The Together Student, Part 1: Good Binders Make Good Students

Oct 11, 2013

Update: A shout out to our friend Emily S. in Houston who alerted me to the Binder Check’s origination. It comes from a program named AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination). AVID is a global non-profit that prepares students for college by equipping them with the skills, academic behaviors, and college knowledge necessary to succeed at every academic level. You can check out the great work they do to support and prepare students here.

While this is a blog MOSTLY for adults working in and near schools, there is this OTHER large group of important people in our lives—our STUDENTS! Here, here, students!

This is the first of several posts dedicated to your students’ Togetherness. Whether they’re in first grade or high school, student Togetherness is a huge deal. It impacts EVERYTHING. I’ve been particularly interested in it since reading this 2009 article by Paul Tough in the New York Times. First, I tried the marshmallow test on my own daughter, and then. . . Just kidding!

However, I do remember how some of my very favorite students really struggled with organization, and how much this challenge impacted their grades. One of my fourth graders in particular was very capable of getting straight A’s, but he couldn’t complete homework assignments, frequently lost materials, and struggled to pay attention.

Now, I’m no psychologist or scientist, but I do think some of the most Together Teachers I’ve met have figured out ways to help their students learn and practice their own version of Togetherness. As always, it’s nothing magical. These teachers have prioritized helping students with organization, and made time for it.

Let’s look at one example from Michelle K., a middle school teacher in California who was so gracious to share her resources with us. Enter the Binder Check. This could probably work from second grade through twelfth, with some modifications along the way. Here’s what to do:

  • Determine the materials required to assist your students. Michelle says, “I give my students about a week to purchase one binder for math with five dividers. I am very specific about the purchase required for our class.” 
  • Teach your students your expectations and invest them in their importance. “We spend 30 minutes going over binder set up as a whole class, starting with why this even matters.”

Then Michelle’s class:

    • labels the dividers
    • finds the papers from the first week of school that go in each specific section.

Below, we’ve shared a modified version of Michelle’s reference handout for her students to use as they build their binders:

  •  Support the system. Michelle tells us, “For the first month of school, I try to be explicit when I tell students to pack up or put something away about where it should go (projects section, worksheets section, etc.). Then, over time, the students get the idea.”
  • Hold the line. Michelle is pretty strict here. She told me, “Generally, I won’t let a student leave the class until they have organized their papers. If I announce a backpack/binder check ahead of time, I will even include it as a grade. All I do is walk around quickly and peer in their binder and backpack. This takes about 10 seconds per student.”
  •  Set your students up for success. Everything Michelle gives her students is hole punched. If for some reason, she forgets to hole punch something or her students have other types of handouts, she keeps a durable three-hole punch available.

Got doubts? I asked Michelle some tough questions and I loved her answers:

What if your students cannot purchase materials you need? “Most of my students are able to get a binder and dividers. I end up buying and giving away binders and dividers to about 10-20% of my class. I generally ask that they donate 30 minutes to 1 hour of time to the class in return for the supplies.”

What about those really tricky cases? Severely disorganized students? “For disorganized students, I still have not found the best support system. Sometimes I pair an organized student with someone who is disorganized and either during homeroom or independent work I have them work together to clean out the disorganized student’s backpack. I also try to check their backpack every week and not let them leave class until everything is put in their binder rings.”

Michelle is an example of a single teacher creating a system for her students within her classroom. Coming soon is a binder system in use across an ENTIRE high school. Betcha can’t wait for that!

Michelle, we love the time and effort you have put into student Togetherness. We also appreciate how you keep it simple and focused. No doubt it will benefit your students in the long run!

Discussion Question: How do you support student togetherness?