Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Mighty Dragon of Chaos
When you are inherently unorganized, life’s simplest tasks can be ove
rwhelming. That describes me exactly. I am one of those people, left to her own devices, would simply suffocate under the piles of stuff that accumulate around me. Fortunately, I am not ashamed to admit this personality flaw and am in constant search of tricks to lasso the mighty dragon of chaos.

Over the years, I have collected ideas from every teacher I have met. While some work well for them and not for me, I have managed to piece together enough tools to keep my classroom running somewhat smoothly most of the time.

Below are my top ten stolen organization secrets:

1. Have specific places for students to turn in work – I use plastic stackable baskets, with bold clear labels for each hour. This stops students from tossing a paper onto my desk and being sucked into the black hole, never to be seen again.

2. Have a designated place for students to collect their work from when they are absent. The last thing I do each day before leaving school is take care of absent work. I look at my attendance book and for each student gone each hour, I put exactly what we did that day with any homework and handouts in a basket marked with the hour and ABSENT WORK. This puts the primary responsibility on the student, and makes my life easier without the question of “What did I miss yesterday?” being easy to answer.

3. Have a NO NAME folder. Unless you teach in Lake Woebegone, your students will on occasion, turn in work without a name. Later when they note a missing assignment, you can now simply point, “Did you check the No Name folder?”

4. Use online grading programming - if your district does not use something like PowerSchool, fight to get it. This makes for fewer parent phone calls, fewer students questioning about their grades, fewer writing lists of missing assignments, and best of all, no last minute panic at report card time. But do not get behind on grading - you expect students to turn work in on time. Have the courtesy to assess and return promptly as well. I find myself much more accountable when grades are posted for parents to view.

5. Write the day's lesson on the board. This solves the perpetual “What are we doing today?” question as well as focuses you and your students on the task at hand. Also, write notes on board - reminders for week, etc... so kids learn to look there. Help them learn to be responsible and plan ahead.

6. Have a board in hall outside classroom where you write what students need for class each hour. This method of reminding them what to bring each day helps teach middle schoolers to be organized. Students can be overwhelmed with so many classes and different teachers and thinking in 4 minutes can be tough.

7. Expect students to come to class prepared - I do not allow them to go get calculators, pencil, etc... I loan pencils, paper, textbooks, etc...they are all in designated area of classroom. I do not loan calculators, but "If you wanted it you would have brought it to class" usually sets the tone. Time in the hall is wasted time and I simply do not allow them to go get forgotten things.

8. Keep seating charts on a podium or other easily accessible location so you can take attendance in a split second as students are completing the class starter for day - something written on board to get their minds into gear for today's class - as you take attendance -ours is required to be online within first 10 minutes of class so I do it immediately when the bell rings. Seating charts also are invaluable to a substitute teacher. Mine also serves as a roster for fire drills or other trips out of the classroom since I have no grade book as such.

9. Use email for parent contacts whenever possible – This saves time and makes it easy to keep paper trail. Parents appreciate the ease of contact. Talk to parents early on - establish a positive relationship before there are problems. Send them a positive email about something you notice about a student. Those positives are like money in the bank when you do encounter a discipline problem later in the year.

10.Let go of the things that don’t really matter. My first years in the classroom I spent hours organizing my class library. When students returned books, I had to put the checkout cards back in and shelve the books back in their appropriate location. Finally, a couple of years ago, I decided enough of that! Now students know my books are NOT organized. If they want a book, they will have to dig for it. It is almost like a treasure hunt. Books in order may matter to you, but for me, those are hours better spent on other things. Examine your own classroom for those little things you can let go.

My classroom is not neat and tidy and shiny like some. It has that homey, lived-in, loved look. The tables are never quite in perfect straight lines, the computer cords are twisted and tangled, and my teacher desk looks like a recycling center exploded on it. But my students and I spend our time together engaged in learning, and for the most part, things run smoothly. With a little help from my stolen ideas, I bet yours could be the same!


Fran Lo said...

Aha! You are blogging. Love your comments. I, too, don't bother with elaborate signout of books. Once a semester I tell students, "Bring back a book of mine you borrowed and it's worth a jolly rancher candy." Sometimes they come back after graduation with books they found under the bed...

cossondra said...

Thanks! Yes, I too get them back in the oddest of circumstances. Once a girl brought in a HUGE bag of them her sister had "borrowed" years before. A book borrowed and read, is worth my money. A book borrowed, passed on and read, worth it as well. I like the bribery to get them back. I might have to try that one!

Dan Callahan said...

Great bunch of tips! I particularly find the No Name folder and absent work spaces to be particularly good ones for me to use if I ever have to manage a larger number of students.

Anonymous said...

Another stolen idea - write down on an index card exactly what was done in class along with the name of any assignment or worksheet distributed. Date the card and place it in a pocket chart on the wall. When a student returns from an absence, he knows exactly where to go to find out what he missed. This is really helpful when a student misses several days - just put the cards on a copy machine and save yourself a lot of time writing out the missed work.

Anonymous said...

This is what I do about absences: I have a student plan book that I keep at my podium. I write each day's lesson and the assignment in it in the same way the students are suppose to in their own planners. I tack any worksheets with the absent student's name on it on a bulletin board by the pencil sharpener. Students know to check the planner and the bulletin board if they have been absent.

Kathy said...

I always had a clipboard that hung at the front of the room. On it was a running list of what was done each class and date. Those absent would know that upon their return they needed to only look at the clipboard to know what was missing from their class it notes, handouts, vocab, etc. This kept them up-to-date on work and their notebooks organized-- which were collected as a grade at the end of the quarter.

cossondra said...

Just curious Kathy... how did you grade notebooks? Was this a formative or summative assessment? How did students show mastery in their notebooks? What % of their final grade did this represent? What kind of things were included in their notebooks? I use math notebooks, but they are for formative assignments only and therefore are not graded. I am curious how you use yours!

Anonymous said...

Hey! Your blog is sooooo helpful! I am an aspiring English Teacher and I am going to need all the help I can get! Thanks for all the info!

Becky said...

It is so refreshing to hear a master teacher say that they have embraced their lack of organization. I have been teaching for 5 years and struggle with organizing. I feel that I am an effective teacher, but I also feel that I am judged by others about what my desk looks like. However, I DO know where everything is. Thank you for the stolen tips. I will implemement what works for my students in our reading classroom. Appreciate the breath of fresh air = )

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips! For absences, I have a poster size black calendar. (purchased from my local teacher suppy store) I date it appropriately for the month. Each day, I write down the assignments we did for the day. This stays up for the month. The students know to check it when they return from an absence. I also have a student that is my paper manager for the class. This student is responsible for passing out worksheets as I need them to. They are in charge of writing names on worksheets for absent students and placing them in a designated folder for absent students. The students know to check the assignment calendar and the assignment folder upon their returnto class.

Anonymous said...

Music to my ears. Finally someone not ashamed to admit their faults. I am just like you. I found that I did not care if my principal called me out in front of the entire staff for having the messiest room, because WE WERE LEARNING! And everyone knew it. Ha.

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