The issue: Today, Michael:

  • Left his science textbook at home;
  • Couldn’t complete his English assignment because he didn’t bring the novel home;
  • Forgot that he had a math quiz;
  • Saved his history paper on the hard drive of his home computer and can’t access it from school;
  • Lost the assignment rubric for Spanish class;
  • Can’t find the paper that had the teacher’s feedback and grade on his music project.

Michael is in the tenth grade. He is an affable young man, is good at sports, and gets mostly Bs in his classes. He pays reasonably good attention in class and gets most of his work in on time.  However, he is not very consistent on formative assessments and does not do well on exams. Overall, he’s getting by just fine, but it is abundantly clear to all of his teachers, that he could be doing much better.  Furthermore, when he’s pressed, Michael himself will admit that there is room for improvement.

Michael’s backpack is busting at the seams. One of the three zippers is broken, and the other two are always partly open. There are books, folders, notebooks, and loose leaves of paper visible. The papers are in a variety of states of dishevelment, and his teachers look on in horror when they hand him an assignment sheet that gets stuffed into this black hole of disarray.

There appear to be two main problems with his performance at school: first, he’s not always sure where everything is: his assignments, his schedule, his books and his work.  This is not only a point of frustration for his teachers, but is also frustrating to Michael. He wishes his teachers would get off his back about not having his book in class, but he also gets annoyed when he knows he has done something, but no matter how much digging he does in his backpack, he cannot unearth it.

He would like to stay more organized, but it’s too much trouble.  There are so many books, so many different folders and pieces of paper that he needs to keep track of.  Which books and folders does he need to take home, and which does he need to take to school?  It’s always a rush in the morning, and there seems to be so much to remember and check, and this is especially difficult when his mother is yelling at him to hurry up.

However, there is only a certain amount of effort that Michael is willing to put into keeping himself organized.  His teachers often give him worksheets and handouts right at the end of class when he is itching to get out of the door.  Often, he has already put his binder away in his backpack and it’s too much trouble to get it out, find the right place, unclip the binder, insert the paper, re-clip it, and try to stuff it back into the pack.  It’s much quicker just to stuff the paper loose into the backpack.

Sometimes, the teachers also forget to tell him about the homework before the bell has gone.  He tries to listen, but unless they specifically ask him to do so, he doesn’t usually write it down: too much trouble.  He might forget what he has heard, but sometimes he can find out from classmates later that evening on Facebook.

So, he’s not organized, and this is affecting not only his grade, but his participation in class and ultimately his learning.

Second, there is a more worrying issue: he’s not that motivated.  Sure, he’ll do what he needs to do to pass his classes, keep his teachers off his back, and avoid long ‘talks’ with his parents about his future.  But beyond that, he can’t really be bothered: he’s not really interested in what he’s asked to do, and when he does something, he doesn’t have the motivation to go beyond the minimum.

To his teachers, Michael gives a variety of reasons why he hasn’t given his all to a particular assignment: he can’t see how this is useful or how he’ll ever need it; or that he didn’t work that hard because he isn’t any good at X and can’t get an A anyway.  Perhaps, also, Michael doesn’t work that hard because he knows that the only person who is ever going to see the fruits of his labors is the teacher.

Big picture: Michael is both not fulfilling his potential and not making use of many learning opportunities at school and there are two reasons for this: he finds it too much trouble to really stay organized, and he only cares enough about the work he is doing to put in a minimal effort.

The following chapters will address these two global issues – organization and motivation – and provide solutions for parents and teachers to help sons, daughters, and students to make the most of their gifts and opportunities.
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Beyond the Paperless Classroom by David Doherty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.