There are a few things you can count on for January: resolutions (made and broken!), the flu season, and ads promising ways to (finally) get you organized.
I’m finally going to get organized!
Organizational promises are always so tempting. Who wouldn’t like their closet/garage/pantry to look like something worthy of Pinterest?!
Classroom organization is no different. Keeping track of handouts, extra copies, lessons, books, student work…
I always vow that I’m finally going to get organized…and then the wheels fall off of the wagon (almost before I put them on!) However, I do have two simple organizational tools that will simplify grading, paper collection, and planning writing.
#1: the lowly folder
The first one involves the lowly paper folder with pockets and brads. Not the plastic ones. The flimsy, inexpensive, paper ones.
I love them for several reasons:
- They’re cheap
- They’re lightweight
- They come in colors
- and did I mention…they’re cheap!
How I Use Them
At the start of a writing unit, I copy and three-hole punch the assignment, graphic organizers, word bank, rubric, and anything else I think we might use. I distribute those packets to the students and instruct them to put them in the brads in the folder. You can have students add a few sheets of loose-leaf paper at the back or interspersed between pages.
This is our writing folder for the unit. Students keep all of their work in the folder. Drafts can be written on the loose-leaf or on paper that’s kept in the pockets. Any extra handouts or graphic organizers can be put into the brads as we work through the writing process.
Paper — it can last!
Challenge your students to see if they can make their folders last for an entire quarter. Offer bonus points or a special prize to those who can manage to keep their folders in one piece. I am always amazed at what a little incentive can do for middle school students!
Reasons to love writing folders:
- Everything is in one place.
Students should not have to rummage through backpacks or random folders looking for papers. Everything stays in the folder. Everything.
Now — you will certainly have a student who loses his or her folder. That’s why I create four or five (some years more!) extra folders. It is a sad day when students lose their work, but having an extra folder will at least help students recreate much of of the lost writing.
2. Writing workshop conferences? Easy peasy.
You can review student progress on writing projects — and you can record your notes right in the folder. Students can quickly see what they need to work on next.
3. Assessments are a snap.
- You can collect the folders at any time for formative or summative assessments.
- If you include the rubric, you don’t need to stop to make extra copies of it.
- The folders are lightweight — so much easier to collect and manage than spiral notebooks or composition books.
- Because students have their writing in the center brads, you can go right to the work you want to assess.
- You and your students have evidence of their writing process.
#2 a writing scheduler
When you teach writing, you can almost guarantee two things:
- It’s going to take longer than you planned
- You and your students need to be organized
That’s where a writing scheduler swoops in and saves the day!
It’s not a bird, plane, or even superman (though it feels like it!) — a writing scheduler is just a list of the elements a writing project needs to go through from prewriting to publishing.
Before you introduce a new writing assignment, take time to create a schedule that you can use to plan your lessons. This means listing all the elements of the writing process you want your students to complete. Some you might want to include:
- brainstorming graphic organizers
- narrowing topic graphic organizer
- draft 1
- introductory paragraph (revision)
- concluding paragraph (revision)
- draft 2
- peer review
- revision (transitions/word choice/sentence structure)
- self-assessment with rubric
Looks like a lot, doesn’t it? But we are, after all, teaching writing. And these are skills we want our student learners to develop.
Once you have your list, look at your calendar. When do you want students to be finished? Work backwards as you fill in your scheduler.
Try not to make your schedule too tight – allow extra days for drafting and conferencing. I always add in a “catch up” day which will allow for reteaching.
Should you give your students the filled in schedule?
I find that students can be overwhelmed when they see a long list of items on the scheduler. I usually provide them with a few dates at a time. That also builds in a bit more flexibility.
However, be careful not to get “stuck.” The beauty of the writing scheduler is that it keeps the writing assignment moving forward. Students will get bored and resist revision if the assignment drags on and on.
Reasons to love a writing scheduler
- Your writing mini lessons are right there — all planned for you you!
- Once you create one or two, you’ll be able to follow that pattern to complete future writing lessons.
- Your writing workshop will run like clockwork. Students will know exactly what they should be working on next.
- Great for differentiation. Students who are ready can work ahead.
- A writing scheduler can be stapled to the inside of the writing folder or put on top of the brads. Students can check off items as they complete them.
- Writing assignments won’t stretch on and on. You and your students will be working toward the deadline.
If you’ve ever had a writing assignment that stretched on and on, try using a writing scheduler. It’s a great way to keep students moving forward in the writing process — and learning it as well.
What is your experience with keeping your students’ writing organized and on track? Let us know in the comments below!