It’s the beginning of another semester–and it’s not just a new semester for my students. I am also beginning another part-time load of graduate classes through the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, where I am currently working on a master’s degree in secondary education. I first signed up for this graduate degree as part of my Teach For America commitment, as we all needed to obtain provisional certification to teach in the state of Missouri; eventually, I started taking about six credits every semester (and nine credits over the summer) towards a higher degree. It has been an incredibly eye-opening experience to be a teacher and student simultaneously. However, I’ve begun to notice—more than ever before—how it’s no easier being a student than it is being a teacher. In fact, I realize that being a “good” student comes more naturally than I ever thought and that this skill, so to speak, may need to be more explicitly taught to my own students. Are my students conscious of how high-achieving students operate on a daily basis?
One of the most glaring issues I see just walking down the hallways at my school is just how many students are disorganized! Students will be carrying towers of books with random papers dangling precariously from every corner; their lockers will be endless pits of overdue library books, missing assignments, and stale Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. While I’m sure this condition is common among all adolescents in the United States, I think there is something to be said about making sure these students aren’t just being disorganized by “choice.” As a teacher, I feel that it is my responsibility as a role model to make sure my students know how to keep their folders organized and how to use a planner. I spent time last semester setting up individual class folders with a few of my students; I also take time during every class period to make sure they write their homework in their planners for the night. Writing homework in their planners, however, is just one piece of getting these kids more organized. I also need to teach them to check their planners as they pack up their lockers and when they are at home. Finally, getting my students organized isn’t just a one-time activity—it’s an ongoing process that needs to be reinforced and revamped over time.
I also notice that many students do not know what a teacher means when we say go home and “study” for a test or quiz. I know I need to do a better job demystifying what exactly “studying” is and how my students can do it effectively. If I think about how many of my students have a long history of struggling in school, I can’t assume that they know what kinds of studying works best for them. I know that when I was in college, I had to make flashcards for myself or use obscene amounts of highlighter to go over my notes. Now that I’ve graduated from college and am pursuing a graduate degree, I know that I still find myself wishing I could learn through osmosis; nevertheless, I can certainly use my own experiences and frustrations in trying to “study” for an exam and give my students more explicit instruction in what studying involves. I want to make it my goal to do more than just hand out a study guide and expect my students to go over it on their own. I want to find out more about what study habits will work for my individual students and try to talk with them individually.
While it’s no easy task to take on a disorganized student with poor study habits, I think it is well worth the effort—especially considering all that is at stake. By directly teaching our kids good study habits and organizational skills, we are setting them up for success far beyond the classroom. Furthermore, if we involve their parents and family members, we can develop a fully functional support system for a student. For example, at my school the seventh grade piloted a program called “AVID”—or Advancement through Individual Determination, and it is essentially a program designed to teach students study skills, organizational skills, and how to be a good citizen. I know one seventh grade teacher who is taking her AVID students’ organizational skills to a new level and is currently planning an end-of-year community service project. I think that my school is incredibly fortunate to have access to such a program that is not only teaching our students to be organized, but gives them opportunities to see how being organized is beneficial outside of school.
Our students have plenty of work ahead of them between figuring out how to improve their reading scores, their math abilities, and their knowledge in other core content areas. However, I sincerely believe that by concentrating our efforts in teaching study and organization skills, we teachers can truly impact our students’ achievement, both inside and outside of the classroom.
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