Paper Problem Series Post 2: Reviewing My Systems

One of the biggest pieces of advice that I give to new teachers is to always be prepared. Not just the regular "I have got a plan prepared," but the "I have a plan and 2 backup plans just in case this whole thing goes to the birds" type of prepared. The term "systems" always has sounded fancy to me, but the instructional routines, expectations, and actual structures that are in place in any classroom dictate the quality of the learning environment and level of success regarding classroom management. Simply, the routines of how we do business in the day-to-day in my classroom impacts learning on all levels. I have a type of organized process for many things...and then for some things I don't. After coming to terms with the paper problem, I wanted to start by reviewing the systems I have in place so that I can take on the school year in the fall ready to give high-quality feedback in a high quantity without going completely insane. 

System #1: Turn-In System

This is the back of my room at the end of last year. I operate a turn-in bin system. I had this paper dividing shelf by my desk and did not use it for most of the year. I want to use it more for my three preps next year. This will be the student station. Not only is it near the choice reading books, but it also gives them a solid place to turn-in work and to also get it back. The pencil sharpener, kleenex, etc. are all back here. Having a separate area for students allows them to know where they are and are not allowed. All too often you may see teachers get angry or upset about students getting in "their" area. What materials are in your space that they would need? This solves a problem from students entering my area at times, and also making sure I am teaching them responsibility using certain tools (How many pencil sharpeners have I gone through in 7 years?)

I want to put the Article of the Week board near here as well. The Article of the Week board will have examples on how to complete the Article of the Week, examples of great annotation, and it will have some exemplars of culminating activities. Maybe I can also have a quotation station near here from our weekly Friday discussions regarding the AOW? I like that. The more we get student voice involved in the classroom, the more likely they are to buy in-both from a behavior standpoint and an academic standpoint. 

This was my desk at the end of last year. I made the area that I take up in my classroom smaller. They need more room, there are 37 of them after all. I don't have my books on my desk or any of the "cute" stuff setup, but I do have the basic bones that I need in order to setup a great area for me to work. I still like the idea of the agenda being over by me. We start each day by talking about purpose and the days "to-dos" and something about recognizing space seems particular important. Bottom line? Students have a clear defined area where they know to turn-in assignments. This helps with flow. It is easy to want to take assignments from students hands, however, this can also become overwhelming when 158 paper piles starts mounting without order. 

System #2: Binders/Writing Portfolios

I started binders three years ago. The first year I didn't really have a system or a plan for how I wanted to use them. I knew students were going to use them to keep their work and that we would use them as an end-all reflection piece. With being in middle school, this required more guidance and directions from the teacher to students about how a writing portfolio and binder looks overall. Here is the system I have used in years past:

1. Important Papers

2. Article of the Week File

3. Class Notes

4. Passed Back Work

5. Library Log

I am changing this year to these tabs in their binders:

1. Warm-Up/Bell Ringers

2. Article of the Week File

3. Class Notes

4. Passed Back Work

5. Portfolio (Keep/Reflect)

I have always had students keep everything in their binders until the end of the year, but I want them to start emptying them out at the end of each marking period (every six weeks) so the binders can become more of a tool for reflection. This will also help with refreshing students on how to utilize basic organizational skills. In order to progress, we maintain. I give them the section dividers on separate colored paper with corresponding tabs. This is easy to do and requires one day of setup. After that day, each tab is color-code for each student in class. 

Click here to download my tabs in PDF. Click here to download my tabs in Word to change them.

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How I Use Each Tab:

1. Tab 1: WARM-UPS. Tab 1 changed from a landing place for papers that students may or may think are important to warm-ups. I am going to try a daily warm-up this year. Not that I didn't have a warm-up before, but I am talking more of the traditional warm-up that is expected. There is the window of time where I am greeting students at the door, and we go over the daily agenda and purpose for the day that students can be working on reading or writing. My new goal will be that students are reading and writing every single day. If we are reading a novel, the warm-up will include writing. If we are working on a paper, the warm-up may include reading and then writing about what they read or sharing what they read. Warm-ups will be checked on Fridays, and then they will be looked at as a culminating activity at the end of the marking period. 

2. TAB 2: ARTICLE OF THE WEEK FILE. Tab 2 stays the same. I started this last year where I was taking 158 Article of the Weeks home with me each and every weekend. It was terrible. Insert The Red Cart of Doom. I should be able to check these in class, and even one more step further, I should be able to assess students' ability to complete the activity with an activity in class. This needs to be an assignment that they USE in class, not just another check off of the box. When students get their AOWS checked off on Friday, their AOW goes into their writing portfolio. This grade goes into the grade book and their assignment does not come home with me to sit on my desk. Many ask, "what if a student shows up on Friday with no assignment?" I am going to offer them another blank AOW and then give them the ability to participate in the activity in class. They can still earn some points, and they can still file something away in their writing binder. 

3. TAB 3 CLASS NOTES. Tab 3 stays the same. I like to have them keep their class notes in one area. This can be lined paper notes or a supplemental handout we are using in class. 

4. TAB 4: PASSED BACK WORK. Tab 4 stays the same. I like to use this verbiage when handing back work: "Passed back work goes under the (insert color) Passed back tab." I have had them log passed back work before and this can grow tedious. Passed back work simply needs to be just that. If you get the work handed back with feedback, it goes in this section. 

5. TAB 5: PORTFOLIO. Tab 5 used to be the Library Log. I had great intentions of having them track their choice reading. Then, we would go to the Library on Thursday and it wouldn't be feasible to keep walking back and forth from the library to my classroom to retrieve their logs. Binders live in my room. Books live in the library. Bringing the binder down to the library wasn't something that could be done easily. Therefore, this tab got ignored. Many have suggested, "just log the books the next day." In this fast-paced-try as best as we can-do everything at all times and at the same time-job we call teaching. This was just too difficult.

I wanted to move this to the Portfolio Tab so when students clean out their binders each marking period/six weeks, they can review their writing. This will then turn into a completed portfolio at the end of the year with a review of their writing in-depth. 

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Above you see the binders on the shelves. Yes, this takes up a lot of space. It is a good use of space in my mind. *Please note the dancing children in the picture on the far right. Feel free to smile. The middle picture is the first binder activity we do of the year. It is called 100 THINGS I LOVE. This is a great way to get to know students, and it also creates a cover for the binder or first page. 

System #3: Class Checklists

Using checklists and class lists in class has greatly cut down on the amount of paperwork that I collect in my classroom. They are also easy to file and great source of everyday data. Again, I am not trying to cut down on the amount of work I am doing for school, however, I want to do this work AT school. I want to focus on this system area the most when I look at the writing workshop. How do we assign points to students? How are grades determined? I print a class roster with blank rows each week for each of my classes. I use these to take notes on students, mark down points for different class activities and assignments, and keep a better roster of 158 individuals. 

I also know that there are some amazing checklists out there to help students with writing and reading feedback. Here is a great one that I am going to get from Secondary Sara on TpT. If you think to yourself, "I am only checking this completion" or "I can grade this in under 2 minutes" it can be marked on a checklist. I want to form a new rule: The papers that come home with me are the papers that need more time and feedback. Nothing comes home with me that gets marked for completion. 

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System #4: Staggering Due Dates for Different Preps

This one I have not completely mastered.  I will have 3 preps in the fall, meaning I will teach General English 6, Advanced English 6, and Advanced English 7. Knowing I have these 3 preps, it is not wise to take in all of their rough drafts for an argumentative essay on the same Friday (Goodbye, weekend!) However, knowing this is hard to do, it is even harder to plan for in real time. Sometimes I cannot help if the due dates of drafts or workshops coincide. I think the planning of more in-class writing workshops will help with this endeavor. It is a system that is flawed when it comes to the amount of preps given in a particular day, marking period, and school year. 

System #5: Revisions to the Writing Workshop

This is where I think real change is in my teaching. I have always done writer's workshop; however, the process goes like this: 1.) Students acquire or learn a new skill from me. 2.) We practice together 3.) They try it on their own and then 4.) Students share their writing. This can look differently each time, but this is the basic format. I want to get specific with skills that students are learning in workshop and give them more time with me. If I can take 3 days and touch base with them individually, I can save time from me grading at home and neglecting the feedback loop, and I can spend more time giving them plentiful and quality feedback that matters. 

I can also see this working with stations. My stomach hurts a bit thinking about prepping for stations each week. Stations that have a teacher as a conferencing station require the other two stations be independent or group work that is engaging enough where a teacher does not have to split time in order to manage both stations. I know setting up these stations will be more work on the front end, but the goal will be to do more real-life editing, revising, and conferencing in class, and less time with me alone at home grading papers. Again, I want to reiterate I am not trying to eliminate feedback done on my own time, but I recognize there has to be a better way to give feedback and not give up all my time at home for my self and family. 

The writing workshop 2.0 is where I'm going to leave this for now. I am looking at station ideas and setting up even more routines so I can be more prepared in classroom, and hopefully do less paperwork at home. 

Writing Mindset Reflection: What does conferencing in class look like in your room? How much success do you have with stations? What systems do you use to reduce the paper problem?