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3 Savvy Strategies To Organize Your Disorganized Student

Hey, mom… just so you know, I’ve got a test on Friday I’m gonna fail.” My sixth-grader has barely stepped through the front door when he utters this. He is an excellent student so my head is spinning. “What do you mean fail? You’ve got three more days to study?” But he is already grinding his perfectly straight teeth, scowling as he announces, “I can’t do it.” Still calm, I unsuccessfully try to appeal to his reason. Within seconds, I am shouting, “Then I guess you’ll be grounded for a month!” Sound familiar?

Disorganization woes

What my son was actually communicating after school that day was, “I feel distressed, mom. I have no idea how to get organized for this test.” Unfortunately, like so many parents, I let myself grow overly emotional and failed to truly hear his fear and concern.

Organizing the Disorganized Child
by Martin Kutscher and Marcella Moran provides a helpful guide for explaining in plain English how disorganized habits may interfere with school success and create chaos within the home. The following issues addressed in the book are particularly relevant to helping your child develop healthier habits to achieve more.

1. Understand their procrastination.
According to Organizing the Disorganized Child, kids often adopt an ‘I’ll get to it later’ habit and put off school projects or studying for several reasons. Sometimes they simply have a poor concept of time. Sometimes they have poor memory for how procrastinating has failed them in the past. And sometimes they are simply sidetracked and unable to resist temptation to do something more appealing.

Kutscher and Moran remind parents that most often such issues are “the fault of the undeveloped brain, not the child” and urge parents not to yell or punish.

Instead, stay positive, offer support and help them break larger tasks into chunks. They offer these tips to get organized:


  • Write down assignments in a planner.
  • Ask the teacher or a buddy to double-check their planner to be sure it is correct.
  • Place all materials touched that day into a take-home section of a folder.
  • Mark a calendar with completion dates for step in preparing for a project.
  • Put completed work in a ‘Take to School’ section of a folder.
  • Weekly purge the backpack and folders of papers no longer needed.

2. Teach them to question everything.
The authors of this guide believe in addition to good note-taking and study skills, the key to your child’s education is questioning everything. Teaching your child to ask the following questions will enhance your child’s learning:

  • What did the teacher just say?
  • What did I just read?
  • Why is that so? Is it true?
  • Where have I seen information like this before?
  • How is this different from material I’ve previously learned?
  • How can I summarize this in as few words as possible?
  • How can I visualize this in pictures or flowcharts?
  • What else do I need to learn about this?
  • What questions about this are likely to be on the test?
  • Why is this important to me and the rest of the world?
  • So what?

3. Test-taking smarts. All students can use a refresher for how to best manage time on a test, and the following strategies are recommended by Kutscher and Moran:

  • Turn over the sheet and jot down keywords, dates, formulas and phrases you memorized.
  • Look over the entire test quickly to anticipate what’s coming up.

Read directions carefully. Underline keywords of the directions:

  • Answer easy questions first.
  • Place a question mark next to answers you guess on.
  • Sometimes the answer to one question is contained somewhere on the test.
  • Sometimes you may be able to get help or clues from the teacher, i.e. “Can you rephrase the question?”
  • If you have leftover time, check your answers and scan for careless mistakes. Only change an answer when you’re certain the new response is correct.
  • If unsure, guess.

The authors remind parents, “We can’t completely fix everything overnight. We can, though, expect continued progress over a mountainous terrain toward an ultimately successful future.”

Michele Ranard, M.Ed., has a husband, two children and a master’s in counseling.

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