Well fellow educators, today I want to chat about something I’m willing to guess we have all experienced. Literally, this is common whether you teach wee little kinders, or grade 12 students who are about to graduate.
Students who seem to lose their belongings, their assignments, the tools necessary for class, and so on happens at every level of education. I personally find that this is a trait most common to students who have ADHD, but it’s common with many others as well.
Over the years, I’ve found that there are a few tried and true tactics which can help to support these students. Hopefully, they’ll also keep us from pulling our hair out, too, when papers we know we’ve supplied these students with magically go missing. The worst is when you’re waiting on a permission form or something else of importance to come back!
Try these tips out to hep alleviate the stress you and your students are under.
Help the student to organize
One of my favourite things to do at work is help students to organize their things.
I like to think of myself as a mix of The Home Edit ladies, Marie Kondo, and a superhero teacher.
Whenever my fellow teachers ask if I can help a student clean out their locker, organize their binders, tidy their desk, manage their backpack, and so on, I get a little spark of joy deep inside. These are my favourite days and, I hope, my joy around organization spreads to the student and they realize how amazing life can be when we’re organized and tidy!
Okay, so I can be a little over-optimistic, but these are still the best days ever!
Organizing students’ belongings takes some time, so if you are teaching full time during the day, you may need to ask someone else (like me, whose job is to support diverse learners) to help the student organize. I have the student completely clear out their binder, desk, etc. and we begin to recycle anything not necessary and organize everything else according to subject.
This is also a great way to get to know the student and see what types of supports they may need.
For example, I had a student recently who had huge stacks of sketches (beautiful sketches – she was an amazing artist!) all over her locker, stuck in the bottom of her backpack, and all throughout her binder. This was a complex kiddo and she let me know that sketching during class both allowed for her to listen better and to avoid becoming anxious and having panic attacks.
So, we got her a sketchbook to use during class lectures so that she could keep her binder free for academic work. This simple shift allowed for her to keep her locker, binder, and backpack clear of excess paper.
Of course, I still checked in with her weekly to see how her organization was coming, but that one major clean out and recognizing what she specifically needed had a huge impact on her stress levels as well as her academic success.
Having someone simply take the time to help them organize and show them how to properly care for their things can be a major game-changer for many students!
Frequently monitor notebooks, pencil case, locker, backpack, desk, and so on
Just as I mentioned above, a major clean out and organization is the place to start, but we can’t just assume the student will now magically be an organized person. I wish that were the case, but alas, this is real life, not Hogwarts.
Generally, I find that a weekly check is a good way to keep students organized. Then, as they begin to develop organization skills themselves, these check-ins can become less frequent.
If you’re working with very young students, you can complete these checks with the entire class. I used to have weekly and then monthly desk and cubby clean-outs with my grade four students.
If students have transitioned into junior high (or middle school, depending where you are), you can have bi-weekly organization checks with your entire class as they learn these skills.
We often assume students have these skills, but they often have to be taught. This is especially true if they are transitioning from being in one class with one teacher for the majority of the day to moving to multiple classes with multiple teachers each day.
Stress having a place for everything
“A place for everything and everything in its place” is a mantra I find to be very useful for my cluttered students.
Students often lose or misplace items because they don’t know where to put them. I find this especially useful for student’s lockers, desks, and binders. They need to have clear, and sometimes labelled, locations for all their things.
For example, in a locker students should have a place for their shoes, a spot for binders, a place for their lunch, coat, binder, gym-strip, and so on.
In a binder, students should have clear and labelled sections for each of their courses.
I am always mind blown by how many students just stick everything into their binders with no rhyme or reason. It just seems so obvious to have different sections.
Of course, I am a lunatic who spent hours as a child organizing things, rearranging furniture for better “flow”, and would rather read books about organization than hang out with friends. A real party animal, I know.
I also always let student know that at the end of each class and each day, they should check their binders and ensure that all of their notes, handouts, and so on have been hole-punched and placed into the proper location. This takes some time and practice, but with reminders, students will begin to get used to this routine.
Provide student with a list of needed materials and location
Sometimes our students genuinely don’t know what they need for each class or for each task.
It may seem obvious to us, but they are confused or don’t know what they need and when. In these instances, make it very clear about what they will need, when, and why.
Sometimes students need really basic instructions for every class. This would include giving them a list which tells them that in math they will need a pencil, calculator, their binder, and textbook.
Other times, students become confused if the routine is altered.
For example, if you are going to leave the classroom to work on an assignment in the library, you may need to provide students with the resources they will need, such as their binder and books. You also may need to provide them with what tools they will need to get from the library or use when there, such as books about a specific topic or websites which will be useful.
Have a consistent process for handing in assignments and homework
Students may get confused if the way in which you have them submit their work changes from day-to-day or week to week.
If you have them submit some work online via dropbox, while other work is handed in at the beginning of class in hardcopy, they may not always understand or remember how to turn things in.
Of course, some of this is extremely difficult to keep standard. It would be very odd to print out and hand-in all work completed online just to keep routine. However, there are some things we can ensure are standard for students.
For example, if you know that the homework you assign is always done on loose-leaf paper, have a standard practice of having students hand this work into a folder at the beginning of each class.
If your kids write all their essays online, don’t switch between having them “share” with you, email you their work, or drop into a dropbox – always keep this consistent to avoid any confusion.
As many routines you can keep simple and consistent, the better for all students, especially those who struggle with lost work.
Provide positive reinforcement for good organization
Finally, it’s really important to let our students know when they’re doing a good job.
Make sure you catch your students being organized and praise them for it.
Start with even the smallest amounts of organization – like, “great job putting your pencil back in your desk”. Or, “thank you so much for remembering to hole punch that worksheet and put it into your binder”.
You don’t need to make a giant, embarrassing show about this, it’s not like it’s their birthday at a ridiculous chain restaurant. You just need to let that one student know that you’ve seen them trying and you’re impressed with their effort.
Even the smallest steps may be incredibly difficult for some students, so letting them know that you see them and know they’re trying can be extremely meaningful for them.
Well, what do you think? Have you tried any of these tactics with your students? Tried anything that I haven’t mentioned and works well? Let me know in the comments below and share this post with another teacher you think could benefit from it!
Enjoyed this? Here are some other blog posts on Katie is a Teacher you may like:
Want even more? Here are some Katie is a Teacher resources you may be interested in: