I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. And it kind of is, but I’m always looking for ways to help my students be organized enough to get the work they actually do handed in so they may receive credit for having done it. We do almost all of our work in class. I rarely (okay less than rarely, almost never) assign homework. Does that make me a not-so-rigorous teacher? Maybe. But what I have learned in these last twenty years is that less than half of my students will ever manage to do the homework I assign. So it becomes one more thing that drags their grade down in my class.
I have come to the realization that seventh grade is such a transition year, from childhood to adolescence. It is an important piece of their future success and, I believe, is the year for them to learn strategies for school success that will take them forward through to high school and college. Hence, my focus on organization, because they sure don’t have it!
Anyway, here is how I’m trying to help my students be a little more organized and in charge of their own achievement:
1. Every student has a file which is kept in a file cabinet that they have access to. I used to just tell them they could put their work there if they were afraid of losing it. Now we hand the folders out at the beginning of every class period. As we do the day’s work, they put it in their folder. The folders are collected at the end of the period. At first I alphabetized them but when they are handed out each day, their order in the drawer doesn’t really matter.
2. On Friday, I hand out a cover sheet of which a copy is placed on the Elmo, with all the week’s assignments listed, along with the number of points I have decided each assignment is worth. They copy the assignments, and then take them from their folders and put them in order. They write a reflective paragraph at the bottom of the page and staple it all together and hand it in.
3. They sometimes have earned some extra credit, either by a word game I have offered as a closing sponge activity, or a “Success Ticket” they have earned by giving a correct answer or perhaps just being on task at some random time. They can also earn extra credit (as long as their other work is done) by completing a poem analysis or a book preview on some sheets I devised. Evidence of their extra work is attached to the packet. They receive ten points for doing the cover sheet completely, including writing the paragraph.
We do this every Friday, even if we only have two or three things to hand in that week. It is the consistency that seems to make it work. They can now copy the list, organize the work and hand it all in within about fifteen or twenty minutes. I take home a pile of sixty two packets rather than random piles of separate assignments. I grade and enter their work on the weekend and return it on Monday, with a number and letter grade marked on it. They have come to count on this process, and it’s so much more efficient for me to process than the old way of piles and piles of different assignments.
I’ve been doing the packet organization all year, since my daughter created the packet cover and began to use it last year. I tried it then, but only had them hand packets in when we had a substantial number of assignments to make it worthwhile. This year I’ve recognized the importance of the consistency of weekly submissions, no matter the amount of work contained in each packet.
The new part for me is handing out the folders every day, so no assignments ever go astray. In addition, I made up a “Packet Log,” which is taped into the back of their folder. It lists each packet, the number of points it was worth, the points they received and their letter grade. There is also a column for “Work Made Up.” If their grade is less than a C, they have the week to make it up. When they hand it in again, I initial that column and enter the new grade for that packet. My goal is for the students to always know how they are doing in my class and to give them the power to change it if they don’t like it, by either making up missed work or doing extra work that can actually contribute to their growth and learning.
The first week of this semester went really well. Only three kids in each class fell below the C grade level. Three of them still have not made that work up, and I’ll be calling their parents this weekend, to keep them in the loop. So far so good! I’ll keep you posted about how this continues.
What do you do to help your middle-schoolers stay on task and organized?