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Essential Components of an Freshman Transition Program - Part 5 - Organizational Skills

This series of posts on the Essential Components of a Freshman Transition Program is based on ideas found in The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up by Scott Habeeb, Ray Moore, and Alan Seibert.

There are many different approaches that one can take to properly transition freshmen into the high school setting. Some schools are trying the academy approach. Because freshman academies have some inherent weaknesses many schools are going with the departmentalized approach. Schools transition freshmen on 4x4 block schedules, A/B days, 7 period days, 6 period days, and hybrid schedules. Transitioning freshmen occurs in small schools and large schools, urban schools and rural schools, schools that are struggling and schools that find benchmarks like AYP easy to reach.

The key to successfully transitioning freshmen lies in several essential components. While these components might look different in different schools/communities/classrooms, they all should be present in order to meet the needs of 9th graders.

Each blog post in this series of will focus on a specific example of those essential components.

Post 1 and Post 2 in this series both dealt with the topic of teaming teachers. Post 3 in this series dealt with the importance of Standardizing Expectations.  Post 4 dealt with using your standardized expectations to enhance your Classroom Leadership.  This post will focus on how a team of teachers can use "The Power of Four" discussed in the Standardizing Expectations post to help students develop organizational skills.

So, here's a question for you.  Your answer will determine whether or not it's worth you reading any more of this.  Do your freshmen have trouble with organizational skills?  If your answer is "No" then please do me a favor.  Please hire me to work at your school.  You obviously live in Utopia, and I want to be there!
The answer to the question of freshmen having trouble with organizational skills is definitely a "Yes".  While not all of them are unorganized, it sure seems like a lack of such skills really gets in the way of academic success.  From losing things to taking unorganized notes to forgetting about homework assignments, a lack of organizational skills is the norm for 15 year-olds.  Heck, it's the norm for a lot of adults I know!
So what can we do about it?  We can sit around and complain about kids these days.  We can talk about how back when we were kids we never lost anything, took great notes, and were super-organized.  While conversations like that are common in many faculty lounges, they do nothing to solve a problem.  The answer to the question of what we can do about it is that we can TEACH our students organizational skills and then require that they use them.
This is again where the Power of 4 - the power of a team - comes into play.  Lots of teachers try to teach their students how to be organized, but if everyone is teaching their students different skills it almost has the opposite effect.  How can students who have a hard time with organization to begin with possibly master 4-7 different organizational systems?
As you create your school's Freshman Transition Program, remember that organizational skills are an essential component.  Develop ways to work together as a team to teach your students these skills, to require that they be used, and to then reward students for doing so.  Here are a few ideas you might consider:
1. Cornell Note-Taking - I'm partial to this system, but the bottom-line is that you can actually teach your students how to take useful notes.  
2. Student Planners - Teach your students to keep their lives organized with an agenda book/planner.  I'm a fan of Premier Agendas.  They have great products and excellent professional development.
3. Team Notebook - Require your students to have one notebook for all teamed classes and then create a system for how they should set it up.
You can develop your own ways.  The main point here is that you need to teach your students to be organized.  Work together as a team and make this a priority.  It's essential.

For more information on teaming teachers to transition freshmen check out The Ninth Grade Opportunity: Transforming Schools from the Bottom Up.

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