Notebook? What Notebook?

“I just can’t understand why he loses his assignments!  I made him that beautiful notebook with all those folders and dividers; all he has to do is put his papers in there!”

I hear this at least two or three times every year, usually about now, because the first report cards have arrived.  There are two big problems with this line of reasoning:
1) It’s the PARENT’S notebook, not the student’s; he had no input on it, so he feels no need to use it, and
2) Not all of us are notebook people.

Notice the pronoun “us” in that last sentence.  When I was in junior and senior high, if a teacher said part of our grade would depend on the condition of our notebook at the end of the quarter, I knew I was toast.  It just took too much time for me to open the darned thing, find the right section, open the rings, place the paper in, close the rings, and close the notebook.  Today’s binders are even more complicated – they have to be unzipped first!  Let’s face it – some of us just aren’t Notebook People.

Cynthia Tobias, expert on learning styles, calls us “Piles and Files” people.  One look at my desk and you will see how much that applies to me.  But ask me for a paper that’s somewhere in that stack, and I can produce it pretty quickly; I know just how deeply it’s buried!

When students move from class to class, they can’t rely on the piles (though I did have a student who tried carrying around his pile of papers and digging through it to find the correct assignment – he wasn’t very successful).   They need a different kind of system to keep track of their handouts and assignments.   I have seen students find success with large, brightly-colored plastic folders, with plastic cartons, and even with a shallow cardboard box.  This year one of the 8th graders is using an old, brown, expandable file given to him by his dad.  It rests on the floor under his desk in his homeroom, and he carries it with him from class to class.  The other day when I needed a class schedule, he whipped one out of his file!

Before you rush out to buy your organizationally-challenged son or daughter a neon green folder or an expandable file, keep this in mind:  in order for him to buy into it, he has to be involved in buying it.  Don’t assume you know what’s best for him; even if you do, he’s not going to appreciate you pushing your own ideas.  Take him along and let him choose whatever appeals to him.   And don’t make the mistake of thinking all of his problems will be solved by whatever system he chooses; he will need to fall back and regroup multiple times before he finds something that works for him (a process that could take years).

If you’re one of the Notebook People, you have my admiration and appreciation.  My co-teacher is one of you, and I rely on him to keep track of papers that I fear I will lose.  Please don’t think of us – the Piles and Files crowd – as suffering from laziness.  We’re just wired differently, and in our minds we’re still organized, even when it doesn’t appear that way.

(And don’t even THINK about touching those piles!)

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