This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6. This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the school year.
"Try the Starbucks App. It's life-changing," my brother told me a few months ago. He was right. I can order my morning tea from my house right before I leave and it is ready for me when I arrive. No more long lines. No more trying to predict how long my morning drive with tea stop will take. My mornings are calmer and more predictable now. A small change, but life-changing nonetheless!
A similar thing happened a few years ago as I was trying (still...in my 28th year of teaching) to figure out how to manage all the assessments and things I wanted to save through the school year on each child. I used to have file folders that worked fine but assessments have become a bit more complex. And for assessments to be useful, I want to have access to them and full file folders are not always that easy to access! Even though much of what I keep, I can keep online, I like to keep a lot of paper things. I've always believed that every piece of work can tell you something about a child and I know having lots allows me to see change over time. When I moved to 3rd grade and tried to make sense of our 3rd Grade Guarantee Law, I had to figure out a plan for all the paperwork that went along with that, This new mandated paperwork, along with the daily classroom assessments I have always kept became a bit overwhelming (well, maybe more than a bit...). I needed a new plan. Our Literacy Coach, Gretchen Taylor, shared with me the system she had used the year before as a middle school teacher--she had a mailbox/file type slot for each child in her 5 middle school Language Arts classes. That way, when she wanted to add a new note, assessment, piece of student work, etc. she just dropped it in. Easy and quick and very accessible at all times.
So, I set up the same thing and have kept it going ever since. I have cabinets in my room for storage. They are above the student cubbies. I have taken over the front portion of 3 of those and house 8 student files in each one.
- First of all, I don't have to spend a lot of deciding what to keep. I do that a lot--try to decide if something is worth keeping. With this system, there is plenty of room to drop things in and there is no reason to keep them forever--I can keep them as long as I need to. So any student samples that may be worth keeping, any quick checks I do, even a sticky note with an observation about a child can go right in these files.
- This is the perfect system for sharing information with others. When I get ready for parent conferences, I can pull the pile of information out. I have lots to look at when finishing up comments for report cards. And when the Reading Support teacher or the ELL teacher comes in to look at some of the assessments or wants to add something new, they don't have wait for me or sort through my piles for what they are looking for. They have access to these anytime they need them.
- I rely a great deal on digital tools for collecting and reflecting on work but there are mandated assessments, test reports, reading plans and work samples that are better saved as paper copies--better for me because I can spread them out and look at them when needed. This system lets me look at individual work more easily. It also invites reflection across time.
Because I am a person who make piles and who likes to look again and again at student work, this is the perfect organization tool for me. It is a simple idea that really changed my teaching life as it made all of the paperwork more manageable and more useful for me.