Teacher Talk: Disorganization Can Work for a Child


Q. It is beyond belief how messy my middle schooler’s backpack is. I have tried to give him organizing hints, but he just keeps shoving all his schoolwork in the bag – even his neatly done homework. How can I help him get organized?
— For Organization

A. Everyone has different standards of neatness. Some students have perfectly organized notebooks with every paper in the right place. Others, like your son, just jam paper after paper in their backpacks. Most students are probably somewhere in the middle.

If your son is doing well in school and seems to be able to find papers and other school materials without too much trouble, give up on trying to organize him. Disorganization is working for him, so he is not going to be committed to changing.

There is one thing that you can do to minimize the problem of the overstuffed backpack. Before he starts his homework each day, insist that he find the papers and books that he needs in the backpack and dump the rest into a specific bin or box in the house. In this way, he’ll start each day with an empty backpack except for material being returned to school.

When the box or bin is full, he can either sort through the papers and find those he wants to keep, or simply throw everything out. You may wish to date a few and put them in a folder or album, as they will be a good record of how he is progressing in school.

Q. Is there a test that I can give my child at home to see if he is gifted?
— Want to Know

A. It is best not to test a child before he or she is at least 4-1/2 years of age, and it is also best to let a professional who is used to working with gifted children do the testing to ensure that you have accurate results. Comparing your child to other children the same age should give a good idea if your child is showing signs of giftedness.

What makes identification of gifted children so difficult is that not all gifted children act the same way. Keep in mind that there are many ways that children can be gifted. If you decide not to have your child privately tested and wait until the child reaches school, your school district will typically test for giftedness using either an IQ test or an achievement test.

Q. My son is in the seventh grade and has just started a new school. He is having a difficult time adjusting to the amount of homework because he works at a very slow pace. Even his teachers comment on how slow he does his work in school. I am beginning to worry that he has a learning disability. How long should I expect him to need an adjustment period?
— Worried

A. The adjustment period is over. Keep in mind that the workload in seventh and eighth grade does start to pick up, so if he has poor study skills or is not reading on grade level, this will cause him to take longer to do his work.

There is a red flag here. Both you and his teachers notice that your son is doing his work slowly. Everyone needs to find out why. Observe him at home. Does he plan how to tackle his homework? Are some subjects giving him more trouble? Is he using his time wisely?

Ask his guidance counselor to arrange for a meeting with all his teachers to talk about how slow your child works in school. At the meeting, find out if this is a problem in each class, and work with the teachers to pinpoint exactly what the problem is and how it can be resolved.

Schools are no longer rushing to test children for learning disabilities. Now they are trying out other interventions first to see if they work.