So long sweet summer. It’s almost as if overnight the back-to-school clothing sales have popped up and the school notifications, like class placements and supply lists, have made their way into homes.
Even if you’re a parent who finds the laundry list of items needed for your child’s new school year tedious (they need how many glue sticks?!), there’s still something deeply satisfying to helping them start a new school year organized and poised for success.
New clothes and haircut. Check.
Color-coded and labeled folders. 24 pre-sharpened [Ticonderoga] #2 pencil. Thick and thin tipped, low-odor dry erase markers. Check. Check. And Check!
Plan to make this “the year” you and your child stay organized. Check!
Just like after the new year when we make our own resolutions, you make back-to-school resolutions with your child, with the best of intentions. Whether it’s that they get that homework done first thing after school or to help keep your child organized, it always proves to be easier said than done.
While the idea that organization leads to academic success may seem like a no-brainer, the science behind the impact of organization and organizational methods on student achievement has been widely studied –and has proven that being organized really does make for a more successful student.
Why disorganization impedes learning
In a 2008 study, teachers at three separate public schools analyzed possible reasons behind the low grades of students in grades 3-12. In all of the cases, the root of the [students’] problems – late work, unpreparedness, lax attitudes – related to the students’ organizational methods, or lack thereof. There was a direct correlation to the disorganization inside students’ desks, lockers, binders, book bags and pencil pouches and their success and grades.
The study further noted that when any organizational intervention was taken with the low achieving students, the students’ and their grades greatly benefited.
“Of all the tools, [keeping] the binder [organized] was the most effective because it accomplishes such basic necessities for order: students had a definite place for homework, they could find returned assignments to review for tests, and they had paper with them for note taking.”
Like the binder, organization acts as a prerequisite for student success.
“Being organized crosses all studies for education and then into all life situations. Directly teaching organizational skills [at home and in-school] aids students for their current task [school] while preparing them for their latter tasks [the workforce].
An organized backpack translates into an organized brain
Nicole Berg, a learning resource specialist at Flora Vista Elementary School in Encinitas, Calif., specializes in literacy instruction and if you ask her colleagues, organizational skills as well.
To Berg, keeping herself and her students organized helps her do her job better and helps her students learn more effectively.
As a teacher, Berg supports students who may need extra intervention within their own classrooms, which means daily, she’s sometimes working in multiple classrooms and with students of varying ages and learning abilities.
“I practice what I preach, and I talk to my students about being disorganized and unprepared as having an empty cup in class. I encourage my students daily to come to class with their cups full.”
Berg defines having a “full cup” as having all the tools you need and showing expected behaviors in class.
“A lot of the students I work with have learning disabilities and they can get easily overwhelmed and anxious. When everyone comes to class with a ‘full cup’ – for example, sitting down for math class and pulling out the day’s ‘tools’ (i.e. homework from the night before, a pencil and highlighters), being able to easily locate these things helps all students feel prepared, secure and ready to learn.”
According to Berg, being organized is much more than just having a “full cup,” though. Similar to the findings in the aforementioned study, organizational skills are a prerequisite in learning.
“Something as simple as following directions requires good organizational skills,” explains Berg. “It’s about focusing on what is being asked and then executing how you’re going to do it. Following directions requires mental organization.”
Especially in her literacy-specific work, Berg sees her students using organizational skills when they’re first learning to read.
“We all have a mental filing cabinet. Take students who are learning to read, for example – they have the sounds of letters stored in their mental filing cabinet. When we start working with sight words, it’s the same idea. I have a game I play with my students where we match sounds with images. A student who struggles with organization may have a harder time with accessing that information in their mental filing cabinet than someone whose mental organization is sharper.”
A lack of organization may make learning more difficult but it’s easy to get back on track. Berg suggests picking a reset day for organization, and sticking to it regardless of the students’ state of organization.
“Things will inevitably start to get disheveled. By having a day, every week, or two weeks, depending on the need, helps parents and teachers keep their students on track. Even if there’s not a real need to get re-organized, it just helps to take stock of what students have (supplies, papers, tasks) and what students need, to ensure they’re in the best possible mindset to learn effectively.
Aubree Kammler is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. She is the mother to a one-year old son – together they’re exploring the world one wobbly step at a time.