Organization is the key to keeping your head above water during the school year. Its especially important for special education teachers. There are really three separate areas that need to be organized: legal documents and files, completed work and assigned work. How you handle the case files is often dictated by your school district. So, lets take a look at the last two areas–assigned work and completed work.
I teach middle school students, grades 4-8, with a very wide spectrum of disabilities, ranging from the level of an infant to students capable of doing 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade work. Nobody in class is assigned exactly the same work. Each of the programs is extremely individualized. If I didn’t have an organizational plan in place, I’d be in total chaos.
I use a crate system. To use this system you will need one plastic crate and enough hanging file folders to have one for each student. The file folders are labeled with student names. The crate is kept in a central location. Inside each file folder you will put work for the student to do. I like to create packets of similar subjects (single-digit adding, etc.) that will last the student at least two weeks. The students can determine which subject they want to start with on any given day. This builds in a choice-making activity, which my students need to practice.
I wouldn’t recommend giving each student a notebook of assigned work because, if they’re anything like my students, they will rush through it and end up with nothing to do on Friday. And, since the notebooks only held work for one week at a time, I spent part of every weekend at school getting the next week’s work together. Yuck!
I also tried passing out assignments on a daily basis. This worked ok until I got more than a few students in my class. No matter how many students I had, the papers tended to be stuffed into desks and lockers or mysteriously disappear. In the end it was too much extra work.
Of all the systems for organizing student work, the crate system really meets all of my needs. I like the fact that it’s portable and that the responsibility for assigning work is not left only to me. My assistants are able to assign work that I have “pre-approved,” so to speak.
My students are required to do a portfolio assessment for NCLB since they can’t do the standard test even with accommodations. So, in order to make sure I’d have enough work samples to create a good portfolio, I became a pack rat. I’d save every piece of student work in a pile on my desk until the end of a given data period, which was usually about 10 weeks long. Don’t try this method.
Despite good intentions, I never quite got to picking work to include in the portfolio until at least the middle of the year. I made sure I had the data, but the way in which I went about it was a headache. I decided to do it right–pick days, in advance, on which to collect data for the portfolios. I then keep only that set of work samples. Everything else gets sent home and my desk is clear.
To do this you will need one 3″ binder and 2-pocket folders (one folder for each student). The folders go into the binder. After you collect the data on your data days, just put the work into the right folder and save it. At the end of the year, transfer all of the work into individual binders that will be sent to the state for evaluation. Simple.
What’s my solution for making sure work gets home every day? It’s really basic.
Here’s what to do. Get as many heavy duty magnetic clips at the store as you need–one for each student. The magnets need to be heavy duty, otherwise they won’t hold well without sliding. Each student’s name is put on a clip. I use a label maker to make name labels, so I can reuse the clips with different students each year.
Draw a vertical line about a yard from the end of the white board. At the top write “Work To Go Home”. Put the clips in this area. They are the only things that should be in that area.
When work is finished and corrected, it goes on the appropriate clip. I have my students take responsibility for hanging things on their clips. They learn to locate their own names, and read the names of other classmates. Squeezing the clip is also a good OT exercise. At the end of the day, it’s the students’ responsibility to get the work off the clips and into the backpacks.
Having the clips in a central location also acts as a reminder all day long. And, everyone in the room knows what needs to go home, so if a student forgets to check the clip, any number of people (including other students) will remind him or her.
I’m sure there are many other organizational systems to manage student work: cubby boxes, mailboxes, magazine racks attached to the wall, etc. When it comes down to it, no one organizational system will work for everyone and you’ll have to do a lot of experimenting and tweaking until you find one that fits exactly right for you.