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Classroom Organizational Skills: Stepping Stones to Success

By Sarah Weidman
Classroom Organizational Skills: Stepping Stones to Success

The 21st-century classroom is innovative, highly creative, and to prepare students for an unknown future, is shifting towards a more collaborative atmosphere. While these characteristics are essential, they alone do not suffice to properly foster a student’s success. Today, we are faced with the challenge of adding to the mix the acquisition of foundational and organizational skills that are equally important to our students’ development. In this era, helping our neuro-diverse and over-stimulated students to hone these particular skills is especially vital. Previous generations did not face the sort of distractions that our students have to contend with today. Instant gratification is at the tips of our students’ fingers, which leads to shorter attention spans and a growing unease among students when they do not experience immediate success in their endeavors. Therefore, more now than ever, we need to explicitly teach that success consists of a series of foundational steps in the categories of organization, time management, and studying. Putting time and energy into both teaching and learning these skills is necessary in order for our students to become successful global citizens. Allow me to illustrate this by way of example. We don’t expect students to know their math facts right away; we teach them how to make their way conceptually from the concrete to the abstract—a process that starts by positing what numbers are and what various operations mean in different contexts. We then build in time for practicing and memorizing. When students are first learning math, teachers often facilitate this encounter by introducing manipulatives. The more students integrate their different senses, the more prepared they are to take the concept from the concrete to comprehend the abstract, building a foundation for the next skill to be taught. In contrast, we expect kids to know how to keep a tidy backpack, pay attention in class, plan their assignments accordingly, turn their homework in on time, study for tests, and research big projects without ever explicit demonstrating how one goes about such tasks. Success is determined by student’s ability to master each of these skills. If students are intelligent but don’t turn in a homework assignment, their work is demerited. However, to reach mastery of these executive functioning skills, students need practice both in the classroom and at home, just as with any other assignment. Students that see a failed grade as a stepping stone to success are more confident and successful. Educators can teach habits that will allow students to become more forward-thinking and resilient adults when faced with challenging circumstances. What specific habits are needed in order for students to be successful? The ability to organize, plan, focus, and study. Each of these skills require step-by-step breakdown, modeling, and ample practice in the context of a student’s daily academic life. Instead of dedicating a separate study skills class to each component, these should be integrated into the student’s daily routine in the classroom throughout the year, every year. Just as basic arithmetic is needed to solve more complex problems, these habits for success should build off one another, becoming more complex in relation to the developmental readiness of each student. I have met many adults whose success has been impeded because of unrealistic expectations and a failure to understand how to set and reach their goals. Their rhetoric is much like what I hear from students, who are fond of citing circumstances beyond their control. As educators, it is our job to empower students to become lifelong learners and achieve whatever goal they wish. To do so, we need to teach them the foundational steps and skillset to give form to the content they hope to offer to the world. Sarah Weidman, a former classroom teacher, is now an Academic Life Coach.

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