StudySkills Articles

Student Organization: Why the SOAR® Binder Is Optimized for the Brain

I recently received an email from a mom, Beth R., concerned about organization for her middle school son.

She believes in our streamlined system, but she’s concerned that her son won’t feel comfortable using our system. He won’t want to “stand out” amongst his peers. Beth’s concerns are fairly common for a student using the Binder System on his/her own.

However, when schools are adopting the Binder System “school-wide,” it’s not the students that have concerns; it’s the teachers! When everyone is adopting the Binder, the students are excited; they innately understand the simplicity of the system. Teachers, on the other hand, are concerned about how their systems will work with it. They are scared it won’t work.

So, I prepared this video to share with: students, parents, teachers, and administrators.  It explains why simplicity is biologically essential for student organization. It also illustrates how the SOAR® Binder delivers on simplicity.

If you prefer to read, scroll below for an article covering some of the points addressed in the video.

If you believe in this streamlined organizing approach like Beth R. does, share this video with teachers and administrators at your school, or your child’s school! Don’t forget to share it with your child…maybe he will be inspired to be a quiet leader at school.

Here’s to empowering our students for success!

Signature - Susan

-Susan Kruger


Simplicity Is NOT Optional; It’s Essential for Organization!

I am a former struggling student who became a successful student, classroom teacher, 1-1 tutor, and now a study skills expert of 20+ years.

Through all the tears, years, and classroom experience, I consistently observe the #1 bottleneck for students is organization! If students can effectively organize and track their notes and assignments, it’s almost impossible to fail a class.

An effective organization system puts students in control. It settles anxiety. It frees up critically valuable brain chemicals needed to engage in the primary function of school… learning.

“Simplicity” is NOT optional for organization. It is essential for brain biology. The prefrontal cortex is the region of the brain responsible for managing organization and organizing tasks. This section is the “weakest link” in our brain.

Every single turn-of-a-page adds a burden to the prefrontal cortex; imagine how much greater burden is placed on the brain with every additional supply students must manage?

There is a very common belief among teachers… “If each of my students has a separate folder and notebook for MY class, they will be more organized.”

This belief is not only false, it creates the very problem teachers are desperate to control!

The more supplies students must manage, the more students will lose things. There are variety of physics and mathematical laws that govern the reasons for this fact.

sloppy notebooks, student organization

Students typically have 12-18 different folders and notebooks to track at one time. That’s quite a lot of supplies… and they all look the same when stacked in a locker or sandwiched in a backpack!

But, let’s focus on the practical stuff… like the fact that every folder and notebook looks the same when they are sandwiched in a backpack or stacked in a locker. It is far too easy to get to class with the wrong folder and/or notebook. It’s also far too easy to leave a trail of supplies at home, when doing homework.  When you’ve packed six notebooks in your backpack after completing homework, it’s really hard to notice that Notebook #7 is not there.

Let’s also consider the sheer number of transitions students must manage. They start their day at home, ride in a car/bus, then arrive at school. So far, not terribly different from adults. But, when they get to school, they have to manage all of their supplies between a locker and 6-8 different classrooms! This would drive us crazy, as adults.

As a former teacher, I know how much we hate having to move to different classrooms throughout the day. The experience is no different for students.

Every extra layer multiplied times alllllll of those transitions radically amplifies the (literal) amount of brain power required to manage student organization. It’s typically not practical to reduce the number of transitions in a students’ day, but we certainly can do something about the number of supplies we expect them to manage.

The least we can do is make all of the transitions easier for students by streamlining the number of supplies we ask them to manage. For more than 20 years, I’ve been teaching students how to use ONE binder to organize ALL assignments and notes for their classes. Most students immediately “get it;” they innately understand this system relieves a major burden and will make their lives easier to manage! (When they aren’t worried about social pressures, as I addressed in the video, above.)

Understanding the Brain Circuit

The brain is an electrical organ, powered by billions of tiny wires, known as neurons. In reality, each of those neuron wires is no different than this familiar circuit:

school organization, binder system

Our brains are electrical organs filled with billions of neuron wires. But really, each wire works just like this familiar circuit.

Imagine that each bulb on this circuit is a task the brain needs to manage: turning a page, opening a locker door, unzipping a backpack, pulling books out, zipping a backpack back up…

We don’t typically think about these steps consciously. But, each one of these actions requires navigation…and drains valuable power in the brain.

Imagine a student is in class and has just received a homework assignment from their teacher. This is what it typically takes to put that one assignment away:

ADHD Circuit - Traditional Method of Organizing Papers 22 Steps

With the SOAR® Binder, however, students have a system that simplifies the process. Now, when a student is in class and receives a homework assignment from their teacher, the process looks like this:

Only_5_steps_on_the_brain_circuit -18KB for websiteWith a simplified system, we dramatically reduce strain on the brain. We create a situation where students are set up for success from the beginning, rather than having them start with a faulty, complicated system.

With fewer demands on the brain circuit, there is more power available for learning. There is far less anxiety. With a proper organization system, students are set to experience a positive, upward spiral of success!

When Teachers Have a Special System for Student Organization

Our first priority has to be centered on what is best for students. But, sometimes, a “single binder system” interferes with a teacher’s system. In this situation, we must find a compromise.

When I am visiting schools and working with teachers with apprehensions, I ask them, “What are the reasons you use this system? What is the main objective you are trying to accomplish?”

Almost always, we can find a way to meet the teacher’s objectives and accommodate the needs of the students. For example, science teachers often like to have a separate binder with tabs to separate: class notes, vocabulary terms, labs, and homework assignments.  One common way we address this situation is by keeping the Science Binders in the classroom and using the SOAR® Binder to transport papers/assignments between home and school. This requires some adjustments (such as finding a place in the classroom to store the binders, setting up a system for students to immediately/instantly manage distribution of binders at the start of each class). But, these extra adjustments pay dividends when far more students are showing up to class, prepared, with the correct assignments and papers.

Another option is to add the tabs right to the SOAR® Binder, behind their Science folder. Teachers can then guide students when to transfer all of their notes over to their home “paper station.” Or, perhaps teachers can maintain one filer folder in class, per student. At the end of a chapter or unit, papers can be transferred from the binder into the file folder until the end of the semester or year.

There’s an infinite number of ways to find common ground between teachers’ objectives and students’ needs. It is an adjustment, but it will work for everyone’s benefit very quickly!

Get more information about the SOAR® Study Skills Curriculum here.

Here’s to empowering our students for success!

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– Susan Kruger

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