By Robin Satty, EdD
When it comes to organization for middle and high school students, keeping it simple is key. Some students can keep an organized set of folders, binders, and study materials for each class, and remember to bring the right materials to every class every day. Most students have not yet developed these skills by the time they reach middle or high school. Some simple tools and strategies can help them develop those skills with minimal effort on the part of the students’ teachers or family.
This is the first in a 4-part series on organization strategies that will cover organizing things, organizing scheduled time, organizing unscheduled time, and maintaining organization systems.
Many of these tools and strategies can be helpful for elementary school students as well, although they will usually be in self-contained classrooms, so have fewer challenges with getting the right materials to the right places.
If the first rule is to keep it simple, the second rule is to meet students where they are. A student will not wake up one morning and suddenly have all of their materials and time perfectly managed, and goals that include too many different pieces at one time will be harder to achieve. There’s a secret third rule that can feel counterintuitive: keep it novel. Even though students can benefit from simpler organization systems, adding novelty into the system can keep it exciting and help students stay engaged as the school year progresses. However, don’t let novelty complicate the system.
The list below has a series of small evidence-based goals that build upon one another to help students get (and stay) organized. The list continues into the next articles in the series.
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Goal 1: Bring the right materials for each class.
5-Subject Notebook: Although it seems simple to have a different notebook or binder for each class, it creates more moving pieces to keep organized. A 5-subject notebook is simple and adequate for most students. The paper is already included, so there’s no setup required. Try to find a notebook that has perforated pages (and practice tearing out pages if needed) so classwork can be handed in easily and neatly. Each of the major academic subjects can get its own section. If the student has roughly the same schedule each day, the sections can be labeled in the order the student attends classes in a day.
Pencil Case: This is another place where keeping it simple can make it so much easier to maintain an organization system. A large pencil case with multiple compartments can be helpful for organizing many different tools, but it’s an extra step at the start and end of every single class. A simple case with only one compartment can hold a few favorite items and make transitions simpler. Recommendations for items to fill the pencil case show up in the next goal.
Goal 2: Bring the right materials to and from home.
One Folder: Forget a separate folder for each class because that creates as many as 8 or 9 different items that need to be taken to and from home (and then to and from each class). A six-pack of folders stored in a locker or home desk can provide a backup when a well-loved folder starts to show age or the student needs some novelty in their organization system.
Simple System for Pockets: Most folders have 2 pockets. Make one pocket for “Home” and one for “School”. During the school day, a student can accumulate papers in the “Home” pocket, Once assignments are completed, they can be moved to the “School” pocket.
Stay tuned for Part 2: Organizing Scheduled Time.