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Operation Organization: Preventing Desk Disasters

Jul 17, 2008
Choosing to start the school year with an organized classroom will save you time, frustration and headaches in the long term. How do you do this? In this article we'll look at two areas that can be particularly challenging.


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.

To keep this mass of individual work organized, I get one hanging file folder for each student and put all of the folders in a plastic crate. The crate is kept in a centralized location. Into the folders goes the assigned work. I copy worksheets or assignments on a similar topic and staple them into a workbook. The kids work through the workbooks in their file folders a page or two at a day. The workbooks may last two weeks or up to the entire quarter. They are not meant to be completed at the end of each week. Doing the workbook system saves time in the long run because I don't have to scramble to come up with assignments for each student every single day.

What Didn't Work: In the past I've tried giving each student a notebook with dividers for each subject. Every weekend I would end up at school copying work for the following week and putting them into the notebooks. This got old really fast.

When I had only 3 or 4 students, I could get away with assigning individual worksheets every day. The downside of this is that it doesn't work well with more than a few students and papers tended to get lost easily.

The crate system has more benefits than drawbacks. Some of the best things about it are the incidental skills the kids get to practice--skills like choice making and being responsible.


Just thinking about this makes me tired! I used to have piles of corrected student work all over my desk just because I was afraid I'd end up without enough work samples for the state portfolio assessment that's due in the Spring. I'd save everything until Spring. That amounts to A LOT of paper. Even with trying to get to it every month, I still had too much piled on my desk.

Instead of keeping all of the work, I decided to pick specific days in each data period to collect data and send everything else home. This sounds like an obvious solution and the way it's supposed to be done anyway; however, the day-to-day teaching usually derailed my best intentions. Consequently, my desk was piled with papers.

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.

Label one heavy-duty magnetic clip for each student. Hang the clips on the whiteboard.

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.

I like this clip system because students get to practice some very needed skills, as I said. Plus all of the adults and students in the classroom can see the clips all day long. This acts as a visual reminder that things need to be taken home.

There's really no one organizational strategy that works for all teachers. You can do some experimenting and tailoring to fit your needs whether it be one of my suggestions, using cubby boxes, bookshelves or something entirely different. Whatever strategy you decide on, it will definitely be worth spending time to use it--if it works for you.
About the Author
Deborah Walker teaches middle school special education. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband, 4 children, 2 dogs and 3 cats. Visit Special-Education-Teacher-Resources.com
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