Most educators believe that organization and study skills are important, but too often teachers emphasize academic content over teaching students to be organized and how to learn. Teachers may assume that students learned some basic study skills in the previous grades when often they did not. Even students who were taught these skills in early grades continue to need further instruction in organization and study skills as they progress through upper grade levels. When students enter middle or high school, the academic demands increase, the amount of homework and class papers grows, and daily schedules become more complex. Ideally, organization and study skills should be introduced in the elementary grades and continue throughout all grades.
Although all students benefit from instruction in organization and study skills, students with learning disabilities in particular need more direct, systematic instruction with a significant amount of modeling and support by teachers. Students with learning disabilities often are not able to "intuit" these skills on their own. In some cases, a major manifestation of their learning disability is a weakness in the ability to organize things, time, or information.
What are organization skills? Good instruction in this area includes teaching students how to manage their time and schedules, school materials and supplies, class and homework papers, daily and long-term assignments, and how to set up a study space. Students will be most successful in developing organization skills if they are provided with hands-on checklists, templates, calendars, assignment books and "how to" lists. They will also be more successful if teachers are able to communicate with parents about how they can support the use of organization skills at home.
For preschool children, parents and day car providers can teach children how to keep their toys and personal belongings organized. When children start school in the primary grades, they can be introduced to a basic routine for organizing their school materials and information that has to go back and forth from school to home. Beginning as early as second grade, children can be introduced to basic assignment books. They can also be shown how to use basic checklists to help them prepare for school each day. Primary grade children can also be taught how to use weekly and monthly calendars to organize their time.
Once students enter the intermediate and middle school grades, especially once they have more than one teacher during the school day, they should be taught how to organize a school binder/notebook that includes dividers by subject. The best situation for enhancing the development of organization skills is when a school-wide or grade-level routine for organizing notebooks and materials is promoted. As students move from teacher to teacher and progress from grade to grade, the application of organization skills is reinforced. This includes the selection and consistent use of a school-wide assignment/planning book.
The most important thing teachers can remember about organization is to never take for granted that students, especially those with learning disabilities, have developed even basic time management skills, homework planning routines, or systems for managing their materials.
What is study skills instruction? It means different things to educators. For this month's topic, we are using the term "study skills" to mean those skills and strategies that students can apply to access, learn, study, and remember important information in school. Study skills are those that make students become more "active" as they learn from reading and classroom discussions, and the benefits of learning study skills can be seen in all content areas. Study skills include strategies for organizing information, strengthening memory, preparing for tests, and writing about what is learned. At first, these skills must be taught and modeled by the teacher and significant guided practice must be provided. However, the eventual goal for study skills instruction is for students to learn how to independently apply the skills in all of their classes.
Who Should Teach Organization and Study Skills?
Special education teachers, tutors, reading teachers and others who focus specifically on skills instruction often take the lead in teaching organization and study skills. However, it is regular classroom teachers who can have the greatest impact on helping students develop these crucial skills to the point of independent application. Teachers do not have to take significant time from regular classroom instruction to teach these skills. In fact the time spent eventually saves time by facilitating the learning of content material and creating more effective techniques for test preparation. For example, a little time spent at the end of each class showing students how to write assignments in an assignment planner may prevent a number of time-consuming confrontations with disorganized students who tend to confuse of lose homework. Students will learn organization and study skills faster when everyone plays a role in the instruction and application of these skills.
Joan Sedita, M.Ed. is the director of Sedita Learning Strategies in Boxford, Massachusetts, a private consulting and teacher training service. Joan is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 30 years in the education field and has presented to thousands of teachers, parents, and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional organizations throughout the United States. Joan specializes in developing curriculum, teaching materials, and professional development in the following areas: reading, language arts, writing, study skills, and learning disabilities.