Teaching Opinion

Response: ‘Help Students Be Organized By Being Organized Yourself’

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 18, 2014 6 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series on this topic. You can see Part One here)

This week’s question is:

What are the best ways to help students keep their work organized and for teachers to keep their classroom organized?

What teacher can’t use help with this challenge?

Part One in this series shared guest responses from three educators -- Julia Thompson, Ariel Sacks and Gini Cunningham. I also contributed a few of my own ideas, and thought readers might find it useful to read two prior posts where I elaborated a bit on some of my suggestions:

New Organizational Tool I’m Using This Year: Double - Sided Notebooks

How I Organize My Classroom Library

In the same vein, people might find The Best Places On The Web To Write Lesson Plans useful.

Today’s post highlights the thoughts of two more teachers -- Debbie Diller and Leslie Blauman -- as well as comments from readers.

In addition, you can listen to a ten-minute podcast on this subject where I talk with Julia and Ariel.

Response From Debbie Diller

Debbie Diller has been an educator for over 35 years. She has taught Pre-K through 10th grade in public schools. Her experience ranges from being a classroom teacher to a Title I reading specialist to a migrant education teacher to a literacy coach, as well as a national consultant and author. Her book Spaces & Places is a practical resource filled with ideas on how to better manage your classroom and support student learning and independence:

If you want your students to be organized, start by being organized yourself. You are always modeling, even if you don’t realize you are. For example, if you have students with disorganized desks, look at your own desk space and be sure it is a model of organization. (Yikes! That’s a tough one for me, too.)

Organization begins with planning. The old saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” is the key. Look at things around your room that tend to fall into disarray, and then develop a plan for those items. If you find stacks around your room at the end of the day, create a system for those things. I helped one teacher categorize the following items found in her piles: projects she hadn’t finished, papers that needed to be filed, things to be sent home, and things to read when she had time. We then found an appropriate-sized clear container for each of these categories and labeled them: Projects to Finish, Papers to File, Send Home, and To Read. Now, when items came across her desk, she had a place to put them. On a regular basis, she committed to handle the items in each transparent box or file.

Help children with systems for getting and staying organized, too. For older students, spiral notebooks for different subjects or three-ring binders with labeled sections work well. As you teach, talk about where to put certain items, why, and how being organized will help students think more clearly. With younger students, you might try color-coded, labeled baskets for finished work in different subjects. Teach children your expectations for where to put things, when, and why. Organize spaces for student supplies and personal belongings, such as coats and backpacks. Be clear about your expectations. Use photos of what spaces should look like with the caption, “Does it look like this?”

Instruction and structure have the same root--struct means “to build.” Help children build systems for organizing everything in the classroom, and you’ll be giving them lessons for life as well as literacy.

Response From Leslie Blauman

Leslie Blauman has been teaching reading and literacy in the Cherry Creek School District for over 25 years. Leslie’s classroom is a working model for child/staff development in reading, writing, and critical thinking and is a lab classroom for the Denver based Public Education and Business Coalition (PEBC). She is the author of The Inside Guide to the Reading-Writing Classroom and Kid-Tested Writing Lessons and has co-authored Comprehension Going Forward - all with Heinemann:

As teachers begin the new school year, this is a key question that requires reflection. How do you organize for student independence and how do you envision your classroom? What organizational tools match your style? Binders? Bins? Folders? Whatever you choose has to make sense to you and to your students and needs to be easily accessible.

Easily accessible is imperative. How do your students access supplies and materials independently? Paper, pencils, staplers, etc. - everything students need to write should be at a writing center. Multiple pencil sharpeners around the room. Math manipulatives in the math center. Classroom libraries organized by genre, author, level, series (whatever you and the students think best) in baskets or bins - clearly marked, and with a checkout system in place. When students know where everything is, how to access and use it appropriately, and how to keep it organized and clean, then you have a system that works. Where do students turn in their papers? Do you have mailboxes for work to be sent home? And of course the overarching question - how much physical space do you have and where do you put everything to create the best flow?

Then there’s student work. Again, the key question is how do you envision your classroom? I believe that students should be immersed in authentic work, so you won’t see many worksheets in my classroom. Students have notebooks and folders for their math, writing, social studies, and science. These are color coded for ease in identification and to make switching classes easier (yellow for writing, blue for math, etc.) While most of the supplies are kept in individual desks, supplies that aren’t used every day are kept in tubs in the room. This is especially helpful for younger students (and to keep desks clutter-free) - and it helps to have multiple bins (e.g., for girls and for boys). For reading, each student has a Book Lover’s Book which holds all their thinking in reading - including mini-lessons, vocabulary, books they’ve read, written letters to me about their reading, etc. Each year the contents differ slightly, but the constant is they reflect student reading, thinking, and writing about their thinking. This year I’m adding sections on “Close Reading” and including the CCSS standards. It’s my true organizational tool for reading, and I write about it in detail in my book, The Inside Guide to the Reading-Writing Classroom.

Whatever organizational tools you use need to work for your teaching style and your students’ learning styles, and help create a record of learning throughout the year.

Responses From Readers

A number of readers contributed comments using Twitter. I’ve used Storify to collect them:

Thanks to Leslie and Debbie, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind. You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers. I’ll be highlighting one particular publisher every two months, and it’s Jossey-Bass’ turn now..

Just a reminder -- you can subscribe to blog for free via RSS Reader or email.... And,if you missed any of the highlights from the first two years of blog, you can see a categorized list of them here. You won’t see posts from school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking in the monthly archives link on blog’s sidebar.

You can also see annual lists of my most popular posts.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Last, but not least, I’ve recently begun recording a weekly eight-minute BAM! Radio podcast with educators who provide guest responses to questions. You can listen and/or download them here.

Watch for a new “question-of-the-week” in a few days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.