Teaching Organizational Skills to Promote Academic Achievement in Behaviorally Challenged Students

By Anderson, Darlene H.; Munk, Jo Ann H. et al. | Teaching Exceptional Children, March/April 2008 | Go to article overview
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Teaching Organizational Skills to Promote Academic Achievement in Behaviorally Challenged Students


Anderson, Darlene H., Munk, Jo Ann H., Young, K. Richard, Conley, Laura, Caldarella, Paul, Teaching Exceptional Children


Can organizational skills instruction (OSI) help middle school students at risk behaviorally and academically? In this study, students who received train ing in self-monitoring of assignments were able to accurately monitor their academic performance and improved their grades in academic classes.

Organizational difficulties are major obstacles for many students with learning and behavior problems (Minskoff & Allsopp, 2003). These students often neglect to separate notebooks into various subject areas, forget to bring necessary items to class, and stuff assignments randomly into their book bags and pockets. Students' disorganization, including their inability to keep track of assignments and turn them in on time, can contribute to low grades and academic failure, particularly beginning in secondary school when teacher expectations are greater and supervision of students tends to be more limited than during the elementary years.

Students with learning challenges may not acquire essential skills unless they are provided with systematic direct instruction (Minskoff & Allsopp, 2003); youth who fail to apply organizational skills may not have had the opportunity to acquire them through an explicit instructional approach (Bos & Vaughn, 2006). This oversight places struggling students at increased risk for unsatisfactory or failing grades and tends to heighten misperceptions of their academic performance in relation to that of their more successful peers (Young, West, Smith & Morgan, 1991).

Organizational Skills Instruction

Organizational skills are fundamental to school success, enabling students to manage their time and materials productively and take charge of their own academic learning. Being organized includes making "to-do" lists, prioritizing, and setting goals-all prerequisites to developing essential study skills (Bos & Vaughn, 2006; Minskoff & Allsopp, 2003). Cognitive strategy training, including instruction in organizational skills, can help secondary school students learn critical content and attain desired academic outcomes (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2007).

Although OSI is student focused, both teaching method and classroom climate are critical to its success. Specifically, OSI is more likely to positively impact students when used in conjunction with techniques such as direct instruction, positive and preventive disciplinary practices, and a strength-based approach to teaching (Sugai & Horner, 1999; Young, Marchant, & Wilder, 2003). Although OSI incorporates a number of important elements, four components deserve particular mention: (a) its implementation within a schoolwide system of positive behavior support (PBS; Lewis & Sugai, 1999); (b) an emphasis on positive reinforcement (Kauffman, Mostert, Trent, & Pullen, 2006); (c) daily data collection (Alberto & Troutman, 2006); and (d) individualized adult support (Nesselrodt & Alger, 2005).

Schoolwide Positive Behavior Support

Differing student perceptions, along with unclear views of teacher and administrator expectations, can create confusion and chaos within the school environment. A viable way for teachers and administrators to deal effectively with varying levels of social awareness among students is to implement a schoolwide PBS program. Common expectations, a common language, and a similar set of experiences among all school staff and students are mainstays of comprehensive PBS. In the schoolwide model, common experiences relate to specific teacher behaviors such as encouraging the appropriate use of social skills, directly teaching behavioral expectations, and rewarding prosocial behavior (Young & Marchant, 2002).

Schoolwide PBS additionally involves implementing empirically validated intervention at varying levels of intensity (Lewis & Sugai, 1999). Universal or schoolwide interventions target 80% to 90% of students, teach schoolwide rules and expectations, and introduce strategies to keep problem behavior from increasing (Scott et al.

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