The first week of October is “Get Organized Week” (at least on some calendars). This is a good theme for both students and teachers, as we head into mid-terms/semi-finals season. We’ve barely gotten warmed up for the school year, and already exam time is upon us.
Of course, the holidays will also arrive before we know it. We welcome those joyous events, but no one can deny that it’s a hectic time of year. If we get organized now, we can take a lot of stress out of the season, and reap the benefits in both productivity and results.
Organization Tips for Students
A schedule is an organized person’s #1 tool. Get out your calendar – whether it’s paper or digital – and start marking it up with key milestone dates. Key dates will include test days, assignment deadlines, holiday events, and other priorities. Never let this calendar be out of sight or out of mind – carry it with you for instant updates.
Once you’ve got a comprehensive schedule in hand, organize your “to-do items” around this calendar. These tips will help you formulate an organized plan of attack for making your deadlines and keeping your schedule under control:
1) Identify Individual Tasks – With your exam schedule plotted on the calendar, you’ll immediately see where your most intense study periods will fall. Now it’s time to build your “to-do list.”
The key to managing a demanding schedule is to break down every goal into individual steps. Items like “Study for Chem exam” or “Write History report” (or even “Do Christmas shopping”) are too broad in scope to be effective. Big, sweeping objectives will only overwhelm you, adding to your stress, rather than helping you get organized.
Make each to-do item as specific and manageable as you can. For example, got a lot to read? Divide the number of pages by the number of days in which the reading must get done. Then each day your to-do will be to read those pages. If your Chem test will cover 8 chemical processes (and your timeframe is 5 days) study 2 processes per night and leave the last night for practice and review.
Include everything you have to do on your Master Schedule. Even though your list will be long, each step will be doable, and you’ll have the satisfaction of checking items off as you make progress.
2) Collect Your Resources – It won’t do much good to sit down for a solid study period and then discover that the relevant book is at school. As you dissect each goal into individual tasks, identify all the resources you’ll need to accomplish each task, and make sure those resources are on-hand. Include resources of the human variety: for example, you may need to schedule review time with your teacher, or set up a study group, or get a tutor. Some assignments also require creative presentation formats. Assembling your list of necessary materials will help you get organized, right off the bat.
3) Budget Your Time Wisely – Make extra allowances for periods with heavy studying requirements. It may mean that some things you should do or would like to do simply have to go to the back-burner. Prioritize. Be realistic.
Don’t forget to build in time for pesky little things like haircuts or doctor’s appointments – they can throw off your whole schedule if you simply ignore them. Budget time for breaks, as well, so your mind doesn’t go numb while you study. Variety helps, too. If 30 minutes is the longest you can devote to Math before you feel brain-dead, switch to another subject for the next 30 minutes.
4) Don’t Forget to Sleep – Lack of sleep is a serious issue, especially for teens. Studies show you need extra sleep in your teen years, so make sure it’s a part of your Master Schedule. You can’t be your best YOU if you’re zoning out from lack of sleep.
5) Discipline Yes; Distraction No – We’re not pretending that balancing a hectic schedule is easy. Just like being physically fit, good organization takes discipline. Many worthwhile things do.
Once you get a schedule down in black and white, stick to it. Hone your ability to focus, and eliminate that big, bad focus-killer: distraction. Remove yourself from distracting environments and put away those evil weapons of distraction, like your phone. Be disciplined!
6) Holiday Planning Tips – Who says you can’t buy holiday gifts in March, or October? During the holiday season, our worst stress occurs when we put everything off until the last minute. Throughout the year, if you see something awesome that your mom or best friend would love, just buy it. When the mad holiday rush hits, you’ll be thrilled to have that perfect gift already stashed away in your closet.
All your holiday efforts will be more enjoyable if you get organized and plan ahead. If you like to decorate or make homemade crafts, start outlining your plan – and your material list – now. Same advice goes for planning a party. If you want to lose weight, start that now, too – don’t wait until after Thanksgiving and hope to meet your goal by New Year’s Eve.
7) Enjoy the Season – One of the best things you can do for the holiday season is simply revel in it. Try to regain the sense of magic you felt as a little kid. Usually you’ll find that simplifying your life at both exam time and holiday time is one of the best ways to make the most of each day. Planning ahead leaves more time for enjoyment, too!
For additional tips, plus a list of useful tech tools for time management, see our earlier blog.
Organization Tips for Educators
The tips that apply to students at this busy mid-term season are useful for teachers as well. Here’s a summary of the advice we gave to students in the section above:
- Create a detailed schedule/calendar, and keep it with you at all times
- Dissect big tasks and objectives into specific individual “to-do items”
- Budget time wisely – prioritize and be realistic
- Start on projects as early as possible – don’t procrastinate
- Identify all needed resources – make a list and collect materials early
- Remove distractions and stick to your schedule
- Don’t forget to sleep!
While your students may be scrambling before mid-term exams, your biggest workload will hit afterwards, when you have to grade all those tests. Multiple choice tests are quick and easy to grade, and demonstrate the students’ ability to retain the facts you’ve been teaching. However, you also want them to demonstrate the ability to apply those facts to real-world scenarios, and hopefully exercise some creativity and individual flair. The problem is, tests like that could take weeks to grade.
Consider assigning mid-term projects in which teams of students devise real-world applications, and then present them verbally to the whole class. You can begin your grading process right on the spot, as they present.
Organizational Tools for Teachers
Fortunately, when it comes to getting organized, educators now have technology on their side. Here is a brief list of top tools to explore:
Engrade, from McGraw Hill
Engrade combines learning management systems (LMS) and assessment solutions into one complete resource for educators. Connecting assessments and curriculum, Engrade tailors instructional content to student comprehension, delivering a truly personalized learning experience.
Planboard, a part of Chalk.com’s suite of productivity tools
Planboard makes it simple to get organized and reduce your classroom prep time. Individual blocks of time show all your activities and lessons, for each class period. Accessible from anywhere, this tool helps you plan lessons, align to curriculum sets, and manage your schedule. As you add standards to lessons, Planboard keeps track of your progress, so you have a record of which standards still need to be covered. Best of all, this tool is free for individual teachers.
Formative, to monitor and assess student progress in real-time
Formative is an online tool that lets you monitor the students as they complete worksheets, assignments, and assessments. The tool has auto-grade capabilities, or lets you give feedback in real-time, as the work is in progress. Track student growth over time and see where your students are struggling.
NearPod, highly recommended in educational articles and surveys
Nearpod provides a host of engaging, pre-made, fully-interactive lessons developed by subject matter experts for all grade levels. This tool allows teachers to import lessons from any file type and begin adding interactive elements, web-links, or video snippets. Educators can then synchronize their prepared lessons to all student devices, casting the lesson simultaneously to each student, and monitoring their progress throughout.
Holiday Planning for Teachers
Again, the same recommendations we gave to students will be helpful to you:
- Start planning, shopping (or dieting) now
- Simplify your life wherever you can
- Let yourself enjoy the holidays
These can be difficult times for teachers, when our students start to get antsy, dreaming ahead to the Thanksgiving or winter breaks. Start working now on some creative lesson plans that will help your students celebrate the season, while gaining important knowledge at the same time.
One recommended tactic is to load the students up with assignments in the weeks before the holidays, motivating them with the reward of a homework-free holiday break. That dangled carrot may be enough to keep them on-track.
More tips for keeping your students focused and engaged prior to the holidays can be found in our blog: Beat the Mid Semester Hump.
Other Resources for Educators