Getting Them Organised
By Sandy Russo (B Ed JP/P, SLD and IT Advisor, Mother and Aunt of 11, 14 and 17 year olds with SLD)
Students with learning difficulties need simple structured routines to help them become organised within their daily lives, both at home and at school. This article looks at how to combat the chaos and disorganisation caused by short-term memory problems with a combined effort by parents and teachers.
Below are a few of the questions and statements that I hear often from both parents and teachers, in my role as a specific learning difficulty and software advisor.
“Why can’t my students or my child be organised?”
“How can I help my students or my child be organised?”
“I can’t help my son/daughter with their homework. By the time I get home, the teachers are gone, the notes in the diary make no sense and I can’t ring up the school to get directions about the task in question.”
“I spend time trying to work out which child in her class might have the instructions I need so I can help her with her homework. During this time she is stressing out to the max. We are all getting stressed. What can we do to help her remember to bring home what she needs?”
“How can I get my child to get the right books to take to class, when I’m not there and the teachers are too busy to help them find their books for every lesson?”
How to combat disorganisation at home
It is important to realise that organisation and its management isn’t something that is just the role of the school. For organisation and routine to be effective, it needs to start in the home. You may have to change your lifestyle so that your child has daily schedules that they can follow. Many schools have set routines. Ask the teachers about the set routines in your child’s class and see if similar structured methods can be introduced in your home.
Routines in the home should include:-
- set meal times
- play times
- packing school bag and lunch
- house chores
- getting school clothes ready
- times to get up and go to bed
The daily routines and schedules can be organised and displayed through:-
- wall charts
- white boards
- star charts
Remember most students with learning difficulties need lists kept simple.
They are often visual learners, so organise the charts with colour coding to make them easy to follow.
It is important to work with your child’s teacher(s) to ensure your child has a home routine that includes completing their homework and packing the things needed for them to complete their school day successfully.
Children and adults who have learning difficulties often have problems with:-
- remembering which books they need to take to school or bring home
- drawers or lockers that become very messy with bits and pieces of paper, books, personal belongings
- remembering the events e.g. meetings, lessons, where they need special equipment
- copying instructions properly. The instructions are not detailed and they can’t match the keyword to the task that is associated with it
- They forget to bring their homework home or take it back to school.
The key to helping students and adults to get organised is by introducing repetitive routines and reducing the things they need to remember in their daily activities.
I often have parents contact SPELD with students in both primary and high school asking what we can do to help the students cope with disorganisation at school. In this instance, I ask the parents to consider what is in the drawer or locker of the child.
- Do they need as many books? (How many books come home half filled at the end of the year?)
- Can they reduce the number of books by using each end for a different subject?
- Can you colour code the books and lessons?
- By linking a lesson to a colour code you make it easier and quicker for a child to work out what needs to be taken with them to the lesson
- “English has been blocked as a blue subject. It’s 11 o’clock, English time, grab the blue folder from my locker.”
- Can you reduce the amount of loose paper in the drawer or locker?
- Teach the child to trim and stick loose worksheets into their workbook before they start writing on them
- Get them to keep their own glue stick and a pair of scissors in their pencil case for this purpose
For high school students, there are new challenges:-
- different teachers for each class
- different classrooms to find quickly as they move between lessons
- detention if they forget to bring their homework, books and stationery to class
- expectations that they shouldn’t need a teacher to help them become organised
One strategy that works for my children is for them to keep all their books at home on a table so that I can help supervise and match which books go into their school bag for a particular day’s lessons.
- when they come home they have a snack
- do their homework
- their books go straight back onto the table (after homework is completed)
- we help them file those loose instructional sheets they are given
- some students may need a folder that holds the equipment for each lesson so they just have to grab one or two colour coded folders at lesson changeovers
These are just suggestions. Talk to your child and their teacher(s) regularly and work out if the system is working. If not, work out why and revise the strategies you have used. You may need to make the routine easier. Remember, once these structured routines are set in place, the child will still need an adult’s supervision to ensure they carry out the tasks every day until they become automatic. It may take months of supervision and reminding and then each New Year will bring new challenges.
How to combat disorganisation in the classroom
Teachers can help students by:-
- introducing colour coding in their class timetables, book coverings, sections in folders and using A4 coloured wallets
- creating visual diaries and calendars with colour blocking for different subject areas and due dates for assignments
- making checklists that are ticked off throughout the day so that the student knows everything has been done
- providing time to check off the list
- allowing students to practise the routine each day
- creating special places for books to be stored so they are not mixed up in the student’s drawer or locker e.g. make a permanent space at the front of the class for each subject’s books and appoint monitors to hand out and collect the books
- providing fewer books to by including two subjects in the one book
- checking student diaries and ensuring that enough information has been included for a student to complete their homework
- writing ‘NONE’ in the diary if there is no homework set (to help parents!)
- making homework due dates the same day each week
- giving students you know have memory problems their homework list at the end of the day and having them show you they have placed the books needed in their bag
- breaking down large tasks into mini tasks that will be completed and handed up in stages
- Planning the homework and lesson requirements for the term in advance, and communicating with parents so they can plan the home routines around the time table (see Google Calendar)
Communication between school and home
There are many ways of sharing lesson requirements, homework due dates and dates and details of special events.
For the teacher to communicate with students and parents they have the choice of:-
- sending out a printed calendar that has been colour coded
- school diary
- using the mobile text messaging systems many schools now have
- emailing each parent and student with the assignment outlines due during the term
Another very effective way is by using a shared online calendar such as Google Calendar, which can be
- viewed from your school’s website
- transferred into teachers’, students’ and parents’ personal outlook calendars
- viewed on mobile phones, smart phones, i-phones and the internet, from anywhere including the school, home, office and library
Google Calendars can have attachments linked to them through Google Docs so that parents can have access to homework tasks and assignment outlines (that might otherwise have been left at school or not been copied properly into the student’s diary).
An online calendar provides a graphic that is viewed as a daily, weekly or a monthly calendar with the click of a tab
A shared calendar can help a school community:-
- be aware of key dates such as community events
- organise events around exams and tests
- time manage assignments and due dates
- gain important life skills by effectively learning how to time manage using a calandar
- open lines of communication between the home and school
- act as a backup for the school diary
Below is an example of a monthly view of a calendar that was used for year 8 students in 2009
A working example of a Google Calendar
The above calendars allows teachers and parents to see the scope and opportunities a visual online communication tool can provide in a school setting and at home.
Google Calendars are free and require some basic online skills to set up. If you are a teacher and would like to set up a Google Calendar for your students or for your school, follow instructions below to get you started on creating your own Google Calendar.
and the password might be year82009
Step 2: Sign in to your Google account
You would have received an email asking for verification. You will need to activate the account before you can use any features.
Your Google Account gives you access to Google Calendar and other Google services.
Once you have created your account you can sign in to manage it at anytime.
Or your account can be accessed on the top right hand corner of your Google homepage
Step 3. Create your calendar
When you log in to your account click on the calendar link you will now see under my products
You will then see your initial calendar.
Step 4. Personalise your calendar
The drop down arrow next to your calendar is where you can edit the settings
This is where you can change the
• Calendar colour
• Create events
• Manage sharing
• Manage notifications
Step 5. Create a new calendar for each new subject area
Click on create a calendar and follow the promts.
You can now start adding events to your calendar.
The calendar can be shared with chosen people by adding them to an email list and selecting their access options or to the general public.
My mum always says, “people with short-term memory problems blink and their memory banks clear.”
The lists, charts and visual cues we give students enable them to complete various tasks they would not have been able to do due to disorganisation.
Supplying a way of getting assignment information online can help parents ensure that the work is completed on time.
Practice within a well structured, repetitive routine, is the only way some students will ever be organised enough to get through the everyday tasks they will encounter for the rest of their lives.
As I know in my own life, making the time and adjustments to create such an environment in the home, when our lives are so busy can be challenging, but the hard work and effort do pay off. Students do learn how to organize themselves and appreciate that simple structured routines enable them to cope with the things they forget.
If you would like more information and instruction on how to implement a Google Calendar in your school setting or home, please contact Sandy Russo through the SPELD SA office on 8431 1655