In this think piece, Charlotte Broadhurst from Wirral Grammar School for Boys attempts to improve the organisational skills of year 6 students.
Last year as part of my role as assistant head of year 7 and I was tasked with improving the organization of a group of 6 students. These students were receiving many negative behaviour points (pink academic reprimands) due to no homework or missing books or equipment. This was leading to around half of this group becoming disruptive in lessons. Being disorganized for lessons meant that the student was being disciplined right at the beginning of the lesson. The negative start to the lesson meant that some students were then continuing to make poor behaviour choices throughout the lesson. This created a cycle of behaviour that was detrimental to the students’ education as well as impacting the education of the students in the class as well. Since disruptive students interrupt the flow of the lesson and dealing with the negative behaviours take up time during the lesson to deal with; this impacts the teacher’s ability to teach effectively.
Although using academic behaviour reports can be beneficial, they must be used correctly and, in this instance, I wanted to try and understand why the students were being disorganized first. I held a focus group with the students to discuss their general wellbeing; attitude to school and their pink academic reprimand reports. My initial findings from this were; the students didn’t feel that they were doing well academically, if they forgot their book or homework it made them not want to try in the lesson, they all struggled accessing the online homework app.
To begin with I decided to address their technology issues. All students admitted to not being able to access the homework application due to a lack of technology at home or not being technologically literate due to a lack of technology at home. We were meeting twice a week and in the first meeting I reset their log on for the homework app so that they can use it but also gave them little notebooks that they will use to log their homework and due dates themselves.
When we met every Monday and Thursday, we reviewed their homework for the week and organised a homework timetable for them. As a group we had discussions about the impact that being organised was having on their attitude to lessons. They encouraged each other when they did well and reminded each other to do work during the meetings. We discussed the importance of having high expectations for ourselves and what that means. As a group the students came up with a list of factors that can impact their attitude to school:
- Having the correct equipment for every lesson
- Completing homework to a good standard for the deadline
- Actively participating in every lesson
- Having excellent presentation in books
- Helping peers if they are struggling
- Being honest with teachers about the understanding of a topic
Having the list gave the students clear targets that they were trying to achieve this week. At the end of the 6-week period I held another recorded focus group with them to discuss their progress.
After the first focus group the students were positive about using their homework diaries to try and become more organised. They agreed that writing the homework and the deadlines down and keeping the notebook with them would develop their organisational skills because they were more accountable for the homework tracking. Additionally, we arranged to meet twice a week at a break time to discuss their organisational record and share tips on upholding their expectations. Some of the students admitted that they were less likely to make positive behaviour choices in lessons if they had forgotten a homework or a book due to the teacher ‘already being mad’. They all agreed that if they were more prepared for lessons it would improve their behaviour throughout the rest of the lesson.
After the first two weeks the difference in their organisation was clear. All 6 students had handed in most of their homework and they all had remembered all their equipment for each lesson over the two weeks. By the end of the 6-week period the students were only receiving one or two pink reprimands between them each week. At this point we had the next recorded focus group. In this meeting they all expressed that they were extremely proud of themselves and this was an excellent incentive to keep going. This made it evident that these students needed a different way of tracking their homework, as the app did not work for them. This shows that it is important to understand that a lack of technology or technology literacy can severely impact a student’s organisation and therefore their behaviour in lessons. All of the students except for one had been making positive behaviour choices in the lessons and they agreed that being better prepared for lessons made them want to try harder and make more progress in the lessons. Furthermore, completing the homework had increased their understanding of topic in the lesson so that they felt that they could contribute more to the lessons and therefore felt more confident.
Originally, I wanted to compare their data from the end of the Christmas term with their data from the end of the summer term to see if their improved organisational skills had impacted their academic achievement. However, due to COVID-19, we did not carry out end of year exams so therefore I could not compare this. This said, the home-learning that they carried out added an extra dimension to the project. I found that these students worked well at home due to the fact that all of their equipment was in one place and a few of them were provided with a device from school. I continued to check in with these 6 students over the time that we had at home to ensure that they were sticking to their school timetable so that they could complete the work in a timely manner and in reasonable chunks. This allowed them to prioritise their tasks each day.
Overall, the project was a success as the students increased their confidence over the period by improving their organisation. We are now starting to bring in the use of homework diaries to other students who are struggling with homework deadlines.
This year I am carrying out a similar project with a larger cohort of Year 9 students. In our school Year 9 is when we bridge between KS3 and KS4 and it is important that they understand what having high expectations means in terms of attainment and effort. In this project I will work with the students to understand how to prioritise their work via a homework plan which could then develop into a revision plan. The project that I carried out last year clearly demonstrated that if the students are more prepared it improves their confidence and raises their self-esteem in school. Therefore, I hope to develop the student’s organisational skills in terms of revision at home and therefore raise their self-esteem this year.