Sunday, January 07, 2007

Ah, the sound of binder rings in the morning

We went back to school this past Thursday (nothing like easing everyone in with a very short week), and the kids were actually pretty well behaved. I've noticed for the past few years that Santa does something really weird over the holidays - it's as if he gives all my good kids the crazies (aka hormones) and they become nuts, and then the kids that were nuts before get something (a dose of maturity?) and they do a lot better. Interestingly enough, I didn't see any big changes in the kids, outside of some new clothes and a lot of haircuts, but time will tell.

We celebrated the New Year by cleaning out the science portion of our binders.

Binder are a Very Big Thing in our district. And getting to clean out the binders is a Very Big Thing to our students.

The binders, and the fact that Every Single Seventh Grader in the entire district is required to carry one , is an outgrowth of a program called AVID (Advancement through Individal Determination), which has been very successful in our high schools. (For more information on Avid, go here). In our high schools, AVID is actually a designated class that helps kids with organizational skills and study skills in the hopes to move these middle-of-the road kids into a higher achievement level. It's a really successful program and I've had a number of former students credit it for turning them around. Many AVID students end up going to college, something many of them may not have even considered before they entered the program.

So, a few years ago, The District decided to take some of the AVID concepts and implement them into the middle schools, with seventh grade being the focus. Our team piloted the program last year and now everyone's doing it. We did have the AVID teachers from the local high schools come down and show us what they do, and then we modified it based on the reality of seventh graders (and what we discovered last year). Face it, there are some things they are just not developmentally ready for.

The big feature of the program is The Binder. Every kid has a binder which holds EVERYTHING. No more "I left my Science folder in my locker." These binders go with the kids everywhere. There is a section for each subject, and subsections within each subject - class notes & handouts, graded & returned work, and homework. Everything is filed on top, so in theory, if a kid finished his homework, opens his binder and puts it on the very top of the science/homework section, there should be no problem locating the homework to turn it in the following day. The binder also contains paper, their agenda, a pencil pouch which holds pencils and highlighters, and class and team rules, information, etc. The agenda itself has to be filled out in a specifc way with a line for Classwork (what we did that day), and another one for Homework, which are then highlighted with different colored highlighters. Notes are taken in the Cornell Note format although those of us in the Science Department tend to use our foldable notes instead as it works better for our content (and that's another post and another day).

In short, there's a huge emphasis on organization with this program. And, truth be told, it has a lot of merit but it's been incredibly difficult to work with the kids on their binders when we don't have a dedicated class for it like the high schools do. All of which may be one of the reasons why we go to a dedicated advisory next year, but I digress.

Cleaning out their binders (which, by the way, is something the high school kids apparently never get to do) is something our kids love to do. There's something about throwing away old test and notes and homework that gives them satisfaction. I feel the same way about going through my closet and getting rid of things I never wear. I did, however, have them staple all their foldable notes together and turn them in. I file these away and then hand them back out when we review for Our Very Big Government Mandated Test. They clicked those binder rings open and closed, shuffled their papers, sorted them out, stapled and turned in.

So, I got to wondering...any of you out there use the AVID program? Comments?


Princess Lionhead said...

That sounds so innovative and a great idea to organize students!! My kids just end up throwing away papers I give back and they never know where anything is!! I bet it takes a lot of training the kids though! And I'm assuming the district or the school paid for the binders?

Mrs. T said...

No, I don't use it, but from what you say, it sounds great. I am usually one to run and run far from any sort of "canned" program/initiative. I try hard to incorporate organizational skills in my curriculum- I make them keep a notebook just for my class. All of their notes and homework assignments are in the notebook, each entry is labeled with a number. At the end of the term, I have them select 5 random numbers and grade those so I don't have to look at 40 entries in 75 notebooks.
I'm going to look into this AVID thing and see if it would be something we could adopt in our district.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

The first year we got money to buy the binders and dividers, etc, but this year we just put the supplies on the required supply list. Most of the kids managed to get what they needed, and for the few who couldn't, we found a way to get them a binder.

What I'd really like to do is challenge all the binder manufacturers to make a binder that can survive a year with a seventh grader. They can use my class as a test group. That binder would be worth the $$$.

La Maestra said...

I'm an AVID coordinator at a high school in rural central CA, and I could go on and on and on about the program for hours. Since I don't have the time, let me just say that (a) it DOES turn lives around, (b) while it's a crapload of work, it's absolutely amazing for me to watch my seniors, kids who, for the most part, never planned to go to college 4 years ago, get college acceptance letters, and (c) I'm quite jealous that you are implementing it schoolwide in junior high. I know it's a lot of extra work for you as a subject-area teacher, but we high school teachers appreciate it, and it truly benefits ALL students, not just ones who fall into the typical AVID mold.

The AVID program is truly one of the most amazing things I've ever been a part of.

teachergirl said...

How big are these binder and agendas? It sounds like something we could adapt for 5th grade; they need some serious help organizing and getting ready for middle school.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

Teachergirl, thanks for the note. The first year we did this the binders were 3" 3-ring binders, just like the High School used (and recommended). Big Mistake. A 3" binder is too big for most 7th graders. We had these tiny little kids lugging these huge binders all over the place, frustrating the daylights out of everyone. For 5th grade, I'd suggest nothing bigger than 2".

As for the agenda, I don't know what company we buy them from but every kid gets one. At the NMSA convention there were vendors all over the place hawking these things - they're spiral bound, about the size of a notebook. I'm sure your school bookkeeper probably has a vendor flyer or catalog somewhere that has some in it!