Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Three-Ring Circus

I was working in a class the other day, and asked students to get out their copy of the assignment handout, which I'd given out several days before.  Most of them opened up a binder of some sort, or a folder thing, and started flipping through loose sheets, trying to find the paper, with varying degrees of success.

And suddenly it struck me, in one of those "holy cow, how can I not have seen this before" ways, that their binders looked pretty much exactly like my junior high binder had looked, with no organization, just piles of loose papers through which I'd flip and try to find whatever it was I'd lost and forgotten about until I was in trouble for not turning in homework.  (Yes, I was that student.)

At some point, though, I switched to an organizational system which basically included a light cardboard folder for each class that had bendable metal pieces to form basically a two ring booklet to which I could add stuff easily (or take it out less easily).  And that system pretty much got me through college.  It wasn't perfect, or at least my use of it wasn't, but I used a hole punch to punch holes in handouts, and dated them, and every few days would put things in order, with handouts, my notes, and so on in the folder.  And at the end of the term, I had a little booklet that included my notes and such for the whole term.

My students, though, even the most prepared students, have no organizational method for handouts beyond just putting them loose in the pockets of a binder or something. 

One of my students was in my office this morning, just a few minutes ago, digging through her binder for her class stuff, and I thought to ask if she would put things in the binder if I gave them to her already punched.  And she thought she would.  And then I asked her why she didn't punch them herself.  And she looked at me like I was a total idiot, and said she didn't have a three hole punch, and didn't have a car to go get one.  Which, of course, I said was a poor excuse, since she could get one cheaply at the campus store, which is between my office and the dorms, and so not something she'd need a car for.  And she looked at me like I am a total idiot.

Now I'm wondering: should I start doing the three hole punch for handouts in hopes that students will actually keep them in some sort of minimally meaningful order in their binders?  Can they really not manage this minimal effort themselves?

Should someone (me?) tell my students that actually keeping notes in some sort of minimally meaningful order might be useful, and give them some hints on how to do so?  Have they never been told this before?


  1. I'd say don't make more work for yourself. If your department orders paper that's already 3-hole punched, and you want to copy things on it, then that's minimal impact on you. However, if you're planning to 3-hole punch things, I'd say that's too much effort. Honestly, students need to figure out for themselves how to be organized. They probably all have a "system." (That doesn't mean it works, but it's the way they do things anyway.)

    I'm wondering if someone had shown me how to be organized if it would have made a difference. I'm a "stack" person. I know exactly where everything is, but it's all pretty much in stacks. (Not like Hoarders, but organized stacks.) I need to be able to see things, so if I put things in a file cabinet, I don't see them and remember that I need to deal with them. I don't have a great system, but it works for me.

    (hahaa... my word verification is "nunlost.")

  2. stacks do not work for stuff you need to find in a class/student situation.

    your students have NO idea how to organize materials! they do not know about tabs, and how wonderful it is to have the basic organizational skills that come with a binder + tabs, (and outlines!), and just a tad of sorting.

    i didn't know until after college, and after law school. a more senior lawyer at my second job gave all us baby lawyers little notebooks with tabs -- trial notebooks -- along with outlines about what to collect and develop, and where it went.

    this was absolutely the best legal advice i got anywhere. whatever the project, or presentation, or whatever -- it really really helps to have a physical binder to organize the stuff, in a way useful to the task. would have helped to know that earlier in life.

  3. the place to buy a hole-puncher was good advice, by the way. your student really does not get why that is so useful. YET.

  4. When I taught on campus, I put lectures, ppts, notes, study guides, etc. online. I never used paper in class. If a student wanted "paper" he/she could go to the school computer lab, login to the class site, and print his/her own paper.

    I also provided a handout (online of course) with a hierarchy for organization class materials in folders to keep on a jump drive.

    Worked like a charm and I never had to handle paper.

  5. Keep one thing in mind, Bardiac. Our students aren't us. Most of them won't go on to be college professors. That's not to say that students couldn't benefit from some organizational skills, but they have other priorities that preclude organizing academic materials. As professors, that's one of our fortes. I'm willing to bet most current college professors organized their study materials in some kind of fashion that illustrated their dedication to academia.

    Students aren't us. And that's cool.

  6. At the end of my first month at FGS -- when I was finishing up as a paternity leave replacement and so was leaving for the rest of the year but had been hired to start teaching full-time the next fall -- I asked a class what advice they would give to teachers new to the school, what they wished teachers knew or did. And the one piece of advice they gave me was to always hole-punch handouts, which makes the difference between being able to put that piece of paper in its place immediately versus having to wait to file it later on. And that made the world of sense to me, and I've done it ever since. (Now, our photocopiers have a hole-punch setting, so it's easy to just produce a stack of hole-punched handouts without any extra effort on my part.) I thought it was excellent advice, and I've passed it on to all new teachers in our department. Obviously it is students' responsibility to be organized, but if there's a painless way for the teacher to facilitate that organization, why not do it?

  7. I hole-punch handouts so they can put it in their binders right away. It's not much trouble for me.

    When I first started teaching here, I went crazy from all of the students asking me if I had a stapler. I would say, "This is not like high school. This is not MY classroom. I move from room to room during the day, and I do not carry a stapler in my bag." I railed against the students for not buying staplers and stapling their work at home.

    Then, one semester, I showed up to find that all of the rooms had been stocked with staplers and staples. No, my students did not get more responsible, but I no longer go crazy, and now it even seems kind of ridiculous to not have staplers available for them.

    It reminds me also of when I was running a dorm at a university. The groundskeepers kept complaining that the students were taking a short cut through their expensive bushes. They had been complaining for years, and students wouldn't stop short-cutting through their bushes.

    I told them to stop planting expensive bushes in that spot. Sometimes it's just easier to swim downstream.