Saturday, November 3, 2012

Classroom Organization, Pt. 1

One of the mantras my students learn to chant early in the year is "Successful Students Are Organized Students." (This comes right after "School Should Not Be A Place Where Young People Come To Watch Old People Work.") You wouldn't know it from looking at my desk, but I try to practice what I preach by modeling my own organization strategies in class. I have tendencies towards being a collector, but I discovered when I left Clear Creek after 12 years the great value of dumping the "collection" and starting fresh. So now I try to keep my classroom and my organization more streamlined. And with only seven years or so left in my career, I find little need to keep files of past lessons unless it's what I'm currently teaching; I've never done the same thing twice anyway, so there's not much use in keeping anything that didn't work well or that I don't plan to improve upon.

But I've also got a huge classroom library of books that, while much appreciated by my students, regularly threatens to take over the class like some literary Kudzu. I shamelessly push Scholastic book clubs every month, handing out Jolly Ranchers to kids who order and cashing in bonus points to add to the library. But it's led to a collection that is so big I really have no idea what books I have, and that's not helpful to the students as they look to me to help them find "just right" books. I used to have the time to put shelf paper on the covers to protect the books, but those days are long gone, and I've decided after I had a backlog of a couple hundred books that it's more important to just get the books out there for the students. But I've still probably got 500+ books in boxes just because I haven't had the time to label them and put them on the shelves or in bins.

I've tried a couple check-out systems for students, and once I started really implementing Readers Workshop, I decided I didn't want to take any of my time during workshop to be the class librarian and check-in or check-out books. Currently, my students use a checkout binder that has individual alphabetized student book check-out sheets. They fill out the title, author, level, and checkout date when they take a book. And when they return it they put a sticky note on the cover with their name and drop it in a return box which I empty after school every couple of days, checking the books off in the binder and re-shelving them.

Recently I've downloaded the Classroom Organizer app, and have begun experimenting with using it to  create a classroom book inventory and to check books out to students. The app is designed to sync with the program, which is a free download, but means you can't just have an iPad to set it up (not a problem for me.) From what I can tell, it just organizes books alphabetically by title, but for simplicity that's fine too. entering books into the system can be done manually, or by importing an Excel spreadsheet, which I haven't tried yet because my spreadsheet is horribly out of date by at least a couple of years (not so organized - don't tell my students!) But it's easiest to use the iPad camera to scan the barcode and enter the book that way. That's also how to check-in and check-out books.

So far I think this has the potential to be an efficient classroom organization tool, and a time saver. But I have discovered a couple of problems (for me.) I entered my students manually. Taking the time to figure out how to re-format my Excel student spreadsheets for import would have taken more time than the manual entry. I know that once I had it figured out, it would be beneficial in other apps as well, but my time was too valuable. Maybe this summer...Also, I've discovered that A LOT of the books I try to scan into the app create a "not a valid barcode" message. Maybe older books, or maybe not currently in the Booksource catalog (the creators of the app.) so if I want those books in the program I have to - you guessed it - enter the book manually. My biggest problem, however, is the thousands of books - literally - that I need to enter into the program. Even scanning would be a full weekend of work. And for the first time I can see the advantage an iPhone would have over an iPad - the hand-held size of the iPhone makes it easier to use as a scanner if you don't want to move the books in stacks away from the shelves to create the inventory. Maybe I can get my wife to come in with her iPhone and do this for me. Hah!

This seems to be the issue I face with these kind of classroom organization apps - the time that needs to be spent on the front end in set up if there's a lot of data that needs to be entered in order to use the app effectively. It's hard to make the switch from what is sort of working to what might work better when the switch takes a lot of time to get started. I know my classroom would be better organized if I had my library all entered into an up-to-date database, but getting there is daunting.

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