I am a teacher of sixth grade English and a mother of one son--I know the hell that is the backpack of a boy. Inside, papers copulate and fray themselves in a chaotic frenzy. They disappear and miraculously reappear long past important deadlines or anyone's ability to care anymore. Crisp from the copier, these documents begin a metamorphosis that originates in the locker, the gate-way drug to disorganization, and circle the disheveled drain in pocket-filing systems before dying a painful death in the backpack.
Mothers every year come to conference, wringing their hands in desperation, pleading their sons' cases, "He's a smart boy; I just can't get him to turn in his homework. We do it together, he completes it...then it disappears." Yes, the adolescent vanishing act. The pain in the mothers' eyes begs for suggestions, a miracle of sorts. The ring of teachers instead smile, chuckle, and reply in unison, "He's a boy--that's what they do."
There are a few tips that educators can share and 6th grade tends to be the year where the unorganized beast rears its ugly head. In elementary school teachers held a lot of hands, but middle school abruptly ends this coddling. In every JCPS middle school, each student is handed an agenda the first week of school. If your child has kept up with it over the past few weeks, this is a great place to start. Begin checking the agenda daily and reward him if each class has been recorded (don't take the excuse that it wasn't posted either--all teachers post one to keep their jobs). Girls automatically personalize and systemize and prettify everything. Boys need to be told, "Put a box in front of homework, then check it off when you complete it." If the agenda is lost, buy another.
Next, tackle the backpack. Yes, I know you just spent a small fortune on all the supplies required by each teacher, but make sure there is a different color-coded folder for each class(or binder, but these become cumbersome to tote back and forth for every class). Write the class name in giant permanent marker on the outside and label each pocket of the folder, "graded" and "to hand-in." The homework assignments, project rubrics, etc... will go in the "to hand-in" while all the graded work must be kept on the other side, no excuses, no recycling bin. Urge him to keep his graded work--there is always a dispute or two over grades and if he keeps the work, he can prove to the teacher he completed it. She'll be impressed. Also, use the clips in the folders and invest in a 3-hole punch for important class documents and grade sheets.
Finally, most JCPS schools are now using Infinite Campus, a grade program that can be accessed from home after signing up and receiving a username and password. You can view this together and hopefully both reap the rewards of ice cream or video games. Now, if we could just figure out a system for bringing that winter coat home...