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Getting and Staying Organized

It'¬ís no surprise that getting and staying organized is one of the biggest challenges young people face in and out of school. A student arriving without pens, paper or books is a common occurrence. Disorganization accounts for missing assignments, incomplete homework, and a lack of preparation that often leads to a student not experiencing success relative to their abilities.

Disorganization: A Teacher's True Story

One teacher gathered data around an assignment given to their junior high school students. The student's mission was simply to complete a task begun in class. After providing three days of in-class time to work on the assignment and after assuring that each student understood the requirements and had achieved the necessary outcomes to complete the assignment, the teacher requested the task be completed for homework. Sixty percent of the students did not complete the assignment in the given time period, even after repeated reminders.

Finally, the teacher, who had a phone in their office, made each of the students who were non-complying phone home and explain to their parents why the assignment hadn't been completed. Here's a few of the results:

  • Most students had no good explanation for why they didn't complete the assignment and seemed genuinely not to know. However, it seemed competing interests took over the moment they left the school grounds: television, sports, video games, talking to friends all served as distractions. Basically, students simply forgot about school along the "out of sight, out of mind" mode.
  • Most parents had no idea homework had been assigned in the first place: their children told them they "didn't have any."
  • Five out of 30 students had the completed assignment in their lockers and yet seemed unable to extract it without persistent reminders. In some cases, this may have been due to mental disorganization and, in others, because the locker itself was too cluttered to find anything.


  • Students are in desperate need of structure to help them get and stay organized.

Parents can help by:

  • Encouraging your child to use their homework notebook by checking it daily. Also, if the school has a homework hotline or a homework web page, review it with your child daily so both of you understand the expectations.
  • Asking what books or supplies will be needed for the next day so they will be packed into a book bag the night before. Also, urging your child to name the necessary tools aloud helps him or her to remember.
  • Posting a large calendar near the designated homework area and encouraging your child to record and prioritize any long-range projects or assignments coming up. This is especially important for junior and senior high students who have multiple projects.
  • Helping your child break bigger assignments down to smaller tasks that will seem less overwhelming. By deciding on the steps needed to complete a larger assignment and writing these smaller tasks onto the calendar, children will better understand how to keep deadlines and will gain a stronger sense of control over their daily lives.
  • Providing colourful lined sticky note pads as a way to help your child learn the fine art of list-keeping. Encouraging your child to post reminders to him or herself. For younger children, encourage them to help you make shopping or grocery lists to further reinforce the strategy.

Parents can support students to:

  • Use the weekly blank schedule calendars usually provided in every homework notebook.
  • Decide how much time is needed to do everything listed.
  • Prioritize activities in terms of importance.
  • Record prioritized activities on the calendar along with estimated completion times.