by Harry and Rosemary Wong
How to Help Students
with Their Assignments
There were the complaints
from the teachers: The students don’t do their homework.
How am I supposed to teach when they do not come prepared? The
students lose everything I give them. They never bring their
materials—no pencils, no papers, and no signed papers!
It’s pretty clear why many students are not doing
well in school. They just aren’t turning in their assignments
or coming to class prepared.
This is because no one has ever taught them how to organize
their time and work. Students who do not do their
work are not unintelligent, lazy, or irresponsible. True,
some students may come from dysfunctional homes—homes where
the family is not functioning well. The students have no knowledge
or skill in having procedures that beget success.
On the other hand, we have students who come from functioning homes
and they do not do their work either. Or, they are trying
to juggle so much, that they only do whatever may accidentally surface.
Students belong to that carefree age where there are no adult
responsibilities and they live a life where adults take care of
their needs: food, shelter, finances, and love. What a life,
but that’s of no help to a teacher who wants the work done!
Take a look at a child’s room at home and if it’s a
typical child’s room, it is a mess. The floor is where
they “hang” their clothes; the closet is where they
“place” their books; and the presence of a calendar
or schedule of their work is nowhere to be found.
Possibly the Most Important Skill in Life
If you plan to learn, you MUST learn to
Just as the teacher needs to be organized, the teacher
needs to help the students to be organized. Teachers
who are not organized do not have any concept of the need for the
students to be organized, too.
Effective teachers are organized and have the following on the
first day of school:
Also, effective teachers have procedures
to help students
Getting organized does not mean becoming neat and clean. It’s
not about how things look; it’s about keeping a schedule,
knowing where things are, and making your time and space work for
The result is less chaos, you get things done, and even have time
to enjoy life. Staying organized is everyone’s problem,
from the company executive, homemaker, to the underachieving student.
This is why there is such a market for Day-Timers© and Palm©
Being organized, knowing what you are doing, and getting
the work done is possibly the most important skill for everyone
in adult life. Being organized is a skill students need to start
developing in school.
The Key Is a One-Page Agenda
After teaching for over ten years, Carol Brooks, a middle school
teacher in South Carolina, came up with a solution to the problem
of student organization. In time, her classes of underachieving
students were doing so well that the parents, who didn’t even
know what she was doing, were asking for what their neighbors were
“screaming” for, “Get my kid into that notebook
Brooks gives each of her inclusion students at Palmetto Middle
School in Williamston, South Carolina, a three-ring binder or notebook.
She noticed the students were always flipping through science,
social studies, math, English, whatever. So, she took construction
paper and made blue one subject, yellow one subject, red . . . and
made themselves dividers.
The notebook is divided into sections with colored dividers, one
for each class to keep the class work.
The key to the system is a one-page agenda with blank squares
for every period, every class, and every day.
Students, parents, and teachers can take one look
what is being or needs to be done.
Because many of her students have developed bad study habits, she
is relentless in having them write down everything that they are
to do, everything that’s expected, and every homework assignment
from every teacher. She is relentless in seeing that they
get every assignment from every teacher. If they are absent,
she is relentless in having them come back in the next day and write
down what they missed. This is a way of teaching them to be
responsible when they’re out.
The students are to have every assignment from every teacher
written down in the agenda. It’s unacceptable
to write, “No homework.” They have to write what
they were doing that day. Were they dissecting frogs? Were
they talking about the history of ancient Egypt? Were they
talking about paragraph structure? We were discussing how
to do fractions.
With students on an Academic Assistance Plan (AAP), parents are
required to sign the agenda day each as well. It’s an
effective communication tool between the parents and their children.
The parents like to see what their child is learning or what
their child needs to do, such as studying for a test.
What Is SWOOSH?
Carol Brooks calls her planning system SWOOSH (School-Wide Optimal
Organizational Student Handbook).
Ignore what SWOOSH stands for, but know that for every hyperactive
middle school kid who knows a bit about sports, they know the word
SWOOSH. SWOOSH occurs when you shoot a basketball and it goes
through the hoop cleanly, touching only the net below the hoop,
making a SWOOSH sound. When this happens, teammates high-five
each other and yell, “SWOOSH!” SWOOSH is a sense
The SWOOSH notebook has the following components:
Notebook: The notebook holds the component
parts. A student is to bring the SWOOSH notebook, textbook,
and related materials to all classes. Book bags are not allowed
in the classroom.
Plastic pouch: This holds pencils, pens,
rulers, and other school related supplies.
Dividers: There is one for each class, each
a different color for quick reference. The respective class
syllabus goes here, too.
Agenda: This is the heart of the plan. On
one page, all assignments are kept for every class for every day
in a month.
Game Plan: In a clear plastic protector,
class schedules and calendars are kept.
SWOOSH Attack Sheets: This is what the teacher
uses to periodically check the notebooks for organization and the
agendas for completeness. Fouls are given if the agendas are
Carol Brooks has an amazingly simple, yet effective, plan for assisting
student achievement. The only thing the students have to carry
to all of their classes is the SWOOSH notebook. Everything
that they do is in this notebook. The only things the parents
have to buy are notebook paper and pencils. And if they don’t
have those, Brooks will supply them.
Every student has the same notebook set up the same way
and they are taught how to maintain the notebook. Kids
will not plan if you don’t teach them how. Somebody
needs to take the time to teach them to plan and to learn to use
the notebook as a great planning tool. From the basic plan,
they can plan their book reports, science fairs, and rehearsals
for the week and the month.
It takes a student 5 to 15 minutes each day to bring the agenda
up to date. Brooks says that the more they get used to it,
the better they are at it. For those 5 to 15 minutes each
day, you are getting organized, responsible kids. It’s
definitely worth it.
Checking the Agenda Page
The parents are required to check and sign off the one-page
agenda each day. Brooks says that it’s a great
tool for parent communication. The children can’t say,
“We didn’t do anything today.” A parent
can easily see what is scheduled and say, “Well, it says here
you have a test on Thursday and you got your study guide today.
Let’s start studying.”
Brooks checks and initials the agenda every day. It’s
easy to check as it’s only one page. All she has to
do is look to see if any of the agenda blocks are blank. If
there is a blank, the student is given a “FOUL.” Fouls
are not regarded as punishments, because kids readily accept the
concept of fouls in a game.
Those students who have the fewest fouls are given a reward, which
could be permission to go to a SWOOSH dance. Other rewards
have included basketball, jump rope, board games, Play Station,
Game Boys, music, and more! Students who have worked for weeks
keeping up with their SWOOSH notebooks and assignments earn their
The students are responsible for checking their own agendas.
The agenda page says, “All agenda blocks must be complete.”
They write how many fouls that they have for each blank square.
Every Monday they check the previous week’s agenda. The
first thing they have to look for are any blank agenda blocks. The
words “not here,” “out today,” “did
nothing,” “no homework,” are fouls.
Students perform weekly peer SWOOSH Attacks to monitor whether
students are conforming to the rules of the game. These rules
include filling in each section of the agendas with assignments
and making sure that all pages are securely placed in the appropriate
Using the Agenda to Prepare a Portfolio
Brooks teaches her students how to organize, plan, and goal set.
She then holds them accountable. All she needs to see if a
student is accountable is the one-page agenda. The kids are
totally responsible for maintaining this one sheet of paper, not
And Brooks loves not having tons of paperwork.
The kids are doing all the work.
The students use the agenda to create their very own working
PASS: Portfolio Assessment for Successful
- At the end of the nine-week grading period, students will staple
the pages from each section/subject.
- They will also include the SWOOSH Attack sheets as a record
of their organizational habits.
- All material from the quarter will be placed in a 9”
x 12” envelope.
- Homeroom teachers will maintain these portfolios for each student.
- Portfolios will be used as documentation of assessment for
the grading period. These are extremely useful in conferences.
To prepare the portfolio, every sheet of paper has to have the
student’s name, the date, and the topic. If it’s
a stapled packet of pages, then the information is just listed on
the top sheet of paper. Each week during the nine-week period,
the students go through every sheet of paper. This
keeps all the pages in the correct section. Science
must be with science, and math has to be with math.
Brooks says, “These kids have somebody holding them accountable
and teaching them how to organize, plan, and goal set. We’re
not telling them what to do; we’re showing them how to do
it. We’re giving them the tools that they need to succeed.
So this is all that every kid has to have to succeed.”
The Parents Comment
Dear Mrs. Brooks,
I understand that you are responsible for the SWOOSH notebooks
that the students used last year and will use again this year.
I would like to commend you on your idea that has helped greatly
with my two children. Both of my children are students at
Palmetto Middle School. They are both very different in their
style of learning and their organizational skills. My older
child has always been very organized and has always kept things
very neat and orderly, as my younger child has always been the complete
I can say that the notebook has helped each of them greatly.
My organized child felt such a relief that she didn't have to carry
around a different notebook for each class. She has really enjoyed
being able to have all other notes together. My younger child
now has to be organized, and I'm assured as a parent that he has
all of the notes that he needs for each class.
At the beginning of last year, I was thrilled that the notebook
saved me lots of money for school supplies. I am now thrilled
that my children are being taught the importance of organization.
The Students Comment
The notebook organizer has helped me make good in class.
Last year in 5th grade I was making Ds and Fs. Now in 6th
grade I am making As, Bs, and Cs.
I think the planner has helped me. I am so proud of my grades
and, most of all, my mother is proud of me.
That is why I think we should have the SWOOSH notebooks.
The Students Are Learning
Brooks is proud that her test scores are some of the highest
in the state. The principal bought into the plan
right away and it is now used by the entire school.
The SWOOSH plan was ignited by a concern for student achievement,
fueled by concerns from parents about the rising cost of supplies,
and driven by the teachers’ efforts to ensure student success.
After a very successful pilot, which targeted the inclusion/special
needs students, the program was expanded, developed further, and
SWOOSH has been shown to increase student achievement in a number
of ways. Expectations for organization are consistently communicated
and reinforced through a school-wide incentive plan. Students
enter class more prepared to learn and leave with the tools necessary
for extended learning beyond the classroom. The planning system
ensures optimal organization. SWOOSH enables long range planning
for tests, quizzes, and other assignments. Students learn
organizational skills that will transfer throughout their educational
and future workplace careers.
The object is simply to give the students a plan with the
tools they need to succeed. The belief is that if
you can teach the kids how to plan and set goals, then they can
and will succeed.
For more information contact:
Mrs. Carol Brooks
409 Calhoun Road
Belton, SC 29627
The Object Is to Plan
Organization does not just happen. It is a methodical process
with details thought through to the minutest detail. By taking
the time now to think through your plan for the coming year, you
will be providing your students with a skill they’ll carry
with them possibly throughout their lifetime.
The joy of organization is the reward of more time for yourself,
for your family, for your business, or for your pleasure.
Time is the resource we most long for. Get yourself and your
students organized and experience the gift of time.
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