Students with EDF are notorious for losing their belongings or necessary homework materials. All too often, however, we mistakenly attribute their behavior to lack of motivation. When you realize that they are also losing their most valued possessions, too, you may start to wonder about whether the problem is really motivational or if there is a neurocognitive problem.
As a quick diagnostic screening tool, look in the student's backpack. Go on, I dare you! Now you, of course, being an organized teacher, may have sent notes home asking parents to clean out their young child's bookbag each week. Or if your students are older, you've reminded the students to do that -- and to clean out their locker. But it never seems to happen, right? Take that as a diagnostic sign that your student needs major help with strategies and routines for being organized.
If your young student is always losing pencils, pens, or other supplies, don't berate the student. Ask the parents to send in an extra stash of supplies that you can keep in the closet so the student can help himself to his own supplies when he needs them without having to go around trying to borrow supplies or interrupting the lesson. And if the parents don't send them in, well, it may be that your note never got delivered due to disorganization -- or maybe the child is a 2nd generation disorganized soul and the parents are just as disorganized as the child. In that case, you can set up the stash and let children who lose supplies know where they can go find the extras.
And finally -- and no matter how much Prozac you have to take to steel yourself for this -- schedule a weekly time when your young students will clean out their desks and clean out their backpacks -- and lockers. Students with EDF will get quickly overwhelmed. If you let them put things off even a few days, the job may become too immense for them.
Elsewhere in this section of the web site, I provide a screening tool or survey you can use to send home with all your students to find out from the students' parents their perceptions of their children's organizational abilities.
Students with EDF tend to have major problems associated with homework, which is why you will also find on this site a homework hassles survey for you to send to home to parents. One of the most obvious obstacales to homework completion is the frustrating reality that despite what are often the best of intentions, the assignment or the materials do not make it home.
"But I know I put it in my (folder, backpack) before I left school" is a common report.
Somewhere, there is a huge bus terminal for yellow school buses that are filled to the roof with all of the assignments and papers that never made it home or if they made it home, never made it back to school.
That said, an informed teacher takes steps to help students obtain necessary assignments and materials if they realize they have lost them. Telling students to have the phone number of another student (or other students) may work well for the child or teen who only occasionally has a problem, but it's not a good solution for the disorganized child who may be reluctant to become a pest to peers by calling them every day for the assignment.
Some teachers have gotten very creative about how to provide support for assignments or materials. Certainly, there is the use of the Internet for posting the homework assignments on the teacher's web site, and students can be told that they can find daily assignments (and long-term assignments) on the web site. Some teachers, if their classroom is on the first floor of the building, have taken to taping a copy of the assignment to the window so that the student who comes back to school can stand outside and read the assignment to see what they are supposed to do.
Assuming that the student brings the necessary assignment and materials home and actually completes the assignment, there is always a good possibility that the assignment never gets turned in. The student may search and search his bookpack, where he knows he put it, but not find it. It, too, is in that fantastical school bus somewhere, with all of the other EDF students' papers, signed parental permission forms, signed report cards, and lots of fascinating things.
If the student tends to lose important papers by the time she gets to school, think creatively about how the student can get the assignment to you on time (assuming it's been done). In some cases, I've had students use email to send their teachers their assignments. In other cases, I've had students use their family's personal fax machine to fax their homework back to the school when they've completed the assignment. I still ask the student to bring in the original homework and try to turn it in normally, but their "backup" is that they have taken responsibility for getting it to the school before class. I do not encourage the parents to take on this responsibility -- what I am doing is giving the students an alternative way for them to meet their responsibilities. Yes,. sometimes it may be necessary to give students an accommodation such as "no penalty for lateness," but if we are trying to prepare them for life after school, the reality is that there frequently is a penalty for lateness -- we have to meet our work deadlines or we may lose our job, we have to pay our taxes on time or we may pay a penalty. Hence, whenever possible, I try to downplay the "no penalty for lateness" if the work is done, and focus on how to successfully turn it in so that the student gets credit for their hard work.