A child educated only at school is an uneducated child. This home instruction about which the poet, Santayana, is speaking, isn’t necessarily a lesson in math or reading. I believe if a child can become organized in middle school, his chances of being successful greatly increase. Middle-school teachers often have in excess of 150 students on their rosters, so realistically, they don’t have adequate time to be sure each student has reached a semblance of order. Parents can be such positive forces in this endeavor during these critical middle school years.
As a teacher attending parent conferences, I often witnessed this scenario. The student in question was asked to take out a particular assignment. He then frantically fumbled through a scary-looking backpack only to retrieve an empty binder and a daily planner used mainly to jot down his buddies’ phone numbers. The bewildered parent’s reaction, “I thought he was old enough now not to need my involvement.” Although this thinking is understandable, it’s not necessarily advisable…particularly at the beginning of the middle school experience. Yes, the ultimate goal is independence. However, a good deal of behavior modeling and repetition is required before the average child can develop organizational skills that will carry him through his academic years. Parents can be the stimulus in helping their children learn to correctly use what I believe are the most important supplies for this age group: 3-ring binders and the daily planner (called various names at different schools, but basically the vehicle for recording each day’s objectives and assignments). Sixth grade is generally the first year in which students come in contact with six or more unique teachers. It can be overwhelming. Organization takes pushing and prodding from parents and teachers alike, but keep in mind that habits will be formed now…good or bad.
The 3-Ring Binder: Purchase a couple of sturdy binders. Buying flimsier ones at the onset may save money, but you will invariably be back at the office supply store in a matter of months. Have you ever witnessed a teenager delving into his locker?! One binder for morning classes and one for afternoon classes often is the best solution. Be sure the rings are at least a couple inches in diameter. Have your son or daughter label each section. Teachers usually provide the binder tab titles. As your adolescent arrives home each day from school, go through all the papers in his backpack with him. Help him to find the appropriate tab under which to file each paper. What might seem surprisingly obvious to you may not be so apparent to your eleven or twelve year old. This will be time-consuming, even monotonous, at first, and you’ll no doubt encounter resistance. It’s important that it remain a ritual, however, until the skill is developed. Even after you have cut yourself loose of this intervention, check periodically until you’re sure the habit has developed. Middle-school students eventually figure out that it’s easier to file a paper in the correct spot than it is to root through the backpack later.
The Daily Planner: Schools often provide their own daily planner books. Read over the class objectives that your child has recorded there. That can spur valuable questions about what she’s learning. Go over the homework expectations. If your child says her homework is complete, actually look at it! Don’t be afraid to have her redo it if it’s careless or effortless. Show her how to highlight each homework assignment in the planner as it’s completed. This will evoke a sense of accomplishment. Provide a consequence if the planner is not brought home daily or a weekly reward if it is. As a teacher, I had a planner-check program in place; yet, realistically, I was aware that it was not foolproof. Nothing replaces the parent’s involvement. This one organizational device alone can play a big part in keeping you connected to what’s happening in your child’s academic instruction. Keep up the routine procedure of checking the planner for as long as it takes. Some children will assume the responsibility quickly, whereas others will need a longer period of prompting. Make it a practice to revisit the planner even when your child seems to be proficient on her own.
Particularly with resistant learners, rewards can go a long way as motivators. Involve your son or daughter in developing these rewards. Remember…they say that the main problem with teenagers and pre-teens is they’re just like their parents were at that age! Think back. Have patience and persistence. You’ll be glad you did when you see that sense of organization and responsibility spilling over into other aspects of your child’s life. Then, relax and give yourself a pat on the back!