The most common complaint of parents of middle school students (and by this I mean 5th to 8th grades) is the child’s organization skills. (I don’t teach K-4 and have limited experience with 9-12.) To combat this all too reasonable concern, at my first school we had a class called Study Skills, at two other schools it was the job of the students’ advisors to help with organization. (An advisor in a private school situation is generally a teacher who takes on a group of students with whom they meet once a week to check in. An advisor can also be an advocate for one of his or her little flock.) But I hear from all quarters that for many students of this age, organization goes out the window.
I’ve had over three conversations this week alone with parents, other teachers, and administrators about this issue. And the most common complaint? Not turning in the homework. And here is the amazing part to adults: often the work was done. It is astounding to an adult that a student would do all that work at home, and then lose it, ignore it, forget it, etc… But there it is, and it happens.
I find it difficult to believe that students who are bright, capable, happy, interested, and motivated can be this dumb. Something else is going on. I think we are looking at a cognitive hic-up that happens at the on-set of puberty. It seems to me that we are looking at a cognitive limitation attributed to age and hormones.
There are a few ways I have attempted to ameliorate this problem. 1) I don’t give homework unless it is absolutely necessary. Still, we write seven papers a year in 5th and 6th grade, so clearly we aren’t slacking. 2) Homework given is used immediately the next day. 3) Homework not brought in is done in class while the rest of class is having fun working with the homework that was finished. 4) Positive consequences happen for students and the whole class when work is turned in. 5) Students write the homework in planners, and I check them before students can leave for the day. 6) Time on task for homework is limited to 20 minutes per class per day. And yet, homework completion is spotty at best.
So, I’ve been beating my head on this topic for 16 years. I’d love to know if anyone is being successful with homework and organization. I’d love to know if there is any research that has been done concerning the cognitive ability of people this age and organization. And finally, I’d love to know if there is anything I should be doing differently.