WMS Language Arts teacher Ashley Di Salvo shares her tips for organizing her classroom and helping her students stay organized.
The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics.
What are your tips for classroom “organization” – procedures, dealing with paper, helping students stay organized, online student work, etc.?
As a teacher, there are countless factors that go into making a classroom operate as smoothly as possible. Although there are often things a teacher cannot control, an organized teacher and classroom creates an environment that supports student learning, increases time-on-task, and teaches strategies that the support development of executive functioning skills. In the following sections, I hope to provide you with concrete examples of how I utilize organizational systems in my middle school classroom.
Organizing “Behind the Scenes”
Going digital with my plan book
Digital lesson plans have been the easiest way for me to manipulate and change my plans without creating a mess of erasure marks in a plan book. I create a Word document at the beginning of each year where each week has its own page organized by day and subject area. Digital plans allow me to easily search previous years’ documents for the time and sequence of units, as well as lesson objectives. Then, I can copy and paste the plan from one year to the next saving valuable time.
Organizing instructional materials
Most of my instructional materials are also in a digital format. Thus, I’ve hyper organized my computer files making it easy to navigate myself or to share folders with colleagues. As an illustration, my entire reading curriculum is found in a ‘Reading’ folder and then broken down into sub folders by the title of trade books, for example, ‘Hatchet,’ and still further into sub folders including ‘Hatchet Vocabulary,’ ‘Hatchet Comprehension,’ and ‘Hatchet Writing Worksheets.’ Including the name of the book or unit in every file name allows me to easily search my entire drive if a file accidentally gets moved.
Organizing for seamless classroom instruction
For each day of the week, I use color-coded pocket folders to organize my class materials. For my language arts class, the two interior pockets are split between reading and writing lessons and then the homework for each content area gets a large, bright Clip-Rite Clip Tab that says “HW,” so I don’t forget to hand out the assignment. I’ve found that these folders also make it incredibly easy for a substitute to locate and utilize the day’s materials.
Aiding student success through organization
For students, the task of organizing one’s materials and space can be especially daunting. Planning routines and procedures that meet the needs of the student with the greatest executive functioning challenges better supports all students and creates more time-on-task.
Establishing routines to support executive functioning skills
Students entering my classroom are greeted by a ‘Welcome’ slide projected on the board. The slide prompts them to hand in and write down homework and identifies which materials they need to have ready. The board will also have an ‘aim’ displayed that communicates the objective of the lesson and allows students to proactively consider which materials they might need for a lesson. A large digital countdown timer on the board also helps students become aware of how long it takes them to complete these tasks. The routine encourages students to develop agency throughout the year and allows them to proactively organize themselves for the lesson that is to come.
Helping students organize their workspace and papers
Much like learning to read or solve quadratic equations, many students require explicit direction in how to get and stay organized. I routinely demonstrate for students how to organize their desks when they are working on assignments that require multiple worksheets to be displayed. This may sound simple, but the process of showing students how to organize their workspace allows them to consider which resources to prioritize and eliminates unnecessary clutter that can lead to distraction.
Much like learning to read or solve quadratic equations, many students require explicit direction in how to get and stay organized.
Finally, my students all have a ‘Writing Folder’ for longer term projects. Labels on the interior pockets identify where articles, graphic organizers, work-in-progress, and completed worksheets should be placed.
Actively planning organizational systems for yourself, your classroom, and your students can be time consuming and often requires trial and error to figure out what works for your style. However, as you implement strategies, you and your students will benefit from more streamlined planning and instruction, improved support of executive functioning challenges, and greater time-on-task.