1 Simple Rule for Keeping Students Organized: Binders
Updated: Aug 18, 2018
Let me preface this post with this, I feel like my catchphrase is officially "find what works for you". I say it at least 3 times per post. But I can't help but include it constantly because, in my opinion, being a teacher is not just a career it is a lifestyle. What works best for me, at my school, in my classroom, might not be what works for you. And that is okay! I am not wrong, you are not wrong, we are just two different individuals. Why I feel the need to include all of this? Many of you may not like what I am about to say and I urge you not to tear me to shred in the comments.
I hate folders and I hate interactive notebooks. They just do not work with my personality and I truly believe teachers need to develop their own niche that feels authentic to them. So what do I have students use? Binders. Binders with dividers that mark specific sections. Sections with clear labels, and sometimes even page protectors. I tried folders, we had too much stuff and it was a mess. I like the idea of interactive notebooks, but the way our team pulls resources and teach reading, it just is not practical. Binders however, are easy to organize (and model organizational strategies), are flexible, and gives us the opportunity to start fresh whenever we finish a unit of study!
How do I organize their binders?
I modify and adjust the format of the student's binders a little bit each year. Why? Because each year I learn from mistakes, get better ideas, and modify my instruction. As we all should! But, I always typically have 5 sections:
Section One: My Info
Personally, I think this is the most important section of their binder. I have them keep our class schedule, rules/consequences, their homework calendar, and their personal information in this section. Their personal information includes any data tracking sheets, and my personal favorite, a form where they keep track of all their different usernames and passwords. Doing this was a game changer. Once I give them their username and password to login to their Chromebook and for any online websites, I do not give it to them again. It is their responsibility to look it up in their binder if they forget. Three cheers for teaching autonomy, am I right?!
The rest of the sections after this are pretty self-explanatory
Section Two: Reading
Reading graphic organizers, printed versions of anchor charts, reading response papers...basically if it involves reading or writing about a something they have read, it goes in this section. I typically have students take home papers from this section either at the end of a unit or at the end of the grading period.
Section Three: Writing
Writing process graphic organizers, rubrics, checklists, writing drafts, writing center activities, and a fair amount of loose leaf notebook paper make up the writing section. I go between taking out final drafts for a separate writing portfolio and keeping everything in the binder for the entire year, letting this section of the binder serve as the writing portfolio. It honestly depends on the group of students. If organizational skills come easily to the class overall, it stays in the binder. If I have multiple students that struggle to find the paper I placed in the correct section for them the day before, I collect certain pieces from their writing section to file in a writing portfolio.
Section Four: Spelling and/or Vocabulary
Anything related to spelling or vocabulary instruction goes in this section. Pretty simple section. When I used Words their Way*, I had students glue down their words, put them in a page protector, and they were kept in this section all year.
Section Five: Other
This section is whatever I (or you) need it to be! One year it was grammar when I taught it in isolation. Last year I integrated grammar into writing and vocabulary instruction. That left section five open for Social Studies. It is really whatever fits my needs as the teacher and their needs as students most each year.
I try to set up any of the students' binders I can before the first day of school (aka tell parents to have students bring their supplies to meet the teacher night). When that isn't possible, I have students work on a fun and simple first day of school activity while I call students over to me one at a time and set their binder up for them. If you are thinking, "why don't you show the student as a whole class how to organize their binder and let them do it themselves?" I tried that. I teach third grade, and I learned the hard way that third graders are not developmentally ready to watch me organize a binder on the Smartboard and do it themselves at their seat. Doesn't matter how slow I go, how small I chunk each step, or how clearly I speak. It just stresses them out and makes me insane. If you want to try it that way with your class, by all means go for it! Do what works best for you!
Monitoring their Organization Skills
Now, I have always promised myself and any reader I am lucky to have to be authentic with my imperfect self. This is the area I need to most improve. At the beginning of the year, I do a GREAT job with keeping a model binder to show students what section each paper belongs in. I walk around and check throughout the week to make sure their binders are looking nice and neat. I even start the year with bi-weekly binder checks with small prizes like candy or a sticker. But if I am being real with you, while I ALWAYS tell my students (multiple times) which section each paper goes in, and make them tell me where they are supposed to put it....by the end of October (aka Dark-tober), my regulating of their binders gets very inconsistent and my checks become quarterly occurrences that end with my swearing this next 9-weeks I am going to start checking them more frequently (an empty promise as the weeks fly by with what seem like more pressing matters).
However, does my regulating their organization infrequently mean I need a new method altogether. Heck no! Let's be honest, all of their papers being in the exact same order, clipped neatly in the correct section, is not what is most important. What is most important is the students keeping up with whatever they need and being able to find it for their own reference whenever they need it. With my binder method, students are rarely losing papers and begging me for a new copy. In my head that is a win!
BUT, I am the biggest believer in reflecting on our shortcomings and improving! So this summer I have come up with the following ideas to enforce my expectations for students keeping their binder in A+ condition:
-Make one student at each table group in charge of checking their desk-mates every Friday and bringing me a list of who I need to work with 1:1 to get back on track
-Have students work collaboratively in their groups, checking one another's binders, discussing what they need to fix, and overall just using each other as a resource
-Make a checklist for student's to self-assess their own organizational skills and if they feel they need help they can sign up for a time to work with me 1:1
I would LOVE to hear your ideas on how to best keep up with student binders in the comments!
Overall Practices/Procedures for Student Binders
Every section has a cover page that lists what belongs in that section.
No graded work ever goes in their binder. I send it home in weekly folders and when it comes back it goes in individual student files for the year.
Lauren Mary Medlin
*I will forever love the program Words their Way. I could go on for hours about how useful it is. However, having two blocks of students meant having 8+ spelling groups. That meant I had to find the time for whole group instruction, small group reading instruction, one on one reading/writing conference, progress monitoring, and small group spelling instruction...with over 40 students. It was no longer practical for my team to try and use Words their Way with all of our students because we were not doing it with fidelity. Now, we use it as an intervention with specific groups students who need the direct phonics instruction.
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