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How to Modify Your Teaching for Students With Low Organizational Skills

By: Kathleen Bulloch
Classrooms today have students with many special needs, and teachers are often directed to "modify as necessary." The following article takes the mystery out of modifying your teaching strategies with concrete examples that focus on students' organizational skills.

If the student has difficulty becoming interested, then try…

  • To tell stories which relate the lesson to peoples' lives
  • To establish relevancy and a purpose for learning by relating it to previous experiences
  • To provide an experience, such as a field trip, and then teaching the lesson
  • To reward the student often as the lesson begins
  • To shape approximations of desired behavior by providing praise, one-to-one conversation, or immediate feedback for correct answers
  • To read aloud a brief article or story to stimulate interest
  • To seat the student closer to teacher (distance affects interest)
  • To make a positive, personal comment every time the student shows any evidence of interest (i.e., sits in seat, has his/her book)

If the student has difficulty getting started, then try…

  • To give a cue to begin work
  • To give work in smaller amounts
  • To provide immediate feedback
  • To sequence work with easiest answers first
  • To provide all necessary materials
  • To introduce the assignment carefully so student knows the task expected
  • To provide time suggestions for each task
  • To check on progress often in first few minutes of work
  • To give clear directions
  • To give a checklist for each step of the task (e.g., the steps in a long division problem)
  • To use a peer or peer tutor to get student started

If the student has difficulty keeping track of materials or assignments, then try…

  • To require a notebook or using large envelopes for each subject
  • To check his/her notebook often
  • To keep extra supplies on hand
  • To give an assignment sheet to the student, other teachers, and/or parents
  • To write the assignment on board for the student to copy
  • To check and reinforce the student for recording the assignment
  • To require envelopes for big projects that have many separate parts
  • To give a reward (e.g., grade, points) for bringing a book, paper, and a pencil to class every day
  • To return corrected work promptly

If the student has difficulty staying on task, then try…

  • To reduce distractions
  • To increase reinforcements
  • To provide shortened tasks
  • To provide checklists
  • To reduce the amount of work
  • To provide peer tutors
  • To provide different activities during the class period
  • To provide a reward valued by student
  • To isolate the student or using a time out
  • To provide quiet alternatives for a short time
  • To provide a timer to set short periods of work

If the student has trouble completing tasks on time, then try…

  • To reduce the amount to be accomplished
  • To allow more time
  • To provide time cues
  • To write schedules
  • To ask for parental reinforcement
  • To suggest a calendar at home
  • To provide closure at points along the way
  • To provide positive feedback to other teachers using an "assignments completed" checklist or a "wall thermometer"

If the student has trouble working in groups, then try…

  • To provide direct instruction in group processes and providing interaction opportunities gradually
  • To provide the student with a responsibility or position of leadership
  • To prepare the group members to include and help the student
  • To utilize an aide or volunteer in class
  • To provide more structure by defining the task and listing the steps
  • To restate the goal, linking it to the required activities, and providing closure

If the student has trouble working independently, then try…

  • To assign a task at an appropriate level
  • To be certain the student can see an end to the task
  • To give precise directions
  • To lower the difficulty level
  • To shorten the assignment and gradually increasing the amount of work required
  • To reinforce the student for on-task behavior
  • To let the student see individual work as a sign of personal responsibility and growth rather than thinking the teacher just wants to "get rid of him"
  • To provide a variety of types of work within the assignment (e.g., making charts, maps, or flags; drawing pictures)
Kathleen L. Bulloch was a speech/language pathologist for the Riverside County Office of Education in Riverside, California. Portions of this article were adapted from The Mystery of Modifying: Creative Solutions, published by the Education Service Center.

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