Middle Sch Homework Probs - How to Teach Organization?

Updated on March 08, 2010
A.B. asks from Charlotte, NC
10 answers

I've been reading other posts about homework probs http://www.mamapedia.com/questions/16262700850911182849
http://www.mamapedia.com/questions/18155724183575789569 They've made me stop and reconsider my son's situation. (Thanks, moms!) Someone mentioned "executive function disorder" - something I was vaguely aware of, so I'll need to do some reading about that since it's raising a red flag. There were also comments about ADD/ADHD, and about teaching our kids study and organizational skills.

What happens if despite years of trying to help my son learn to become organized, nothing has worked? I used to be fairly anal, so I thought perhaps it was just a personality/style clash, but now that he's in middle school, the huge consequences of his lack of planning are looming. How do I tell if it's "just" because he's an 11 yo, bright, creative youngster, or if something more is going on?

I don't know *how* to teach him to get organized because nothing I've tried has worked. I was a very organized student in college, but due to chronic medical difficulties, I just don't have the energy it requires to constantly monitor him/his homework. His teachers so far haven't been a real help - even daily homework/agenda checks don't happen with all of them, and many don't do email.

I'm pretty middle-of-the-road in most things: "This is just part of a phase; It will get better; I don't want to shove my son, a definite "square peg", into a round hole......." but I'm wondering if there's something I'm missing here.

Can't afford tutoring, martial arts, etc in case you were going to suggest that. He does go into school early for group tutoring, but it's not helping. He's had some one-on-one tutoring w/ one teacher, but she doesn't have time for that any longer, and she just wants me to "tell him to shape up". (Gee, why didn't I think of that? ;-) Testing in previous years indicated a high iq but low achievement, thought to be due to mostly behavior probs (low frustration tolerance). For you neuroscientists out there, he's well beyond his grade level in reading, but he can't spell, has poor handwriting, has always had trouble simply copying notes, hates to write. Very bright intellectually, doesn't fit in with his peers, immature socially. He's a great kid who is often difficult to live with.

He's had stints of counseling/therapy, "Handwriting Without Tears", OT for very mild sensory issues. We've tried yoga, meditation, relaxation methods, diet changes, and probably other things, but nothing ever "sticks". I really really (really!) don't want to try medication - it's fine for others, but we have a family history of serious reactions to medications.

You can probably tell by my rambling here that I'm having trouble becoming organized myself, though I do manage to keep a limited routine going (dinner, homework, bedtimes, chores, not in that order). Can anyone relate? Make some sense of my muddled descriptions? Provide url's to info that might help?

Many thanks. :-)

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So What Happened?

Thanks for all of the great ideas! To elaborate, he has been evaluated and used to have an IEP, mostly for behavioral concerns. He's improved so much behaviorally (and no longer needs pull-out testing, etc.) that they stopped his IEP last year. Even the evaluators were stumped that some specific learning disability didn't turn up. It just occurred to me that he went from being in small but non-challenging math classes to a large honors math class - his area of greatest difficulty this year even tho math is a strong suit. We do what many of you suggested - agendas, color-coded binders, he doesn't use a locker, etc. I admire your dedication to and love of your children - that you put them first is obvious. Thanks for sharing. Will try some of your ideas!

More Answers



answers from Pocatello on

Bless your heart. A couple thoughts for you...
From the things you describe about handwriting, etc., he would probably benefit from testing to make sure there isn't an underlying problem that experts can help him with. Your teachers, or counselors, should be able to refer you to someone. Some testing is done at school, some you have to go outside for. But then you can use the results to tailor his educational needs in the classroom.
Other thoughts...two of my kids are older than yours--almost 13, and 15. The "year of 11" was the most disorganized of all. Something magical happened at 12 where their rooms are pretty tidy, the locker is cleaned out (wow!), they remember to bring their books home for homework (again wow!), etc. I watched this shift with my first child, and hoped the second would follow suit and he did. They were quite unorganized until 7th grade/12-ish, then they matured in this area. So,,, maybe your child is in the storm before the calm.
The other thoughts... teachers aren't a lot of help with organizing in middle school, With the homework agenda, the assignments are on the board to copy during the whole period; some kids just don't take time to do it. You might start going in every Friday and a) help him clean out his locker, and b)find out from teachers if all assignments are in, and do make-up work over the weekend. A weekly follow-through will help him keep up and not get behind. If his locker is tidier than normal, or he has most of his things turned in, go directly to get an ice cream! :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Tough time for both of you! part of the problem is indeed the age IMHO. My daughter has always done well and hit middle school and is not turning things in. Our school, though, doesn't want parents to do these things for them; it's important that they start to learn how on their own. so I have had to bite my tongue and let her grades do what they will. they have improved and she is starting to get it. It's better for them to learn these lessons (and the consequences) now instead of high school or college (like me).
So what does he think? Can he do his own research to find something that he can try? I would let his teacher know what you are doing, though, so she doesn't freak out. It might get worse before it gets better. Just my 2 cents and good luck!

Oh, and check out your local Police Activities League. They often offer free or low cost programs (educational and athletic). My son is doing wrestling and they offer judo and other programs.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Austin on

In our daughters 6th grade this was the main focus of the first semester. EVERY student was to follow a protocol about staying organized.
Each child was given an academic agenda (August - May).

They were to have a different colored folder for each subject and label the cover and place their name and name of the teacher on the front (in case it was found it could be returned to the student). On the inside left flap they were to write "homework", on the right side "completed home work".

They were to have a plastic accordion file large enough to hold their papers for all subjects. Name placed on the front with the copy of the students schedule on the little pocket in the accordion file. They were to label (tab)each pocket with each subject.

In the agenda for each semester they were to write their schedule in the agenda with the subject, classroom and the teacher. There was a special section for this.

Each day as they walked into the classroom, homework was to be turned in the moment the student walked into the room( there was a homework box, just inside the door). The teacher did not remind them, they were to do this on their own. As they sat down, written on the board was the homework due for the next day they were to list this in the agenda including the subject. Each student was responsible for writing it down the minute they sat down. Any notes taken during the class were to be dated and placed on the "homework "side of the folder. Any school correspondence.. letters from the principal, teacher, etc.. was also placed on the homework side so the student would remember to give them to their parents. That evening as the homework was being completed they could refer to their notes.

Once the home work was completed they were to place the homework on the completed side. The notes were to be placed in the correct area of the accordion file. Any graded homework was to be placed in the accordion file under the subject.

In our daughters middle school, they did not use the lockers. The reason? Because this way the kids had all of their folders and files all with them at all times during the day. Copies of each subject text books were sent home at the beginning of the year and each classroom had their own set.

What our daughter discovered was at the end of 6th grade, she did not need a folder for each subject to stay organized, she did need the agenda and in college she still uses it as well as her laptop.. She liked the accordion file and continued to use this as an organizer all the way through high school.

Your son needs to figure out what works best for him. He needs to own his organization. You can guide him, but he needs to figure out the easiest way for him to not become over whelmed. collecting the information, hanging on to it, completing it and getting it back to the correct teacher. Let the teacher/teachers know you are working on this with him.

I would speak with the school counselor about how the school can help your son find a way to stay organized. Maybe a resource teacher or an "in school tutor" or mentor. If you feel you have really tried everything, DO consider all options, medications being one. Your son needs to be at his best to be able to do well in school. There is no shame in this. You have a chronic condition and I am assuming you take medication to get through the day? If your son is diagnosed as ADHD this will never change and he will never grow out of it. Adults with ADHD have to be able to work and be organized to keep a job. My husband is ADHD I have known him since he was 13 and we have now been married 30 years. It is still something he deals with on a daily bases. He has found coping skills, but it is exhausting.



answers from Phoenix on

Same problems with my son who is a bit younger and I'm just starting on the path of changing diet and trying to get him more organized. His teacher says he needs meds and I say NO WAY! I love him the way he is. Just cuz he isn't a great student doesn't mean he is a failure. We all need to recognize that every child is a unique individual w/ different talents. Not everyone is organized and great at school. Love him for who he is and quit trying so hard to push him into something he will never be (advise I need to keep telling myself!)



answers from Raleigh on

I can so relate. My son is highly functional autistic and we have struggled with this all his life. It's like his brain doesn't work that way. He has improved some, but still it's a struggle and he is now a senior in high school. With our pushing him and talking to the teachers a lot, he has never failed a grade and will hopefully graduate this year. We have spent lots of money on lots of therapies, tutors, diets, and even one mild medication. I wish you luck.



answers from Cleveland on

Here is what I learned in my study skills class - you can take it or leave it.

Purchase a binder for each class (get the kind that has a pocket in the front and back). Get a different color for each class and clearly label each binder for your son so he knows which binder is for each class. Put notebook paper in the binder. The student should divide the binders into sections - notes, homework, and projects (or into other topics as needed). (They make pocket dividers or just simple dividers for this purpose).

In the front pocket of the binder, put a piece of paper and keep a list of assignments for that class. If the student knows how much each assignment is worth, this is a good place to keep track the grade as well.

The student has to keep the binders in order, otherwise you just end up with empty notebooks, or notebooks with disorganized paper. But if you sit there at the end of each day and put the papers where you need to, and write your assignments in, and total up your points, you will know where you stand in each class, you will have an organized binder, and you will know what your homework is. They also sell hole punchers that fit into binders - you could buy one or buy one for each binder. That way he can punch his papers as he gets them and put them right into his binders.

This system really works - I learned it in 8th grade and used it in 8th grade through college.



answers from Raleigh on

As per the other responses, I would check to make sure there is no learning disability, dyslexia, eye sight issues, etc. Otherwise, it sounds like my son when he was in 4th grade. I was talking to his teacher one day about his behavior and the tug of war we went through daily about his homework. She asked me if I wanted him to fail now or in the 10th grade. She pointed out that as long as his doing his homework was more important to me than to him, he had all the power. I stopped getting involved in his homework right there and then and let him learn from natural and logical consequences. He loved playing baseball but knew homework had to come first. One day he was messing around until it was time for practice. After admitting he hadn't finished his homework, I made him call the coach and explain why he wouldn't be at practice. Because he missed practice, he sat on the bench for the next game. Last time that ever happened. He is now a junior and in the top 10% of his class and the starting pitcher for the school team. I still let him be in charge of his homework. Good luck.


answers from Austin on

There is a yahoo discussion group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dysgraphia/ for parents of kids that have handwriting difficulties(dysgraphia). There have been many good discussions there about how to help this type of kid get organized such as electronic planners.
I've also seen lots of advice online about kids who are really smart and have learning disabilities. You can google "twice exceptional" to find more info.

My son has Aspergers/ADHD, and the handwriting difficulties and poor social skills are very common with this. I also had one neurologist tell us that all of the problems, including ADHD, are just part of an executive function disorder.
My son is in 2nd grade. We tried the gluten-free diet, and it helped a tiny bit. Now he takes concerta, which I put off for years because of the side effects (stomach ache, no appetite, weight loss, mood swings). It has helped him focus at school. He also has a picture schedule, a spiral notebook planner which is just for practice this year, the teacher puts all papers in his folder for him and emails the homework to us, an aide with him most of the day, OT at school, and an afterschool social skills group.
As for organizing myself, I do much better when things are written down on a list or calendar- even for something as simple as remembering to put a dessert in my son's lunch. It just won't stick in my brain until I've written it down on my list every day for several months. I like flylady.net which is mostly about keeping your house clean but has a lot of tips for staying organized.

I forgot to add- that swimming(real swimming not just playing in the pool) is supposed to be a good exercise for kids with ADHD, etc.



answers from Boston on

here are a couple of addresses to check out. the second seems to be a really good one. we have a child here that had adhd and is on an I.E.P. ?(individualized education plan). he still isnt doing what he could do in school but is doing better then he use to. when he comes home i have him take out all his work from his bag or i help him do it. he does whatever chores he is supposed to do ( which isnt hardly anything), put away his stuff, like jacket, boots, hat, gloves etc etc. goes to the bathroom get a drink...whatever else he usually does to get out of homework then sits down at the table to do get to work. i tell him what subject he needs to start first that is on his list in the homework planner. i usually stay in the same room and pretend i am not paying attention,( but i really am), he usually comes to me with in the first few minutes and explains he doesnt understand it. i have him read me the directions that is on the paper,which helps him understand exactly what he needs to do. it is usually math he has a problem with. if he still doesnt understand i have him get out paper he can work his problem out on. btw his spelling is horrendouse too(sorry for the mispells,not enough caffiene yet) i will sit down with him and we will figure it out together. if he has reading or any writing assignments i have him do it himself. anything that i know he can spell i will make him erase and re-write it again. if he says he can't remember how to spell it i hand him his little dictionary and have him look it up. that usually helps him remember the spelling,(for a little while anyways). we had him on medications for a bit but they became a headache, he didnt want to go outside and do anything. he wanted the t.v., computer, or video games and movies all the time. if he couldnt do those he wanted to sleep. the doctor said it might be depression...but after he was off the medications for a month i got my little boy back..the one who loved to play sports and ride his bike. he also started gaining way to much weight. he is 11 yrs old and now weighs in at 100 lbs. so the doctor saw my point after that. but anyways. i feel that most schools push them through now and the teachers dont take the time they should like when i was in school...my 11 yr old is having hard time reading and what not but i make him sound everything out and he is also socially inmmature and hates writing. but each kid is entirely different in their learning and coping skills. if you can scan his homework page into the computer and work on it their it might help. his notes can be typed up on the computer easily enough...he can do himself with help from you if he needs it. it is trial and error really. i would check out the websites i listed above. see if they have any better ideas that might actually improve him school work. i wish you all the luck possible.



answers from Nashville on

Has he been tested for dyslexia? He souds exactly like my little sister. Every symptom you listed, she has. Of course, they could also be other things, lots of disabilities have similar symptoms. Organization is impossible for her without serious planning and dedication. She still can't spell, even though she is now graduated from college with her degree in special eductation. She had to work very very hard using every tool available to overcome her dyslexia, but it can be done if there is a diagnosis and some guidance.

If he hasn't been evaluated for learning disabilties and emotional/behavioral disorders, he needs to be, ASAP. Then you will know if there is something more going on here or not. I cannot believe a teacher would say he needs to shape up if they haven't fully evaluated him. You need to get in to see the school counselor soon and talk about getting him tested. If there is something going on, you will have resources available to you through the schools that you wouldn't have without a diagnoses. My sister was so happy when she was finally diagnosed. She said that now she knew what was going on, she felt so much better.

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