note-taking strategies. Some students respond to Roman Numerals, other respond to Web-Notes. Others are best when everything is digitally driven. Others still find recording everything with their iphone is the best way to keep track.  Try out different strategies until you find one that works.
  5. Reduce Clutter. Reduce Clutter. Throw away stuff you don’t need. Enough said.
  6. Talk through school anxieties with your kids. Often disorganization is a result of anxiety. Usually students' anxieties are focussed around specific subjects and teachers. Help them come up with strategies for the anxiety and use organization as a way of fighting the anxiety. If you are too nervous to work, use the time to organize!
  7. At least a week before test, check notes to see if there are any confusing topics or missing notes. Help your students plan ahead to see what the potholes might be and to be proactive in responding to them.
  8. Use your old material! Scaffolding is the process of returning again and again to topics covered earlier in the semester to help make sure that learning is building upon learning, and information has not been simply forgotten or thrown away. Spending some time scaffolding before tests is a great reminder of how valuable being organized is and a great spur to help students stay organized.
  9. Model organization yourself. As always, most children learn by seeing as much as by instruction, and modeling is the key to great teaching
  10. Get help from the experts. If you are still struggling with organization, enlist teachers, tutors, other family members, or turn to some of the experts out there.  

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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