My Top 3 Tips for an Organized Grade Book

I tend to treat the first day back after Christmas break like the first day of school.  For one thing, if I’m teaching semester long classes, I will I have whole new groups of students so for them it really IS their first day with me and we need to do the whole classroom procedures/expectations/intro to class type stuff (I’ll spend a few days on all that).

If I have a year long class, inevitably half my kids will have brain dumped over break so I use the first day as a refresher for our procedures and my expectations.  I will specifically discuss what went well the previous semester, what they should work on, and to be fair, what I’ll work on…like giving them more time to answer questions, speaking slower, whatever it is that given semester.

I also take the opportunity to re-organize my files/plan book, revamp activities and projects, etc.  Thankfully, courtesy of the teacher I student taught for, I never have to worry about my grade book getting out of whack.  She had refined her grade book keeping techniques over more than 20 years of teaching, and I thought it was such a great system I’ll be using it until the day I retire.

I should note, I personally choose to keep both a physical grade book and the school’s digital grade book so that I have a record of my students’ grades no matter where I am, and having two sets of grades is essentialy a self-check system.

Here are my top 3 tips to keeping my grade book organized:

1) highlight the grades after you input them into your digital grade book–if you’re like me you’ll appreciate the visual satisfaction of getting things done, but also, you don’t have to waste time figuring out which grades have been entered and which haven’t, and if a student asks you a question about his or her grade, you can say the grade is completely up to date, or you still have to input the test grades, or whatever the case is.  I find this step most helpful with missing grades, I’ll have all the assignment grades highlighted except for the 3 that didn’t get turned in, and it’s easy for me to count for students and tell them how many assignments they’re missing.

2)  if a student doesn’t turn in an assignment when it is due, draw a diagonal line through the grade entry square–when it gets turned in, write the grade on one side of the line–if it never gets turned in you can easily make it an x and put a zero in the digital grade book.

3) if a student is absent, outline the square of the grade box in pen so you know not to count it as late when he or she comes back to class (if they turn it in when you expect them to…if it is past your “absent work deadline policy date” then use the diagonal line and go from there).

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 9.15.24 PM

As you can see in the picture, there is an X in the bottom row because the student never turned in the assignment, and the square next to the X is because the student was absent the day it was due.  I also include in my grade book records the dates we are in class (even if there’s no assignment that day), the name of the assignment, the total points possible, then the points the student received.  This is a mock version I created to protect my students’ privacy, but it should give you the general idea.  While we’re on the topic of organization, if you want to read about how I keep my master files for lesson planning organized you can find that post HERE, or you can read about how I deal with absent students and work getting turned in HERE.

Do you have a grade keeping tip or trick?  I’d love to read it in the comments!

Handling Absent Students and Homework as a High School Teacher

During the summer, one thing all teachers have to think about is what worked well in their classroom last year and what they need to change.  We all learn really quickly that how a classroom is set up can contribute to the success or struggles of your classroom management.  The easier it is for your students to do things on their own, the easier your day-to-day will be.  One thing I got sooooooo tired of was spending way too much time each morning dealing with kids who had been absent.

So thanks to another Pinterest inspiration, a few years ago I made a student center right when you walk in the room.  This put the responsibility for absences and handing in work on the kids.  Only 2 or 3 times a month do one of my 165 students come up to me and say, “I was absent yesterday” to which I respond, “I know, go check the bin.”  Here’s my system, but it’s modified since I had set this up in the entryway of my house.  Normally there would also be a spot for pens/pencils/staplers/etc.  (Here it is set up in my current classroom!)

I have 5 groups of students every day.  Each period gets a color coded group of file folders (I have a sign with their class period and coordinating color that stays up all year).  2nd period is blue (I most recently had 1st period prep).  There is a blue Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday file.  Repeat for my other periods.  Let’s say “Katie” from second period is absent on Monday.  That’s when I hand out their Compare and Contrast the Revolutionary War and French Revolution Graphic Organizer and National Anthems.  I write “Katie” on her handout and put it in the blue Monday file.

Whenever “Katie” comes back to school, she goes to the absent bin, checks the blue files for each day she was out, and takes all the papers with her name on them.  My role in this system is to make sure each assignment gets filed away.  The easiest way for me to do this is after handing the activity out to the kids, I take a paper for each absent kid, write their name on it, and file it in the appropriate color and day of the week.

In terms of getting work turned in and handing it back to students, again, putting most of the responsibility on them is what works best for me.  I have what every year I inevitably call “the black stacky thing” labeled for each period.  Each student is responsible for putting his or her classwork/homework in their period’s slot.  At the end of every day, I put each period’s set of papers in a folder labeled for each period so the papers don’t mixed up, and when it’s time for me to hand back student work I just grab the folder and pass their work back.  I usually hand work back while the kids are doing pairs/group work because it’s an extra opportunity to help a student understand something they were confused about in a one-on-one setting, or to just get that face time with individual students.

where students turn in their work

where students turn in their work

This has worked for me for a few years.  Students practice basic responsibility, I have less daily stress, the rate of “missing” assignments or misfiled assignments has gone down significantly, and my desk is a heck of a lot less cluttered!  (That might just be the best part of all this!)  To read an earlier post about how I organize my lesson plans and master files click HERE.  How do you handle absent students and work that gets turned in?

To read more tips from other teachers click HERE.

Getting Organized as a High School Teacher

Organization is key to any teacher’s sanity, regardless of grade taught, and especially as the year progresses.  One thing they DON’T teach you in your certification program is what method of organization will work best for you.  A) they don’t have time for it and B) every teacher will prefer a different system, and it might change it over time based on what they teach and the specific group of students they have.

When I student taught I just copied my cooperating teacher’s method: a file folder for every topic in a hanging folder in a filing cabinet.  I knew within just a few weeks that that system didn’t work for me.  It felt too cluttered, it was too easy for me to misfile a master copy, and it was really inconvenient to do work at Starbucks with a bunch of manila file folders.  This system worked for my cooperating teacher was because she had spent 28 years fine tuning it in the same school, only changing classrooms once!  So the file cabinet system worked for her.

When I finally had my own classroom, I decided on this binder method for a variety of reasons not the least of which was that it kept everything contained and was easily portable.  Also, with my husband being in the military, having one binder for every subject I’ve taught is a heck of a lot easier to move every few years than filing cabinets full of manila files. So I have a binder for US History, World Civ, Medieval History, Geography, and a binder for activities I would use in BOTH World Civ and US History (really that’s just WW1, WW2, and Cold War stuff, but when I teach both subjects in the same year it’s a lot easier to have one binder for the things that overlap so significantly).

In each binder I have a divider for every topic (organized chronologically).  I have a plastic see through sleeve (with a tab on the outside where I write the unit name so I can open the binder to the unit I need instantly) for every lesson plan/activity/test/project, and in that same plastic sleeve I have an answer key (if appropriate) and a paper with notes of what worked well the last time I used the item and what I should modify.

Of course I have digital files of everything too, but this is what I keep in the classroom during the year.  It is SO much easier to flip through the binder and see what I think I want to do the next few days than browse my digital files, having notes from the previous year to refer to has been a life saver, and if it turns out I need to make more copies I just pull it out of the sleeve and make copies!

Another great feature of these binders is how easy they are for subs to maneuver!  I unexpectedly needed a sub one day so I put put a gigantic note on the desk that the sub couldn’t miss, I wrote something to the effect of, “Please open the blue binder to the purple sticky note and make 38 copies, and open the white binder to the yellow sticky note and make 112 copies.  The answer keys are behind each activity.”  The sub was able to give the kids their respective map activities and the day went well.

One thing I’ve recently started adding to the binders is a few examples of student work in the binder in the sleeve specific to the activity.  For some visual learners this helps them get a much better understanding of what is expected, and for other activities it helps give the kids a creative direction to go in if they can see previous examples.  So everything I would need is contained in a labeled binder: lesson plans, activities, tests, projects, answer keys, samples of student work, and notes to myself about what has worked well in the past and what would benefit from modifications. To read about my organization system for absent students and work that gets turned in click HERE.