I thought I’d share with you some practical things I’m working on this year.
Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion recommends a technique called “Binder Control,” whereby you show your kids how you want them to organize their stuff.
My first year of teaching, I thought this was silly and too elementary for high school kids. Wouldn’t they think I was being a control freak? After this many years of school, didn’t they have their own organization methods?
By the end of my first month, I was cured of that delusion.
Yes, some students will have their own methods. But a majority of them will not. And if everyone keeps your class’ information, handouts, etc. the same way, you will save a lot of time and prevent a lot of “but I can’t find it” or “I left it in my folder back home,” etc.
1. First, I ALWAYS have my kids use binders with loose leaf paper because then you never have to worry about torn pages and scruffy edges.
2. They have 5 labeled dividers, called: Bell Work, Notes/Handouts, Vocabulary, Grammar, Passed Back.
3. This eliminates the question “Where should I put this?” because you always pre-empt it by saying: “Please open your binders to the ______ section.”
4. Make it clear that this binder, appropriately labeled and stocked with college-ruled paper, is a homework assignment due the first week of school. Assure them that if they think they may have any financial or logistical difficulties getting these supplies, that you will provide them. (So have some extra binders, divider labels, and paper on hand). I have offered this for several years and students have NEVER taken advantage of the offer without good reason. It shows them that you care and you are willing to go above and beyond to help them succeed.
5. Make it clear that you will conduct “binder checks” once in a while, and then give them notice ahead of time. “On Friday, while you are working on your quiz, I will be checking your binders for these elements… You can earn up to 5 points.”
People, don’t try to surprise the kids by saying “And now, put your binders on your desks. I am going to check them to make sure you’re all doing what I say.” Any kind of “gotcha” technique creates resentment, not respect.
Master teacher Tyler Hester of TFA even includes pictures in his syllabus:
You’d be surprised at how many of my kids brought binders with no dividers, or binders with no paper, or binders with dividers that weren’t labelled, etc.
But I learned something new to add to my “Binder Control” technique this year!
My friend and fellow teacher told me about how she has her kids organize their Notes section by using a table of contents. On the first day you take notes, you explain with them how this process works and why it is helpful.
Here’s a slide of hers that I modified to show them how to correctly format their table of contents. I did this with my students today since we are learning about growth and fixed mindsets:
The “1.1” stands for Unit 1, Lesson 1. That way, when they are preparing for a quiz or test, you can tell them: “For this assessment you will need Notes 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3”
Make sure they do not write anything else on this table of contents page, front or back.
Then you have them open to a new, fresh page and label it before beginning to take notes:
Explain to them that this method will also help them if they are ever absent from school. They can ask a friend to for notes and look them up by date.
Fellow teachers: what ideas do you have to help keep your kids organized?