By Teachers, For Teachers
One of the biggest challenges of today’s teachers is managing larger and larger classes. The number of students increases every year, and just when it feels as if the classes cannot expand any more, they do.
With more students comes more paperwork of all types. Taming the paperwork tiger can be a huge step to insuring efficiency and sanity to even the most over-worked classroom teacher.
Here are some organization tips for managing paperwork that have helped keep me relatively sane in my classroom.
Get Organized with Student Work Folders
One of the best ideas I ever had was creating individual work folders for each of my 190 students. I keep them in three crates alphabetically, and I have two student aides who file all the papers I’ve graded.
When there is a question about a specific grade, students can go to the work folder and pull out the work in question, so papers don’t disappear into back packs. This is also great for times when parents want to see progress or work output, or if you make a mistake in recording grades in an electronic grade book.
For elementary students, this can make for a great portfolio to show parents at Open House, or a reference when evaluating students at report card time.
Track Progress with Writing (or Subject) Folders
At our high school, we make a writing folder for each English student when he or she enters the school as a freshman. We file any significant writing assignment —essays, projects — in these folders and file them in a cabinet.
At the beginning of the next year, we hold a folder swap. This is where students visit their last year’s English teacher, pick up the writing folder, and take it to the current English teacher, who adds that year’s significant writing assignments. At the end of senior year, the student receives the folder and can see the progress he or she made during their tenure at high school.
This method can apply to all grade levels and subject matter. It’s just a matter of identifying what significant assignments should be kept separate from work folders, or combined to make one all-encompassing portfolio of the year or semester.
Find a Special Place for Special Papers
With more and more students receiving special education benefits or accommodations, keeping track of special needs students can be daunting. Designate one drawer of your desk or file cabinet only for materials that are to be secured.
There are huge privacy issues with any notice surrounding students and special needs. These matters are always marked confidential, and should not be filed with your normal paperwork. Always shred the previous year’s confidential notices at the beginning of the new year to avoid confusion and papers you don’t need.
Designate Homework Collection Stations
In order to manage five different classes, I designate five separate trays, one for each class, in which to put homework. Label the trays for avoid confusion and to streamline the inputting of scores into your grade book or grading program.
At the elementary level, consider a homework tray for each table, for different subjects, or for different assignments to make grading easier.
Create a No Name Folder
When work is turned in without a name attached, I used to put it on my board with a magnet. With so many papers, I have a tough time finding room on the board for that many items, so I created a No Name folder that I put at the front of my work folder crates. When a student claims to have done an assignment but can’t find it, I direct them to the No Name folder, and often the work is reunited with its rightful owner.
At any age level, the No Name folder makes students more accountable and allows them to check to see if they’ve forgotten to identify their own papers.
Make a Student Mail Station
Students who want a weekly report of progress give me “blue slips” on Thursdays. These are forms generated by our counseling department for students to give to teachers, and on many weeks I receive anywhere from 5 - 25 of these forms.
In order to efficiently get them back to students while still maintaining their privacy, I fold the forms so only the names are showing, and I stack them in front of the homework tray for the class each student comes from. This way they can pick up their “mail”!
In elementary schools, many classrooms still have cubbies, so this works for student-teacher communication. Folders that go home daily also work very well for tracking progress reports or any communication with students/parents.
Handle Absences & Missed Work More Easily
With students missing school for many reasons, it is impossible for me to keep up with what each individual has missed, so I have a folder next to the door where I keep
A student fills the form out, writes the day or days on which they were absent, gives it to me, and I write the assignment and the due date. I give these back in person so they can be completed in a timely manner.
At the elementary level, keeping a missing work folder with the names of students who’ve missed each particular worksheet or project will keep things straight. After taking attendance, be sure to put those folders aside and fill them as you assign work throughout the day. That way, it won’t be an additional after-school task.
Post an Assignment List
Every week, I update and post assignments in two place:
*on a paper list at the back of my room
You can create a running list of assignments using a table format in Microsoft Word or Excel. Be sure to leave a few blank lines for any new assignments that arise, so you can simply write it in on the paper version and add it to the table online.
Students who are absent or who missed a due date announcement have multiple ways to get the information and are more likely to get assignments in on time.
Even if your students aren’t meticulously checking grades and points, a laundry list of all the work that has been done can show them how much they’ve accomplished in their classroom.
In order to save paper and time, I copy instructions for projects on one side of a paper, and copy the grading rubric for the project on the other side.
When students turn in project or essays, the grading rubric can be used as the cover sheet. The added advantage to this is that students have had a chance to see the criteria on which their grade for the project will be based. Simple rubrics for elementary students with only two or three criteria get them used to the idea of standards-based grading.
Avoid Clutter with a FILE IT Folder
I wish I had more time to organize my own papers, but I never seem to have it. Because of this, I created a FILE IT folder.
I keep it on my worktable, and when I get a master copy or multiple extra copies of papers, I paperclip them, put them in this folder, and they are out of sight, at least for a while. It cuts down on the clutter, but the catch is that you have to go in and actually file the contents once in a while!
Create a Catch-all Cubby
There are some papers I use frequently that rarely change, like photocopied writing tips, grammar tips, essay shaping sheets, cover sheets. For these, I created a four-by-four-slot wooden cubby that I keep on the shelf for easy access.
I actually paid a student to build it for me, but you can buy cardboard versions at office supply stores. When students need one of these items, they can help themselves.
The future of education will probably veer that way eventually. In my school, we now do attendance and grades exclusively on the web.
More and more, we are urged to post documents on web sites, and we use an anti-plagiarism program to catch cheating. We could actually grade papers on this program if the district wanted to pay for that option.
If you’re a techie teacher or your school has Blackboard or Moodle, you may want to invest the time in creating these online folders to track work and maintain communication with students on the web.
For now, at least in my case, I’m stuck with physical folder, files, and fact sheets, so learning to handle them in the real world is still a critical skill. I hope you found these organization tips handy while tackle the overwhelming amounts of teacher paperwork.
How do you make classroom paperwork more manageable? Share in the comments section!