In my last post, Why an Organized Classroom Matters, I laid out some of my struggles with grading and disorganization my first (and second…and third…) year of teaching. This post is dedicated to practical, cheap classroom solutions to teacher disorganization, which in turn promotes quicker grading, more student autonomy, and lower stress (for everyone involved).
All of these solutions have been implemented in my classroom this year with a high degree of success. The first week of school I trained my students to use all of the organizational tools listed below. Now that they’re trained, less time is wasted on questions like:
- “What are we doing today?”
- “Where do I turn this in?”
- “Do you have an extra pencil?”
- “Can I get my absent work?”
- “Are you my mother?” (just kidding…)
If you’re like me, all these repetitive questions drive you nuts. They usually ask right when I’m giving directions or setting up an activity. As much as I love my students, I just don’t want to answer the same question 50 times a day, you know? So when these questions come up after I’ve already trained them, I just point to where they’re supposed to go, the light bulb goes on, and we’re back to using class time efficiently.
Okay, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
Solution #1: In and Out Box
My first 3 years of teaching, students turned in their work to me as I circulated the classroom. I have two problems with this. One, I’m now holding a bunch of assignments that need to be placed somewhere anyways. Two, inevitably one kid did not have it ready to hand in when I walked past his desk and now that I’m on the other side of the room, I have to walk back to him. Total time waster.
Why this solution? I like this box in particular because it separates each of my 5 periods. The label written above each slot tells students which slot belongs to each period. All ungraded work ends up on the left side of the box. Students know they are in charge of turning in their homework in the first 5 minutes of class while everyone is working on their warm up. Now my time is freed up for taking attendance and (let’s be real) having a conversation or two.
When I’m done grading their work, I place it on the right hand side of the slot for the appropriate period and students can pick up their graded work at their leisure. In reality, I usually end up having some students pass back the graded work when it piles up too much.
P.S. If you’re from California, you’ll get the “In-N-Out Burger” reference. A student made the sign for me and I taped it to the top of the box to make it more visible for students.
Solution #2: Absent Work Folders
As mentioned in my previous post, I was split between two classrooms my first 3 years. For this reason (and my lack of organization), when students returned from an absence it was hard to get them the work they had missed. I had inevitably left the extra copies in my other classroom. They would have to come back during lunch or break. Who wants to spend their lunch tracking down copies of old assignments?
Why this solution? Inspired by Pinterest, I bought these cascading wall organizers because they allow me to store old assignments and handouts for up to 2 weeks per subject. I do keep hard copies of my assignments from year to year, which are stored in file folders by subject in a large file cabinet. These cascading folders allow me to put the extra copies somewhere that students can easily find them sorted by day. Every Monday, I put the three weeks old file folders into my large file cabinet and boom! Done.
Solution #3: Student Supply Station
I came by this storage solution completely by mistake. I actually ordered it to organize all my scrapbook paper at home. By the time I realized that scrapbook paper did not actually fit into this box, it was too late to return (because it was sitting in the packaging in my den for like 3 months…). My husband suggested that I use it for classroom storage. I took it to school and voila! no more questions about needing pencils.
Why this solution? Students often need supplies. I teach at a low socio-economic status charter school and some students legitimately need pencils and paper. And then there are the students who constantly forget to bring the right materials to class. This supply station allows any student to grab what they need when they need it. They are not reliant on me to find what they need for them. If you haven’t noticed yet, I love student autonomy. It’s empowering for them and reduces my own stress. By the way, I raided my school’s teacher supply closet and got donations from local companies to fill up the drawers with pencils, pens, highlighters, erasers, sharpeners, markers, crayons, colored pencils, blank paper, lined paper, etc.
Solution #4: Agenda on the Board
Okay, I know. This solution seems obvious. Students always want to know what’s going to happen in class today and need visual reminders of their homework assignments. But I didn’t start creating a divided section of the daily agenda for each subject until this year. And it’s wonderful. On Mondays, I teach all three subjects and honestly…this solution helps me keep everything straight in my own mind. What am I doing in World History again? *Glances at the board* Oh yeah, let’s do this!
By the way, my Economics sections are on the right side of my white board because when I pull down the projector screen, it allows students to still see their agenda for any subject.
Why this solution? It’s sooooo easy to implement. Simply use some blue tape (or other fun color/design) to make sections on your white board and you’re good to go. I label my sections with the subject, essential question (EQ), agenda, and homework.
Well, this concludes my major classroom organizational solutions! My hope for you is that you use these solutions to help organize your room, lower your stress, and let your students take ownership in the classroom.
And for all you first year teachers out there, it does get better. Take each day one at a time, implement your organization system one day at a time, and you’re on your way to some major stress reduction.
History teachers, let me save you some time and energy! Check out some of my freebie lessons here!