15 October 2016

The Folder Experiment

I'm trying something new with my Year 11s this year.

I ended up in a bit of a mess with this class last year. Their exercise books overflowed with worksheets, in fact it got so bad that at one point I was emailed by a parent complaining about the amount of loose paper her son was carrying around. Some of my students tried hard to keep things tidy, but my worksheet habit overwhelmed them and even the tidiest books buckled under the pressure.

I know I'm not the only teacher with this problem. Here are some of the causes:
1. I don't have access to textbooks. I use printed resources (often Don Steward and MathsPad) in every lesson... I love resources, in case you hadn't noticed.
2. I do try to display as much as I can on the board instead of printing it out (to save printing budget), but most of my activities don't work as well if not printed out.
3. I used to teach girls - most would fold and stick their worksheets beautifully (see picture below). I now teach boys... most aren't so bothered about keeping things neat.
4. I'm not particularly good at reminding students to stick sheets in during the lesson.

I don't think that messy books are the worst thing in the world, but I felt that there was room for improvement.
Good sticking!

My solution is to give a ring binder to each student. I've always had my A level students use ring binders but I've never done it at Key Stage 4 before.
So far, it's awesome. It's working really well. I will explain here what I'm doing, and report back later in the year on whether it's still working well.

Worksheets
For each lesson I prepare one double sided A4 sheet which includes a starter, space for notes, the main classwork exercise and an extension activity. If they need more space for notes or classwork, they have a stack of paper at the back of their folder.

The worksheets are now a well established routine. They give my lessons a really clear structure - this fits well with my teaching style. With a dedicated space for notes and examples, I'm seeing an improvement in their note taking (which was almost non-existent last year).


Revisiting Year 10 topics
My Year 11s have nine hours of maths a fortnight (last year Year 11 only had six, so this is a big improvement). Because I have young children I only work 4 days a week, meaning that one of their nine lessons is taught by another teacher. In her lessons my students are given a one hour Edexcel topic test to work through (these can be downloaded from the Emporium) - these are kept in a separate section in their folder. So once a fortnight my students are spending an hour doing exam style questions on previously taught topics. This is good preparation for their upcoming mocks and allows me to get on with teaching new content.

Multiple choice quizzes
I wrote here about the multiple choice open book quizzes that my Year 11s do every week. I love these! There's a section in their folder to keep their marked quizzes. When they get a quiz back they record their score on a tracking sheet so they can easily see topics that need more work.

Marking
There's also a section in their folders for marked homeworks. This means that when my Head of Faculty does a book scrutiny she'll easily see the feedback I've given. In previous years my marked work often ended up lost in a stack of loose sheets, so it looked like I never did any marking.

I set one assessed homework per fortnight that I mark and give feedback on. This gives me a good sense of how each student is getting on and, along with the quizzes, ensures they get regular feedback. Every other week I set a self-marking homework. My workload is far too heavy to mark homework every week for every class.
Admin
My Year 11s have an 'information' section in their folder which includes a topic checklist, topic timeline, progress data and exam information.

Considerations
So far I'm loving the switch to ring binders. It's working really well. My students' maths notes and classwork are well structured and organised. This will be beneficial when they revise for their GCSEs. Although a few folders are getting a little bit messy (eg file dividers falling out), the majority are in really good shape. I do worry that the folders might overflow by May - perhaps lever arch files would have worked better given the volume of work we get through.

This was a fairly pricey experiment for me (I'm reluctant to spend any of my own family's money on equipment for school but this cost me £40 for foldersfile dividers and paper). One minor setback is that I teach this class in three different classrooms and most choose to leave their folders with me, which means I have to carry folders between rooms at the end of the day. Life would be easier (in many respects) if I were based in one classroom.

Overall my folder experiment is going really well. I will report back at the end of the year on whether I'll do it again next year!

26 comments:

  1. This is interesting, and the work looks beautiful. I just wondered how you cope when you have to deviate from your lesson plan?

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    1. Good question! To be honest I rarely deviate from my plan with this class. Having already taught them for a year I'm very familiar with their pace so I can predict how long things will take and what questions will come up.

      Sadly I don't really get time to go off on enriching tangents, as much as I'd like to, because I have far too many topics to cover this year and even though we now have 9 lessons, I'm racing against the clock.

      Of course sometimes something unexpected happens (eg fire alarm) and we don't get through everything I planned, in which case I just copy and paste the stuff we didn't get to into the next lesson's sheet. I never print the lesson sheets more than a day in advance so I always have a bit of flexibility to carry things over.

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  2. I tried this a long time ago, I got swamped in A4 paper. I also didn't have enough space for ring binders. More recently I hole punched/treasury tagged A4 exercise books in September. Better but not brilliant. Make sure you give Y11s time to file, and public ally check. Training them is the hardest bit!!

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    1. At the start of the year I gave instructions at the end of each lesson to make sure everything was filed away correctly. I don't have to anymore - they're very good at doing it themselves. They like their folders and they're taking more pride in them then they used to with their books. I should mention that this is a top set and most are pretty organised and mature. Other classes may need more monitoring.

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  3. Once you get to revision time will be interesting if pupils can use the folders for revision. My books never work for that purpose.

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    1. I hope so. My Head of Faculty popped into a lesson and asked a student whether he liked his new folder - he said that he could already see that it would be brilliant for revision.

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  4. I'm curious about why you don't use a textbook. Isn't it difficult for the students to study if they don't have a book? I also don't understand why you had to pay the folders yourself.

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    1. Some schools don't have class sets of textbooks. They're expensive and often of questionable quality. I'm not anti-textbook but I'm happy that we don't have textbooks - I enjoy choosing resources for my lessons.

      I paid for the folders because school budgets are tight and I don't think it's reasonable to ask my school to spend more on my class than on other classes. They provide exercise books and it's my decision to use a more expensive alternative.

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    2. In fact, you are making your own textbook. Respect for that!
      Paying for the folders compares to a bus-driver bringing his own bus.
      It also shows how tight budgets are.

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  5. I've had a lot of comments on Twitter and Facebook saying that this doesn't work with 'low ability' classes because their folders get too messy. I just want to mention that I did this last year for a while with a bottom set Year 11 class and it worked well (again, I made a 'workbook' for each lesson - which was fairly time consuming). But it was a small class so easy to monitor the folders and get things filed at the end of every lesson.

    The class I'm currently doing this with are a top set and generally fairly conscientious, but their books were a total mess last year. So the folders have definitely improved things.

    In this post I'm simply sharing an experience - I think that teachers are generally interested in hearing about what's happening in other teachers' classrooms. I'm certainly not saying there's anything wrong with exercise books, nor I am saying that what I'm doing here would work in every classroom.

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  6. Hi Jo - from New Zealand - this looks great and is something I have been thinking about for quite some time. Are you able to share a few of the A4 double sided lesson sheets as examples/templates as well as say, your planning for a single topic?

    I would be interested in developing this idea for a class I am taking next year (low ability Year 12s doing financial literacy) and would love to have an exemplar as a starting point. Would be great to see the rationale behind the development of a topic content and the subsequent lessons.

    Many thanks and not a worry if not possible. Love your work by the way!

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    1. Thanks! No problem, I've uploaded my lesson sheets for you here. I've only done four topics so far (half way through inequalities) but this gives you an idea of the format and content.

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    2. HI Jo, Thanks for that - I have been showing anther interested teacher in the department - looking at rolling out a version of this for the new year. Nedd to put it in my budget first!

      Thanks so much for sharing, you are a star!

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  7. I love this idea. I'm in a non-textbook department too and ensure all my printing is A5 or smaller (print using PowerPoint slides as worksheets)

    I think teaching pupils to use folders for study is an excellent preparation for when they go to university or college.

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    1. With my Year 7s I always print A5 or smaller so they can stick the work into their books. Things always start well but then some forget to stick stuff in and it's all downhill from there. Agree about preparation for further study - folders take discipline, and discipline is a quality worth developing early.

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  8. Hi, You mentioned the topic tests on the Emporium website but I cant seem to find them, where are they? Thanks

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    1. GCSE Mathematics > 11 1MA1 (from 2015) > Support Materials and Tests > Topic Tests

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  9. I have just started in a new school and decided to use folders for KS4. I work in a special school and we are studying for Entry Level but it makes it so much easier for them to store their homeworks and quizzes and worksheets so that I can easily find and record all their work. It needed training and I still need to remind them of the sections but it is slightly easier for me as I have a class of 6. But folders are definitely the way forward! And for KS3 I want to hole punch their books and use treasury tags (like I believe someone mentioned earlier)

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    1. Thanks for the comment - it's great to hear this from the perspective of someone who teaches a very different type of class.

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  10. I am from the US, but am teaching IGCSE in Beijing, following Cambridge 0607. I grew up using 3 ring binders for everything in school, and it was a huge shift for me to go to school-provided workbooks. I tried binders last year, but didn't spend the time organising them as I should have. I do give a lot of loose papers, which get lost easily, so I'm thinking through how I want to do this next year. I do have school budget to get notebooks, but if we get students throughout the year, it's often a pain to set up. Also, if a student loses their notebook, it makes it difficult.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. You have the same problem as me, handing out lots of loose papers! Folders might help.

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  11. Hiya,

    After seeing your post I too decided something needed to be done to make my year 11 class books more revision ready. I started my folders last week and for now we are just using them to store any useful worksheets we have done in the year so far so they are filed safe for revision time. So far a very positive response!

    I love the chart showing their progress from KS2 through to the GCSE! At our last department meeting we were talking about the best way to do this and your document ticks all the boxes. Do you happen to have a template for this?

    I have used your website so much already this year especially for all your useful hints on good resources for the new GCSE - thank you so much!

    Grace

    Grace

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    1. Thanks for your comment, I'm so pleased to hear it's working well.

      Our progress trackers are called 'Star Charts' and are used across the school in every subject. They are printed from SIMs at the start of the year so all students have to do is add grades from their progress reports as the year progresses. I will see if I can get a template for you - bear with me, I'll get back to you later today.

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    2. Sorry for the delay, here's the Star Chart template.

      Star Chart

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    3. Thank you so much! Hope you had a good half term!

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