Home > executive functioning, surviving school > school supplies… a rant

school supplies… a rant

One of the things that I do a lot of with kids, especially kids in middle school or high school, is help them deal with the paper chase. We work together to develop and troubleshoot systems for corraling all those loose papers, books, notebooks, projects, etc. We’re often doing this in whatever teeny bits of wiggle room we can find within the “systems” imposed upon them by their schools. Usually schools have good intentions in doing these — they’re honestly trying to teach kids organizational skills. And, admittedly sometimes the systems are for the convenience of the teachers — e.g., they want to be able to collect notebooks and take them home to check that kids are doing their work. But usually the actual systems leave much to be desired.

Well, my own beloved Little Bird is about to embark upon middle school (cue the scary music), and the good news is that she is pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of keeping track of stuff — no worse than most kids her age. Which is to say she’s not very good at it.

So when I look at her supply list, I’m, well, a trifle concerned.

  • 2 double-pocket folders (note that these are designated for a specific subject, so they’re not likely to be intended as general “hot folders” (for carrying homework and parent handouts back and forth), which might actually be a use, at least for one of them. But usually, the main purpose of pocket folders is to become overstuffed and to have papers fall out of them into a random and comical heap at inopportune moments. Usually when the kid is late for the bus.)
  • 1 three-ring binder, 1″ thick, flexible, with some unspecified number of page protectors. It’s important to stay flexible.
  • 2 three-ring binders, 1″ thick, (one of which is noted as needing filler paper, the other is not. Was that a typo? Will they be writing only on worksheets? Or is there some very special papyrus to be purchased at a later date?)
  • 1 three-ring binder, 1.5″ thick, with side pockets (because handouts fall out of them so much more easily than out of those pesky pocket folders), 10 tab dividers, 25 sheets of lined paper, and 3 pens or pencils (for Health. Because I might have a heart attack trying to get this stuff organized.)
  • 1 three-ring binder, 2″ thick, with lined paper and reinforcements (I do appreciate the foresight of the tech-ed teacher. With a list like this, we’re definitely going to need to call for reinforcements at some point.)
  • 4 single-subject spiral notebooks that measure 9″x11″ (with, I kid you not, seven (7) reminders, four (4) of which are boldfaced and underlined, one (1) of which also has italics, to make sure you notice that they are requiring you to track down spirals that are actually 9″x11″ rather than 8.5″x11″ or 8.5″x10.5″, despite the fact that these spirals are literally three times the cost of the normal ones and are considerably harder to find (yes, I found them, no need to send me a link)).
  • 1 Bienfang Notesketch 8.5″x11″ Horizontal Lines (now there’s an art teacher who knows what she wants. Okay, I can’t be too mad about that. Hopefully it stays in the art room most of the time.  But heaven forbid she could have asked for a similar item available at, oh, say, a big-box craft or office supply store, instead of requiring a special trip to an art store or paying expensive shipping for an online order)
  • 1 zippered pencil pouch (recommended) (I’m wondering why they aren’t requiring it. Perhaps because no one other than the Health teacher thinks they need writing implements. Or perhaps because backpacks usually have appropriately-sized pockets, so pencil pouches are superfluous.)
  • 1 flash drive (good idea! Let me suggest also a lanyard or other device to permanently attach said flash drive to the kid’s backpack? Otherwise, in the office pool for the lifespan of that object, put me down for “under one week.”)
  • 1 mini stapler (Why? Because teachers aren’t going to hit the “staple” button on the photocopier? Because classrooms can’t have a single shared stapler anymore so kids can learn to take turns? Because the pencil pouch might be lonely without any pencils in it?)
  • 1 glue stick (Ah, now I’m wondering if this is the crucial piece to their cunning plan — those oversized spiral-bounds could easily be chosen so that every we’re-going-green-single-side-printed handout can be meticulously glued in place! If so, we need a case of glue sticks. And some antacid.)
  • <singing> and a partridge in a pear tree.</singing>  Yes, they do note that additional items may be added during the school year as needed.

Note that this is all before we add any textbooks to those backpacks, if you were concerned about weight.

Okay, to be fair, I’m willing to guess that a couple of those binders might be destined to live in classrooms instead of traveling back and forth to lockers and home.

I’m noticing what’s not on the list, too… No mechanical pencils. No colored pens or pencils. No graph paper for either math or science.  No actual hot-folder.

And no planner. Maybe we’ll get lucky and they won’t hand out a paper planner they’re expecting everyone to use. And maybe they’ll be okay letting her use an electronic PDA.

Fortunately, this isn’t a school that has gotten all security-crazed to the point where they don’t allow backpacks or tote bags. No kidding — I’ve had to write into kids’ IEPs and 504 plans that they had to be allowed to use a bag instead of carrying everything loose.

But this list is not giving me all the warm fuzzy back-to-school feeling I’m hoping for. It has too many moving parts. Too much empty air and paper being carried around. Too much labor involved in routine use.

It’s not a plan for success. It’s a plan for lost and crumpled papers, shoved deep into the recesses of the backpack until they turn into petroleum products. It’s a plan for disintegrating or overflowing notebooks which then must be laboriously recreated. It’s a plan for oh-so-many last-minute crises when the eldritch horrors that live in kids’ lockers have mysteriously hidden the items they needed to do their homework so that the kid wasn’t able to rescue them before dashing out to the bus. Oy.

Of course, by sheer random chance, some kids in this school will manage this system okay. And some other kids will have parental or professional support called into play so as to prevent the worst of the failure. But that just gives the illusion that these systems work. Which then is used to justify blaming kids who can’t make them work (“not trying hard enough” or even “lazy”).

See, you can’t teach kids organizational skills just by putting them in a situation where organizational skills would be a Really Good Idea. You also can’t teach organizational skills by imposing a system that is complex and onerous enough that kids need you to direct them every inch of the way. You need to be in the middle ground, where some guidance will help them gradually become able to do it on their own.

Normally, this district actually does a pretty good job with most things, and even a very good job with some things.  Birdie likes school and I think she’s getting a good education.   I’m frankly surprised to see this list, and I hope that I’m wrong about some of my conjectures.  But even if this is actually a well-thought-out system that I’m just totally misconstruing, I’m sure there are plenty of you out there who are about to be struggling with a school-imposed organizational nightmare.

In <a href=”https://davincilearning.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/on-organization-do-not-multiply-entities-needlessly/”>another post,</a> I’ll talk about the system I usually start with — it works pretty well for most kids who struggle with organization.

  1. C. Stansberry
    August 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    I don’t buy much before school starts, despite the lists that are sent home with 4th marking period report cards. Sure, I buy stuff I know they’ll need: pencils, lined paper, glue sticks….but not every last item. We wait and let the organizational system evolve organically.

  2. August 4, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    The difficulty is that many teachers really are attached to their various systems, and the students will be in some fashion required to adhere to those systems (I’m thinking particularly of situations where kids are expected to do routine work in a particular notebook which is collected periodically and checked for completeness. It’s hard to tell ahead of time which parts of the system are required and which are actually just suggestions that parents can feel free to ignore — personally, I might even give the school a call and see if anyone can enlighten me on that front. I agree, it’s better to start simple and try to keep it simple (which I’ll talk about in a future post), and to be flexible over time.

  3. August 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    For the past two years, the middle school my son went to required that students buy the school’s organizer. It went into the locker on the first day of class, and came out pristine on the last day of class. We bought two copies of most textbooks: one for school, one for home. Some teachers kindly told us ahead of time what books to keep at school and which to keep at home. They also had agreed on using a single 3-ring binder for all classes: we got a 3″ binder that held about half the needed papers by the end of the year and only weighed about 5 pounds. Luckily he’s going to high school next year, and the teachers there are not so rigid about using exactly their system for organizing papers (at least, so I’ve been lead to believe). I can hope also that they won’t have the printing budget for so many useless handouts.

    • August 5, 2010 at 8:07 am

      Yeah, the “here’s the official organizer, now use it” strategy is ineffective, largely because (1) no one cues the kids to *use* it on a regular basis (2) more crucially, no one teaches kids *how* to use it. We think “use a planner” is really easy and obvious, but it’s actually considerably more complex — what specific information do you need to write down? what day do you need to write it down on? when are all of the times you need to look at it? what else must be included in the planner to enable you to actually use it to plan?

      I like the single binder (it’s the central point of the system I’m going to recommend when I get that post written), although a 3″ binder is much more bulky than needed for carrying around, and is likely to get all bent out of shape. Think about this… although we want the kid to keep their work all year, does he really need to carry all of it every day? What are the circumstances in which a kid will need in April to read something he did in October? There are some, but they’re quite predictable.

      • August 5, 2010 at 10:14 am

        Actually, they did have lessons on how to use the planner: he just refused to comply. He had his own system that worked for him, and damned if he was going to knuckle under to authority telling him how to think or run his life.

        Actually, it was a different school in 6th grade that got him organized (his way). His brand-new 6th grade teacher was requiring all students to copy down their homework assignments from the board, and he refused. The principal (bless her) mediated, and the deal was struck that if he turned in all his homework on time in all classes, he wouldn’t have to write down the assignments, but if he missed even one, he’d have to do it the teacher’s way. He did not miss an assignment all year.

  4. LizPf
    August 4, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    It sounds like Birdie’s teachers aren’t coordinating their requirements. Warning: this can lead to study crises, when 3 teachers assign major assignments dut on the same day.

    Ocelot’s middle school teachers did coordinate, and all she needed was one massive zip binder, dividers and filler paper, plus assorted small items and writing sticks. Textbooks were issued in duplicate, so that she wasn’t lugging those around.

    For high school, all classes but one dropped supply requirements completely. Ocelot was free to keep papers any way she wished (we settled on a legal pad and pocket folders for each class, which worked quite well), except in Science, where keeping a binder to the teacher’s specs was a graded requirement.

    • August 5, 2010 at 8:46 am

      Regarding assignment collisions, yes. That’s part of why having a good planner system for the kid is important. Sometimes if you let teachers know about a collision, they are willing to change dates. And even if they’re not, if you know about the collisions ahead of time, you can plan your working time appropriately. After all, the assignments you’re worried about colliding (tests, papers, projects, etc) are typically announced significantly in advance.

  5. Dan
    August 4, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    Our middle school hands out planners and a 4″ (or is it 5″?) binder at the beginning of the year. All assignments go in the planner, all papers go in the binder.

    Perhaps this system works for most kids, but our son thought it was a waste of his time, and stuck with his own system, in spite of exhortations from teachers and parents, and a substantial body of evidence (grades) indicating that his system didn’t work. Now he’s in H.S., where there is no system, and his own system is still failing him.

    • August 5, 2010 at 8:52 am

      Sigh. My experience is that (1) exhortations are ineffective at best, counterproductive at worst (2) “grades” are too far removed in time and connection to the act of organizing to be effective feedback. Too much room for the kid to have forgotten what he did and to place all the blame for the low grade on the mean or unfair or capricious teacher. When I’m working with kids, we talk about how we’d know a system was working, and we try to boil it down to really clear observable facts that we’d both agree as to whether or not they’d occurred. If necessary, we set up a recordkeeping system, and a date for when we’ll assess the effectiveness. Very business-y, because we’re trying to get away from any sense of “the teacher’s way vs. your way” or “my way vs. your way.” It’s *our* way, and we’re observing it and refining it over time.

  6. Tamara Lichtenstein
    August 4, 2010 at 11:31 pm

    Boy, this strikes a chord! I should post the list we have from dd’s new high school. It exceeds the carrying capacity of the large school backpack we purchased, and that’s without any textbooks yet! Last year, the first time she tried to sling her heavy pack on her back, the weight of it caused a strained a muscle, so I insisted she switch to a wheeled travel bag. She did, but had to endure taunts and comments, not just from other students but staff who asked if she were planning to run away from home. (And because of the level of poverty and the numbers of homeless kids at that school, it was a real concern). She had a locker but the few minutes scheduled between classes didn’t allow for detouring to actually use it–there was barely time to get from one class in one part of the building to another elsewhere in the complex, at a speed walk. (I know–I shadowed her to try it myself). This year she’ll be in a brand new small, charter school for the arts in an old, smallish building; the program is developed by smart, sensible people, so we are hopeful that such logistical challenges will be appropriately addressed…

    • August 5, 2010 at 8:54 am

      I personally think that lockers are next to useless, for that exact reason. At a large public high school (I went to one with a student body of approximately 3000), with three minutes between classes, it’s just not physically possible for kids to go back and forth to the locker midday, and the short time periods make it extra-likely that they will forget something. Even at the end of the day, there’s typically not enough time before the bus to stand in front of the locker and carefully review the evening’s plans to figure out which items need to be taken home.

  7. Britta Stokes
    August 5, 2010 at 1:16 am

    I SOOOOO feel your pain! My daughter used to get frustrated by the fact that every time she learned the current year’s genius organizational system, it was sure to change when she got a new teacher the following year. She is actually very good a keeping up with stuff, but never could buy into the school’s way of doing it, so she looked like a mess.

    The last year she was in school, (we now homeschool) the school decided to implement a pouch system for the entire school. No more notebooks, pencil pouches, or backpacks, now there was a separate canvas bag for every class with a full supply of whatever you may need in each class. That may have worked ok for the third graders, but the high schoolers were quite put off. That was the last year we participated in the school. I won’t say that this was the only reason, but draconian organizational rules did play a part in our decision.

    Maybe we should buy stock in Staples…

  8. Helen
    August 5, 2010 at 1:48 am

    My daughter had at least one middle-school teacher who graded students down for not having required supplies. “Required” meaning “I told you to get them,” not “You need to have them today for a specific purpose.” Indeed, when I was still getting used to the vagaries of Source, the online grade-reporting system, I was startled to see a lower-than-appropriate grade, and found she had gone below some point threshold due to the lack of a specific red pen that they had not yet used in class. I’m not entirely sure they ever DID use the darned red pens.

    I still think the planners are overkill unless you’re the sort of person who likes to use them (they can’t substitute for all the Important Pieces of Paper one gets handed anyway), and that it would be far better use of everyone’s time to put assignments and handouts on Source. I think my kids have had perhaps one teacher among the three of them who’s done this consistently, and unfortunately I wasn’t especially happy with other aspects of his teaching.

    I’m a dreamy, unorganized, procrastinating sort of person by nature, temperamentally very like my kids, and I don’t remember having a tenth of the difficulty keeping track of assignments that my children have had. I nearly always knew what I was supposed to be doing and when it was due, even though I had plenty of trouble getting it all done on time, and I was at a tough private school with lots of homework. I think my teachers must have had more sensible methods of presenting the material (I know many of them handed out syllabuses early in the term), and perhaps in the days of dittos and such they had other reasons not to overwhelm us with bits of paper. Oh, and of course we had proper textbooks — my daughter once showed me a stack of math notes and assignments that was literally over a foot high that she was supposed to keep so that she could review for the final. This was when she was in the Connected Math Project booklets that they took away after every unit.

    • August 5, 2010 at 10:47 am

      Sigh. I can sometimes get on board with the idea of marking kids down if they don’t have the stuff they need for class, but it’s got to be the stuff they actually need. Plus, that information has to be in a syllabus or course description somewhere — it shouldn’t be anything of a surprise.

      My problem with the planners is that they are both overkill and underkill — they tend to have too much of the wrong kinds of information and not enough of the right kind of information. Your point about the handouts describing more extensive assignments is a good one — the system needs to have a way of capturing those gracefully, because there’s nothing worse than looking at the planner, realizing the assignment is due in two days, and being unable to find the description of what it is you’re supposed to do.

      I am of mixed feelings about online systems. I like the fact that they get kids out of the business of tattling on themselves and provide a way for parents or people like me to check the accuracy of the kids’ reports about their homework and/or grades. But when teachers are unreliable about using them (as most are, in my experience), they can be worse than useless — they give a false sense of security and teach the kids that it’s okay to blame someone else for not remembering to put something up on the website, because the kid didn’t bother to listen or write it down when it was announced in class. I also strongly believe that we’re trying to teach kids skills for managing their complicated to-do lists in real life. And real life doesn’t give that kind of help. I think they function best as a fail-safe.

  9. Lisa Conrad
    August 5, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Wish this blog had been around years ago. Thankfully, my youngest is a senior in hs! The only suggestion our ever s.d. gave us was colored folders … year after year after year. They never worked. We literally begged for suggestions … “Have you tried colored folders,” they’d say?

    • August 5, 2010 at 10:54 am

      Colored folders, oh, man, that’s about the worst system there is! Even worse than spirals. Less labor, to be sure, but zero actual organization, and total crisis when you drop them.

      Okay, not totally. My life tends to have lots of distinct “projects” in it, where I have a pile of papers (e.g. testing protocols) which don’t need to be preserved in any particular order while I use them, and when I’m done with them, I can put the whole lot away in a file (or in some cases, just get rid of them completely) and not have to deal with them any more at all. I have some really durable *closable* pockets, which I’ve color-coded so that I can remember which of the four or five major projects on my agenda is which. They’re basically pile containment devices, and they work great for that purpose. I can grab one and take it with me wherever I’m going so that I can work when I get there. I have at times used multi-tab accordion folders, but they tend to get too bulky.

  10. Dorothy
    August 5, 2010 at 5:03 am

    Amen! And ditto Helen with a temperament not conducive to being organized, but I never had as much trouble as my son does now. He did much better than his peers in elementary school and even middle school, but now at 16 he’s really flaking out with dates and schedules and paperwork.

    My son’s friend who attends a private school said that in 6th grade, they got planners and were required to write everything in their planner *and* estimate how much time the work would take. This was enforced school wide just for 6th grade. Seems to me that one such year of coordinated group effort like this, along with the feedback kids would get with seeing how well they estimated how much time things took, would be quite useful. I wish my son had that skill. He tries to keep planners but has never developed the habit of maintaining it and reading it daily. (Until menopause, I was always awesome with keeping all my planning needs in my head, so I am no help nor a good role model.)

    It also seems that documenting how much time the student expected to spend, the amount of time it actually took and perhaps the amount of time the teacher expected it to take could be useful information when the student is having difficulty getting things done.

    • August 5, 2010 at 11:18 am

      I, too, have a temperament and a cognitive profile not conductive to being organized. I get easily bored with routines (which is part of *why* I find ways to organize my life into “projects”), and have a pretty crummy working memory. I’m really scatterbrained. So everything I’ve learned about organization has come from a lot of experimentation and a lot of failure.

      I *love* the intervention of asking kids to predict the time they’ll need ahead of time and then to compare it afterwards with the actual time spent. It’s something I recommend frequently. It really helps to get the kid to attend to the information — bring the predictions and the reality into conscious awareness, so that the reality can be used to provide feedback to inform future predictions.

  11. Catharine Alvarez
    August 5, 2010 at 5:58 am

    I’m feeling smug about homeschooling right now…

    • August 5, 2010 at 11:23 am

      Yes, you have the freedom to decide on your own organizational systems, which is much more of a real-life task. And I can’t see you falling into the trap of just doing everything for the kids forever and then being surprised when they don’t know how to do it for themselves as adolescents / young adults.

  12. bj
    August 6, 2010 at 4:54 am

    OK, you guys are scaring me. My rising fourth grader will be entering a system requiring binders (they rotate classes and are supposed to keep track of their schedule and work). It is a system that has failed for some children in the past (though I think they’re trying to do it right). Fortunately, my daughter is more organized than me, but I’m keeping an eye here to look for good organization habits.

  13. August 6, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    bj, don’t freak out. A single binder is a good place to start, not too complex. No system is right for all kids, but this is fine, and the demands of 4th grade are typically not so awful anyhow. Build the habits now while she’s young.

  14. Mariposa
    August 6, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I thought your description was funny. What’s up with the glue stick. Those are one-use when the child forgets to put the cover back on. 🙂

    Homeschooling or traditional schooling, both types of students can have issues with organization and need a system, but it might need to be individualized.

    • August 6, 2010 at 8:07 pm

      Absolutely. Not just “might,” but “need.” I think my main problem with the school supplies lists are that they are by their nature one-size-fits-all, and that they dictate too many parts of a system that don’t actually need to be dictated. Homeschooling means that you have freedom to (a) tailor the organizational demands of the system to the kid, and (b) experiment freely in terms of helping a kid figure out how to meet those demands. The risk in school is usually that they demand too much too soon without sufficient or appropriate or flexible enough guidance — the risk in homeschool is that parents may not sufficiently ramp up the expectations over time.

  15. August 7, 2010 at 6:15 am

    I used to think I was very organized. I had a professor who expressed to me that she wished there was a letter grade higher than “A” she could give me on account of me being the most organized person she’d ever met (I say smugly). Fast forward many years and two children later…my brain exploded!

    We homeschool, so the idea that someone else gathers together a list of “essential” school supplies makes my heart go pitter-pat. At this point I don’t care if it’s the second worst system on the planet, mine being the worst, I will buy a truckload of folders, staplers and glue sticks to make it be someone else’s fault when the grand system all falls apart! What do you recommend for someone who used to be very organized and whose coping skills are now nonexistent, and who gave birth to the most disorganized children genetically possible? Is there an app for that? I try very hard to get us all working toward a common organizational goal, but get overwhelmed easily and shut down.

    • August 9, 2010 at 9:07 am

      I think the main thing is to remember that we’re all always works-in-progress. The goal is not to design the one perfect “grand system” which will either succeed or fall apart. It’s to design a system, and to watch it to see where it works and where it needs revision. Also, remember that your personal needs will change over time, because you change, the demands of your environment change, and your resources change. Brains change over time. Part of what is shifting is that you’re trying to regulate not just yourself, but also your whole family — that adds many layers of complexity. And your use of the saying, “There’s an app for that,” says something about technological resources which weren’t available five years ago.

  16. August 7, 2010 at 10:42 am

    For those who don’t know me, I’m a HS chem teacher. I hand out class notes (typically 3-6 pages, with Cornell Notes margins) plus a worksheet pretty much every day. I always photocopy the packets double-sided, stapled, and 3-hole punched.

    I recommend a dedicated 3-ring binder for my class. I point out that all of their notes packets, worksheets, tests, etc. for the entire year will fill a 3″ binder, but a 1.5″ or 2″ binder is easier to deal with, and they can put their first semester’s papers in a box after the mid-term exam. (Of course, it’s important to make sure the box ends up somewhere they can find for the final.) I have shelves in my classroom where they can keep their binders, to reduce the weight in their backpacks. (Lab notebooks also stay in the classroom except when they need to take them home to do a write-up.)

    Each time we start a new topic, I tell them to add a new divider to their binders, and I tell them the name of the topic to label it with. The topic name appears in the header of every notes packet, worksheet, and test I hand out, to make it easy for them to figure out where it belongs in the notebook. I also give them an explicit place to write the date on the notes packets and worksheets, so they’ll know what order we studied the sub-topics in. I tell them not to bother fine-sorting into separate subsections for notes, homework and tests, because at some point they’ll get to a point where they’re behind in their filing, and that’s when the backpack fills up with loose papers. It’s much better to have a rough-sorted system they can keep up with than a complicated system they can’t.

    I started doing all this with my low-level students in mind, but it has proven tremendously helpful for my middle-of-the-bell-curve and honors students as well. Note also that I don’t *require* any particular organization system–if my students have something that works, by all means they should use it. However, for the ones who don’t already have something that works, they usually find my recommendations to be helpful.

    • August 7, 2010 at 11:07 am

      I should also mention that this kind of rough-sort-that-you-can-keep-up-with instead of an OCD-sort-that-sounds-great-but-everything-ends-up-in-the-“to-be-filed”-pile is useful as a life skill–my wife and I use pretty much the same system for our financial papers. We have hot files labeled “quarterly,” “financial,” and “tax”.

      Bills, pay stubs, etc. go in “quarterly”. At the end of the quarter, these get dumped into a hanging folder. We keep these for two years. (We have eight quarterly folders. When we file the papers at the end of a quarter, we dump the oldest quarterly folder into the recycle bin to make room.) The rationale is that if we ever need to find a particular paper, we’ll almost certainly know what quarter it’s from, and it takes less than one minute to go through all of the papers in one of the quarterly folders.

      Bank statements and other financial records go in “financial”. We use the same system, except that there are seven years of financial folders.

      Anything needed for income taxes goes in the Tax folder. After taxes are filed, a copy of the return along with all of the tax papers gets added to the appropriate year’s “financial” folder.

      • August 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

        Yes, I like those rough-sorts too, and use similar systems at home. I bet your students appreciate all of the help you’re giving… too bad most teachers don’t do these things! Of course, the potential downside to your making sure they do the stuff that needs to be done is that you’re not able to fade that support easily — do they learn to do these things on their own or do they learn to expect that teachers will do them for them?

    • bj
      August 9, 2010 at 3:59 am

      I liked this description. It seems to give the kids the structure to organize themselves.

      Does it work for most of your students? Or do you find that you have ones for whom this level of structure is insufficient to get them to organize themselves? And if so, what advice do you give them (and their families)?

      I think what I’m asking is that it seems like you’ve set up the situation properly, but then, what do you do about a kid, who, for example, ignores your instruction to put in a divider and label, or who gets easily distracted by something else (oh, for example, looking for a pencil they happen to put in the wrong pocket of their back pack) and doesn’t get it done?

      I’m personally rather disorganized. My kids are better than me, and have learned not to rely on me for organization, though their father is better. Because I’m not to be trusted to pick up after them, I work even harder to make sure they have the tools to be organized themselves, and to convey my own coping mechanisms (for example, anything important has to have a place for it, and you have to put it there).

      • August 9, 2010 at 9:35 am

        For classes with a lot of kids who have organizational difficulties, I periodically dedicate 10-20 minutes of a class to helping them organize their notebooks. For classes in which it’s only one or two kids, I offer time during lunch or after school.

        When I help the kids organize their notebooks, I have them sort their papers into piles by topic. Then, I have them put the topics into their notebooks, from oldest to newest, with a labeled divider in front of each. (If they don’t have dividers, I tear a bunch of manila folders in half and 3-hole punch the halves with the tabs.) If they forget the order I remind them, and if they’re organizing at home, they can look up the order on my moodle site (online).

        [Before any of you ask, yes, in addition to writing assignments on the white board, I do post them to the assignment calendar on the moodle site.]

  17. Mary MR
    August 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Oh, dear. School supplies. This should be my last year of dealing with teachers’ systems colliding — my youngest (S, 16 year old young man) is entering his senior year of high school. Oldest child (J, 19 year old young woman) worked very hard to please teachers and ended up with an aching back from toting all that stuff around. Super-organized, she remembered everything, also wrote it down, kept color-coded folders (e.g.,French folder was always blue through HS and college!)

    S, the high school senior, is another story altogether. Aimee’s description of last minute strewn or falling chaos is apt for S’s school supplies, texts, and notebooks.
    The Absolute Saving Graces for him:
    1)Teachers who post specific assignments online, be it an online syllabus or Blackboard. I dearly love each and every one of these teachers. Also, most teachers will answer emails about assignments in a timely fashion — it is so stipulated in S’s IAP (a private school version of a 504), but most teachers at this school and the public school were happy to answer all student’s questions via email.
    2) His cellphone. He can text classmates for assignments from teachers who don’t post information online. He can also discuss strategies and thoughts about said assignments.
    3) He goes to a private HS, so we have to buy his books anyway. As much as possible, I try to get a free or cheap second text to sit around at home waiting for him to forget the text in his locker at school until 5 minutes after the doors of the school are locked for the evening. Paperbackswap saves a lot of money here. Those texts, especially for English class (so many books to lose!) have been invaluable. Even the giant Norton anthologies can be found on Paperbackswap and usually they work even if they are an earlier edition.

    4) Many textbooks also have online copies available (note the login during the first weeks of class). Also, several times, google books or even Amazon’s “look inside” have provided him enough to prepare for the next day’s class.

    And you wouldn’t believe the number of colored pencils and crayons that lurk in drawers at our house. I gave two paper grocery sacks full to a preschool and I’m still finding more. Those items do accumulate over time!

    • August 9, 2010 at 10:37 am

      It sounds like what you’ve found are a lot of workarounds for when the main system doesn’t work well. Useful things, to be sure, but we should also try to improve the main system…

  18. Debra
    August 7, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    Loved this!! I have been attempting to take the list of required supplies we received from the school and create a more organized shopping list. The supply list is organized by subject, with about ten subjects listed, and there seems to have been no attempt by the teachers to coordinate their required supplies.

    Last year was my daughter’s first year back at school after having been homeschooled for three, she entered sixth grade. It took her well past the first nine week grading period to find an organizational method that worked for her. She received so many pink slips for not getting work turned in on time she earned a detention 😦 But I must say having to go up to the school one morning at 7am for that detention did motivate her to become more serious about organizing.

    One of the big problems, for her, was that the teachers make the assignments and then never remind the students to turn them in. The students are supposed to remember when and on the day the assignments are due to slip them into a box on the shelf at the side of the room. My daughter would forget and then not notice that the other students were putting their papers into the box! And even if she did she would realize the papers were still in her locker.

    What worked for her last year, and she is planning to use again this year, was to get one of the large zippered binders that has multiple slots for papers and folders as well as rings for paper and pencil pouch. She found that if she carried everything for every class, and paid more attention to when things were coming due, she rarely missed a deadline. There was no more having left the paper in the locker, which the teachers would not allow them to revisit once class started and would not accept papers late. I am not faulting the teachers, students do need to learn these things… it just seemed very harsh for a new kid to the school to get cut very little slack in the learning curve.

    Aimee, I am looking forward to your post on suggested organizational methods. I know my daughter’s method could use tweaking 😉 I wanted to add that one very nice thing about her very small private school is that they do have two five minute breaks, morning and afternoon, for the sole purpose of visiting their lockers to get the texts and supplies they need for the next several classes. Of course when she moves over to the high school I doubt she will have such a luxury.

  1. September 12, 2010 at 9:34 am

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