Ask the Experts

Q: How Do You Teach Independence Without Risking Failure?

Starting in 5th and 6th grade, students are expected to manage their own assignment calendars, remember to hand in homework independently, and generally begin flexing their executive functions. Kids with ADHD need extra support; here are a few systems that help build skills.

Q: “My son is 10 and changes classes several times a day. In that process, he forgets to turn in work or bring work home consistently. We have set up accommodations at school, but he needs to learn to be independent and not prompt-dependent. I struggle to know how to help him when I am not there. His teachers are very supportive and open to try anything, but the reality is that they have more students than just mine.” — Nursemamakde


Hi Nursemamakde:

Over the years, I’ve seen so many students struggle with trying to manage notebooks, folders, binders, etc., while also remembering to turn in work or bring the appropriate work home. Most students need a simple and streamlined system to organize their books and papers. Especially if they are only 10!

10 is a very young age (especially when ADHD is involved) to have the full responsibility of remembering to bring home the correct books, hand in homework, and stay on top of all that changing classes entails. At this young age, your son is still in need of prompts and reminders. That doesn’t mean we can’t put some organizing strategies in place that will streamline the process. It just means that he shouldn’t have to go it alone!

Here are some of my favorite strategies to try.

  1. Clear is king. If your son can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. It’s as simple as that! Make sure all his supplies — folders, dividers, even binders — are transparent. This will give him a natural way to “receive” reminders regarding next steps for his work.
  2. Keep it unfussy. If a process you already have in place takes multiple steps, your son is not going to follow it. Streamline supplies as best you can. One idea that works really well for students who like to keep each subject in a separate binder is the SAMSILL DUO Accordion Binder ALL In One. Each binder comes with a loose-leaf section for notes AND a 7-pocket accordion file for housing homework, tests, etc. And since it is available in multiple colors, your son can easily color code his classes.
  3. Post reminders. Tape notes that say “Did you hand in your homework today?” right on the notebook or binder for each of your son’s classes. Simple and effective. And it supports your son right where and when he needs it the most.
  4. Group materials by subject. In other words, ditch the homework folder. Those are dumping grounds where important assignments are easily misplaced. Math homework goes in the math folder. The science lab in the science binder. This method takes the remembering out of remembering.
  5. Create an “All-In-One” or Master Binder. A master binder houses EVERYTHING in one place. I recommend that students use a zippered binder that contains an accordion file as well, so no hole punching is required! Let your son customize it in a way that makes sense to him – A/B days, morning/afternoon classes, etc.

Set up the three-ring section by using clear two-sided dividers for each subject. Homework for each class goes right into the front of the dividers. This takes the guesswork out of where homework will live each night AND gives your son a visual reminder to turn it in the next day.

The central goal of a master system like this is to help your son become organized enough to get all of his papers home each night.

Good luck!

[Smart Homework Strategies for Teachers & Parents: A Free Handout]


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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Updated on August 15, 2019

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