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Speaking from experience as a former teacher, I cannot stress enough the strong correlation between organization and academic success. Part of my first job involved initiating interventions with struggling students to assess root cause. I found that more often than not, the primary barriers between a student and success were simple organization and time management. Students I worked with would misplace homework assignments, forget due dates, and set unrealistic expectations for completion of long-term assignments. Setting up organizational supports at the beginning of the school year will help streamline your student's path to high achievement .
1. Corral those papers!
Many teachers nowadays will require that students have a binder for each class with a very prescriptive set of tabs for note keeping, handouts, etc. This system is meant to force students into strong organizational habits, and it could very well work for your student. However, most of the disorganized students I met were "minimalists." They didn't ascribe to the prescriptive guidelines set by their teachers who insisted that they carry a binder around for each class, and instead opted for something much worse. Most of the time, these students would carry around a 3 subject notebook with school papers randomly jammed into the first page they could find, inevitably losing homework and other important classwork from the time it took them to walk from English to Chemistry.
If your student sounds like the ones I worked with, the accordion folder is your best friend. Get a folder equipped with enough subdivisions to accommodate each core subject. It's also a good idea to assign one folder to homework so your student can place it in there as soon as it is assigned. For note-taking, you could get a notebook per class or a multi-subject notebook that's carried everywhere, avoiding locker visits during short passing periods.
2. Use a planner.
Planners are essential for writing down daily homework as well as due dates for long-term projects. Most teachers will do the part of breaking down larger projects into manageable chunks, but may give students more independence in this process the older they get. If a significant project like a paper is due on Friday, students need to make sure they factor in enough time throughout the week for pre-writing, drafting, revision, etc. If they wait until the night before, they will either submit a woefully sub-par product after pulling an all-nighter, or more likely, fail to turn it in on time or at all. An example planner for writing a simple paper might look like this:
The same rule applies when multiple large assignments are due on the same date. This is a common occurrence during final exams when a student likely has tests and papers due in every class. Ease the burden by spreading study sessions and project preparation over a several weeks.
3. Secure a study spot.
It's a well-known fact that habit breeds success. If your student has a specific place and time that he or she starts working on homework, it's likely that academic success will follow. This space could be a desk, the dining room table, or any other place where your student can spread out and quietly focus on work. Equip the space with a supply caddy like the one featured above so that your student has everything within arm's reach. The contents of this will vary based on your student's age, ranging from crayons and glue to protractors and scientific calculators.
4. Archive old papers.
Your accordion folder is going to get pretty full as time goes on, and not all of those documents will be relevant to ongoing projects. However, there may be some resources floating around in there that you want to hold onto long term (especially anything that may be covered on the final exam!) Store any important documents, such as those that explain key terms, grammar rules, mathematical formulas, etc. in a separate file throughout the year. Since skills build upon each other, these reference materials may come in handy later on.
Ultimately, academic success comes down to where to find things (assignments), how to do them (notes), and when they are due (use a planner!). It's been said that it takes 30 days to form a habit, so you can't expect success overnight. Be persistent with the method and support your student throughout the process until he or she becomes independent.