Ask the Experts

Disorganization Hurts My Student’s Performance: How Can I Help?

Forgetfulness. Difficulty starting assignments. These challenges are related to ADHD brain chemistry. Help your students overcome executive function deficits with this external reminder system.

Q: I have a lovely fifth grader who has a good grasp on academics. He knows his math facts and does well on tests. He has big challenges turning in completed homework, or leaving books in his locker when he should have them in class. He doesn’t always bring home all of the materials to complete an assignment. I don’t have time to teach him organization during a busy day in a class of 24 students. What would you recommend?

The three primary academic challenges you mention are diagnostic characteristics of attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) or symptoms of executive function deficits: disorganization, forgetting books, and difficulty starting and finishing work. Any time a student’s academic challenge is related to brain chemistry, it is best to use an external reminder since his brain’s internal reminder system is impaired.

Educate your student by helping him understand why he forgets and has trouble finishing work. Say, “It’s harder for students with ADHD to remember books and assignments, or to start and finish homework. I know you want to remember these responsibilities. Here are some things you can do.” Then give him a couple of tips from the following suggestions.

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If you haven’t already, enlist parental help so Mom and Dad are doing their part to help at home.

Remembering to Take Books Home

  • Post a checklist on his locker door: “Take algebra book home four days a week.”
  • Set an alarm reminder on his phone to take his book home.
  • Write on the palm of his hand, “Take book home.”
  • Suggest he choose a friend to meet him at his locker to check that he takes home books and assignments.

Remembering Assignments

  • Take a picture of the assignment on the board with his phone.
  • Use free software, like, to send a message to both parent and student on their phones.

Remembering to Bring Books and Assignments Back to School

  • Parents should make certain that books and completed assignments are placed back in the book bag each evening before the student goes to bed.
  • Ask parents to set up a “launch pad” near the exit door of their home. Book bag, gym clothes, and musical instruments should be placed there the night before.

[Free Resource: Proven Homework Help for Kids with ADHD]

Forgetting to Turn in Homework

  • Appoint row captains who collect completed work at the beginning of class and double check that assignments are written down at the end of class.
  • Let him choose one or two friends who sit near him to remind him to turn in completed work.

Starting and Finishing Homework

  • Ask student/parent to report how long homework takes to complete and report to you the next day. Children with ADHD have no sense of time, so homework feels like it will take forever and they give up. If it takes longer than 30 minutes, he may have slow processing speed. If the student has slow reading and writing skills, shortened assignments will be in order.

Remembering to Bring Books to Class

  • Until an intervention is in place to ensure that he brings his book to class each day, consider a compromise. Allow him to leave his book in the classroom and  let him keep a book at home for homework.

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