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Organizational Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities: The Digital Master Filing System

By: Patricia W. Newhall (2008)

Summer is the perfect time to get organized. The break in the constant flow of activities and schoolwork expectations can be used to clean out files and set up for the fall.

Students who have learning disabilities frequently struggle to keep track of the tools they need for schoolwork. They often lose or forget notebooks, textbooks, and homework because they have not learned how to initiate and follow an organizational routine.

While keeping papers organized is challenging for students, keeping digital files organized is even more so. It is easy for teachers and parents to conclude that digital file management poses little difficulty — after all, those neat little flash drives bear no resemblance to backpacks and lockers overflowing with crumpled paper. Don't be fooled. More often than not, students are unable to find the digital work they did on the computer — even if they saved it to the right place. Why is this so important? Many students are required to return to their work to make edits. If they can't find the work, they have to retype it (often making new errors along the way). Having a system for keeping computer work easily accessible is just as important to academic success as keeping books and notes organized.

The Digital Master Filing System is one effective strategy that helps students with learning disabilities manage their materials. Once a system that works for most students is consistently implemented, educators can make changes to suit individual needs, because no single system works for every student. Teachers need to help students create a system that works for them and help them use it consistently.

The master filing system: Digital files

Even students who have mastered organization of their paper-based materials may have difficulty keeping track of their digital files. Some students need explicit instruction for how to organize their computer materials logically.

Purpose

The purpose of a master filing system for digital files is for students to keep all their computer work organized for easy, logical access.

Materials

Students who do not carry a laptop computer generally have three choices for organizing their digital files. They can use a student network folder on the school's computer system (which is often inaccessible from home), a USB key/flash drive, or a CD-RW with a plastic or cardboard case.

Steps

Students' computer files should be organized in the same way as their paper files. At the beginning of the schoolyear, they create one folder for each class. Within that folder, they create subfolders to organize homework, essays, notes, and other class materials. They should develop the habit of saving their work to the appropriate file — rather than the desktop or other default settings on the computer.

It is also essential that students learn to name their documents clearly. For example, naming a document Essay or Homework is vague, while naming it American Revolution Essay is specific.

Students must learn to save their work frequently and to print their work out as a backup. Learning the difference between Save and Save As helps them know exactly where the computer saves their files. Students should understand that when they click Save from an open word processing document, the computer saves the document to the default location. Informed use of Save As ensures that they can save their documents in the appropriate folders.

Mastering the routine

To manage digital files successfully, students need to develop good habits, including consistently using one word processing program, specifically naming their documents, saving documents in the correct folders, and printing out and filing hard copies of their digital work into their master filing system.

To keep their computer folders tidy, students should regularly delete any materials no longer in use (e.g., early drafts already printed and filed in the paper-based master filing system). Ideally, the digital clean-out occurs along with the clean-out of paper files as students prepare for a unit test or project.

We're in an Information Age that that requires fast-paced multi-tasking to keep up. Creating a system for managing digital files not only helps students become more efficient learners in school, it also prepares them for the world of work which increasingly relies on students' technological skills.

Managing materials is one of the three key categories of study skills that contribute to students' ability to organize, remember and apply their knowledge. The other categories are managing information and managing time. To do well in school, students must develop strategies that make them efficient, effective managers in each of these areas. Unfortunately, many students do not develop these strategies intuitively. They need educators who are willing and able to provide them with explicit instruction, guided practice, and ongoing opportunities (and motivation) to hone the strategies they've learned.

About this article

This article was adapted from Study Skills: Research-Based Teaching Strategies, Published by Landmark School's Outreach Program. It was written by Landmark staff exclusively for LD OnLine.

Newhall, P. W. (2008). Organizational skills for students with learning disabilities: The digital master filing system. Adapted from Study Skills: Research-Based Teaching Strategies. Prides Crossing, MA: Landmark School, 22-24.