Disorganization and lack of organizational skills are the top complaints I hear from parents and educators so, why IS organization so difficult?

Teachers tell many stories about students who fail classes because they lack the organizational skills to keep track of their assignments.

Organizational SkillsSchool counselors and psychologists tell about the huge number of students referred to them for suspected learning disabilities, only to discover that a large percentage of these students simply lack organizational skills.

Parents are totally dismayed because they try to keep everything organized, but they aren’t at school to oversee organization, when it seems to matter most.


There are three main reasons students have trouble staying organized:

1. They have too much “stuff.”  Most students have 12 to 16 different folders and notebooks to keep track of across a whole lot of transitions: from home, in the car/bus, to school, in the locker, back into the book bag, into class, back to the locker, and then home again.  (Elementary students may only have a half dozen folders, but that’s still five more than they should have!)

2. Everything looks alike.  When those folders and notebooks are stacked in the locker or book bag, they all look the same!

3. Any time students are managing papers, they are in a hurry.  Whether they are rushing out of class at the end of an hour, rushing from their locker at the end of the day, or rushing to finish their homework at home, they are always in a hurry.  


Imagine having 12 to 16 different email accounts to maintain every day.  Imagine if you were expected to log into each account several times each day, respond to emails and retrieve old/sent emails at the snap of a finger?  It would be overwhelming to transition between them quickly.

This is what students deal with every day, managing so many different school supplies.  They have the added burden of managing these materials across several daily transitions.  Teachers have good intentions when they ask students to maintain a separate folder and notebook for their class; they think that separate supplies will make it easier for students to keep science papers organized in the science folder and math papers organized in the math folder.  

However, this traditional system is actually creating the problem.  The sheer volume of folders and notebooks (not to mention textbooks and workbooks) makes it hard for students to find the right ones, especially when they are in a hurry!  

As a result, students haphazardly throw papers the first place they can.  Later, they have no idea what they did with their papers.  Papers can be anywhere…


Rhonda’s teacher passed out homework to each student as they walked out of class this morning. Rhonda had a full stack of books in her arms and her bag was over her shoulder.  Her teacher placed the paper on top of her books as she raced off to her next class.  Rhonda didn’t notice the paper flying right out of her arms when the passing crowd in the hallway bumped into her.

When Ryan got his homework this afternoon, he folded and placed it neatly inside his notebook.  At his locker two hours later, Ryan looked at his notebook and thought, “I don’t need this for homework,” and put it back in his locker. When he got home to do that worksheet, he couldn’t remember where he putit.  He lost 45 minutes digging through his bag, searching inside all of his folders, books, and notebooks. Finally, he concluded that he didn’t have the assignment and couldn’t do it.

Gunner was rushing to catch his bus at the end of the day, when he stopped at his locker.  He knew he had math homework, so he grabbed what he thought was his math notebook.  But when he got home, he realized that he had actually grabbed his science notebook instead. 

Colleen finished up all of her homework at home, quickly!  “DONE!” she thought.  She excitedly jumped up and went off to watch TV.  When she got to school the next morning, her homework was still sitting where she left it the night before.

Dan was just as eager to finish his homework and hit the “Done!” button in his brain.  However, he remembered to toss his homework in his bag to be sure it got back to school the next day.  As he continued to clean up his work, he put a couple of textbooks back in his bag, too.  The next morning, he shoved his lunch into his bag on top of his books, and flung the bag over shoulder.  He has a lot of walking every morning between his front door at home, the bus stop, and the door of his first class at school.  By the time he looks for his homework paper in class, it’s been mashed to a pulp under his lunch and books.


The first step in the organizing process is to eliminate the unnecessary items filling the book bag.  This includes old papers, crusty lunches from two weeks ago, and anything else that is not strictly needed for school.  Then, develop a routine for maintaining order in the book bag.  Consider offering a small incentive to your child for cleaning it out daily.  (We’ll get further into that in Step 5).

Next, eliminate folders and notebooks.  You can do more than just make a dent!  It is possible to condense the mountain of folders and notebooks into ONE 1-inch or 1.5-inch binder.  Replace twopocket folders with poly binder pockets.  Replace spiral notebooks with loose-leaf notebook paper, organized behind each folder.  Now, students have only ONE tool for organization instead of 12 to 16.

Why is organization so toughSusan Kruger is the author of SOAR Study Skills; A Simple and Efficient System for Earning Better Grades in Less Time. Get Susan’s FREE Guide, Six Steps to Conquer the Chaos: How to Organize and Motivate Students for Success, at her website, studyskills.com.




Organizational Skills


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