Falling Behind in School? Some Tips to Catch up and Become More Organized

By Cheryl Feuer Gedzelman, MA

Sam moped into the house with a glum look on his face. “What’s wrong?” his mother asked the usually cheerful 13 year old. “I have too much homework,” he complained, “and I still don’t understand the Math we did last month. I’ll never catch up!” Indeed, his grades had gradually diminished as he fell farther behind.The hopeless feeling of not being in control can prevent students from making the effort needed to jump back up. They most likely feel overwhelmed and stressed. Some students have always had difficulty organizing time, materials, and homework assignments. Others have difficulty reading, writing, and studying efficiently and effectively. For many students, good time management, organizational techniques, and solid study skills can help them regain control and may be the key to success.Sam, like most students, can greatly improve his predicament with the help of a parent, friend, or tutor. Have your child follow these guidelines, but let him be in control of study patterns and organizational techniques. It is important for each student to learn to organize his time and study habits in ways that work for him. The following tips can be modified for students of all ages.

Write Down a List

Adults are always writing down lists, and sometimes the lists themselves become misplaced. Keep a special small notebook for all lists. First, list your general goals.

Here is Sam’s list: Sam’s Goals
1. Catch up on Math – figure out inequalities and absolute value. Also learn those awful problems about 2 trains passing each other.
2. Hand in English assignment from last week.
3. Find a way so this week’s homework all gets done.
4. Find time for all this before or after baseball practice.
5. Organize papers so they don’t get lost.

OK, that is a list of general goals. It may be overwhelming, but it is usually a comfort to write them down. Now it is time to break the list down into parts. Does Sam have a homework notebook? Probably. Does he always write down all his homework in it? Maybe, maybe not. What about long term assignments, such as projects and major tests? How are they handled?

Keep a Calendar

Every student should have a homework notebook which travels between home and school. In addition, it is helpful to use a large desk calendar to display the month as a whole. The space for each day should be large enough to write down at least four comments. Copy assignments from the homework notebook to the calendar. Note the days of special events, when little homework can be done. Note any test or quiz as soon as the teacher announces its date. For each day in between the announcement and the test, list what you will study. Cramming at the last minute is not as effective as spacing out the studying. In addition, cramming is unlikely to result in long term retention, which is why it is useful to keep up with the material all along, before any test is announced. Do not forget to note due dates of long term projects along with which piece of the project you expect to accomplish each day. Jot down all homework assignments on the calendar. Capitalize, highlight, or use a different colored pen to write all due dates and test dates.

Sun
Mon
Tues
Wed
Thurs
Fri
Sat
6
7
8
9
10
11
12

Science study
pgs 4-12

Science Study pgs. 12-20


Math pg. 35

LA pg. 20

Science answer practice questions


Math pgs. 36

Basketball Game

Dinner with Dad

Science – review weak areas

Math pg. 37
LA pg. 23

SCIENCE TEST

Go to library for moon books.
Start reading

 

13
14
15
16
17
18
19

Take notes for moon project

 

 

More notes + outline
Math p.38

Essay on dogs

 

Start writing report

Review for Math test

 

Finish report & edit

Practice problems for Math test

 

MOON REPORT DUE

MATH TEST

VACATION  

Alternatively, use your homework assignment book in the same way as a calendar.

Sam’s Assignment Book
MONDAY, APRIL 7, 1997

MATH P.35
LA P.20
HISTORY
SCIENCE Study pp. 12-20
TEST FRIDAY!
BAND

Organize Your Papers

Every paper should be in its appropriate folder or notebook, never loose in a backpack. Using one folder strictly for homework and parent notices decreases their likelihood of becoming lost. Every quarter, clean out the notebooks. Save notes and tests that you may need for a midterm or final at home in labeled files.

Develop a Catching-Up List

List all the subjects that need catching up, whether it is an assignment that is overdue or something you just did not understand. For each subject, write down specifically what you need to do, when you will do it, and whether it requires someone’s help. How can you tackle the assignment? Who can help? Try to catch up on only one subject or assignment in a day.

Prepare a Daily Homework Schedule

Make sure your work space has all necessary supplies – paper, sharpened pencil, ruler, etc. This way there will be fewer excuses for interruptions. Work in a space away from distractions such as TV and visitors. Review all homework at the beginning of the homework session, and visualize what completing it will be like. Then ascertain which homework may need someone’s help, and schedule that assignment for a time when help will be available. Prioritize assignments. First complete the ones due tomorrow, and then begin the longer term projects.

Sam should adjust these times to reflect the amount of time expected for each subject. One subject may take longer than expected or there may be a delay due to a phone call. (Of course, Sam should keep the phone call short on a busy homework night.) If Sam has not finished his Math homework by 8:30, he could tape the TV show. If he does not have time for the overdue English assignment, perhaps he can reschedule it for the weekend. The schedule is not written in stone, but is a guide. It is better to have a plan you can modify than to have no plan at all.
Is Homework Taking Too Long? Can study skills be improved?

Some students take hours and hours to do homework that other students do in one hour. If you think your child spends too much time on homework, talk to her teacher to find out how much time the homework is expected to take. Then ask other parents how long their children take to do homework. Good study skills should reduce homework time. A student can read more efficiently by focusing on main ideas, visualizing, skimming and scanning. Organizing ideas for writing is difficult for many students. Writing process techniques such as brainstorming, outlining, organizing paragraphs, using more colorful language, revising, and editing are helpful. Studying for a Math test should include not simply reading over the chapter, but practicing problems, particularly those in perceived weak areas, and checking the answers.

Can Sam catch up? Yes! He needs to figure out what he needs to do, write it down, create and follow a schedule, and learn study skills that will improve his knowledge of the subject matter and simultaneously decrease the time required for daily homework. He may need help from a parent or tutor. He definitely needs to be motivated to put in the time and effort required to catch up and improve his grades.

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