Organization is a key skill necessary to succeed in school. I sometimes will pass by a student’s locker and I am amazed that they are able to find anything with loose papers all over the place. I ask students who walk into class with a notebook stuffed with crinkled and crumpled papers sticking out of all edges of the binder, “How do you find anything?” These students do not have system to get or help them stay organized. So, what can teachers do to help students get organized and stay organized? Here are a few suggestions:
>>> Binder Control – Doug Lemov recommends in Teach Like a Champion (2010) requiring all students keep a binder for an organized system to store, organize, and recall what they’ve learned. It is not only about keeping a binder, but requiring students to number papers that go in the binder so you can send students to “number 24” when looking through old notes or have students study “items 12 to 23” to prepare for the test.
The key with binders is to pass out handouts to students already 3-hole punched so that students can immediately put them into their binders. Also, keep a sample binder in the front of the classroom for a reference so that students can check and see what they are missing or if they have the papers in the right order. Occasional binder checks are a must and might motivate students keep their notebooks organized to earn a good grade.
>>> Journals instead of Binders – If your class requires minimum paper, I recommend journals or composition notebooks to house all student classwork, writing, and reflection. I ask that my students write a heading on each entry of their journal so that when we go back to the notebook we can find the material we are looking for. I also have my students use post-it notes to help create tabs for different sections of their journals. For example, Do Nows have their own section, mini-lesson notes, and guest speaker responses all have their own sections in student journals labeled with tabs created with post-it notes. Every month I give students sticky notes to create (or add to) a Table of Contents in the front of his or her journal so that we know the contents that have been added to the journal.
>>> Checklists – When assigning large projects, include a check list along with the rubric for students to go through to help support and scaffold the various steps of a project or writing assignment. The checklist can be as simple as a YES or NO checklist with questions such as: Essay has a clear topic sentence, Thesis is stated in the last sentence of the first paragraph, Reread the entire essay for spelling and grammatical errors. The simpler the checklist the better.
>>> Calendars & Planners – Have a large calendar posted in the front of the classroom and online for students to see due dates and deadlines. Color code the calendar so that students can visually see the deadlines for daily homeworks verses projects and essays.
Teachers need to help students stay organized by periodically offering binder clean-outs like locker clean-outs. Remind students of due dates and model your own organizational strategies. Organization is not something that can be addressed in the beginning of the school year and then assumed that it will be maintained throughout the school year with out daily support and weekly attention.