Currently at my school, we have a color-coded binder system in place for all students in sixth through eighth grade. Click here for more information on how to set up a system of your own. For some students, this system isn't enough to stay organized. I sympathize because I am the exact same way. Staying organized is a constant struggle for me and having the appropriate materials isn't enough to actually keep me organized.
The strategy I am going to show you is called the "material dump" and I should warn you, it is NOT popular with most students. As much as students like the Project Game Plan, they typically dislike the material dump. I think this is a good reminder that struggling with executive functioning is a sensitive issue for many students. Organizing is hard and time consuming and it can be a challenge to be convinced that it's worth it. My steps today include not only how a student can organize their papers but how you as a teacher can deescalate the stress or frustration a student might feel when asked to organize their binder. Remember, executive functioning deficits are very real and students might be resistant to trying new strategies at first. Be sensitive to this but don't give up!
Resources: This executive functioning strategy comes to you from a book I really love and have had for years. Go and buy Where's My Stuff?: The Ultimate Teen Organization Guide this very minute! It's written for teenagers and uses catchy slogans and step by step directions. It's a must for any middle or high school learning specialist or general education teacher.
- Zipper Binder
- Color-coded folders with Avery labels
- Pencil pouch
- Table with tons of space
Where: Horseshoe table, any big table in the classroomHow To:
- Full class binder/desk clean-out time (great place to start)
- During transition or pack up time
- Before school
- After school
- Unstructured time
- Student's choice (you can start here to gain some student buy-in)
- Start with a joke. I like to take students into my office and have them pick out my desk. I tell them that my desk is the messiest one in the room (I have always shared a room with at least two other teachers) and ask them if they can find out my desk. They always can and it makes them laugh. My desk is something else. I tell them that I'm about to teach them an organization strategy that works. I know it works because I struggle with staying organized and it helps me to get my papers together.
- Have the student dump out every single item from the student's binder or desk. Yes, even items that are in folders. I'm also talking about the papers tucked into the back of the binder and those that are wedged in between the rings. EVERYTHING. Dump it. Some students find this hysterical and other students find this a bit nerve racking. Let them know that you'll be organizing this together and you won't let them misplace or lose any of their work.
- Start sorting papers into different piles. The first time you do this together, I like to take a sticky note and write the name of each pile and stick it somewhere on the table. Students will place the papers below the sticky note. The categories I use are the same as the titles on their folders. These typically are: Reading, Writing, Math, Science, Social Studies, Take Home. I have the student bring a recycling bin over to the table, as well.
- Have the student go through every single paper one at a time. Students should decide what category the paper goes in and if it's worth keeping. If it isn't, it goes in the recycling bin.
- With some students, they may need explicit instruction on what an item that should be kept looks like. An item should be kept if you say YES to one of the following questions:
- Are you working on this in class right now?
- Is it homework?
- Do you need to bring it home and show your parents?
- Is it a class note (some ways to tell are that notes will be typed, have vocabulary words, or are on a colorful sheet of paper)? I like to keep notes because this is information a student might need to come back to in order to complete a project or study for an assessment.
Next Level Ideas:
1. Independence. Have the student complete the process independently and check in only when they are finished creating their piles.
2. Reflect. Before organizing their work, give the student time to reflect.
- How does your binder look this week?
- What worked? What should you continue doing?
- What held you back? What can you do to complete your goal?
- Make a plan. What should you do next to make sure you can always find your work?
3. Fade out supports. Once the student has become more independent with sorting their papers and putting them back into folders, provide them with the time to do this and have them clean out their binders independently.