Saturday, July 20, 2013

Folders vs Binders

Way, way back in January I mentioned that I was going to switch from binders to folders for the new semester. Then I never brought it up again, so I'll now recap for you (click here to compare to my binder procedures).

First of all, I want all of my students to have a binder/folder that is usually kept in the classroom. That way the running back and forth to the lockers, the oh I left it at home, the I don't know where it is gets eliminated. I provide the binders/folders for the students because 1) some students take forever to bring one in, 2) I want to start the binder/folder procedures the first day of class, 3) I want the binder/folder prepped with names and beginning papers the first day of class, and 4) I want them all a uniform shape and size so that they can fit where I want them to fit in the classroom. My first couple of years of using binders I had the kids supply their own, and without fail in every class someone would bring in some enormous zippered monstrosity that wouldn't fit anywhere. But I digress.

Second, I switched to folders for two primary reasons. One, putting three-hole-punched-papers into the three rings of the binders seemed to be a task that eluded a majority of my students (primarily the 8th graders; the 7th graders seemed to be able to handle this rather well). Two, due to their size I couldn't effectively have the binders passed out before class, which resulted in much pushing, shoving, etc (a la junior high kids) around the binders as kids went to retrieve them. So, here's how I organized the folders.

I purchased 3-prong folders for every student, color-coded (of course) by class hour. Then I put a label on the front of each with the student's name, class hour, and school mascot - just like I did for the binders.

On the inside front pocket, I placed a label that read "Papers to Turn In." This was to remind them that all papers to be graded needed to be in that front pocket so that I could find them, and anything else they wanted to keep in their folders needed to kept in the back pocket so that I wouldn't have to paw through all of their stuff on a treasure hunt. On days that I collected the folders to be graded, I would spend some time in class helping them get organized - we would go over what needed to be in the front pocket, and in what order. Most of them were actually really good at complying with those directions, which made grading much quicker.

After grading their papers, I would print out a grade report for the week including those papers and all project/quiz/etc grades, then staple the whole bundle together. The rule then was anything that I had stapled needed to disappear by the next time I graded folders - again, helped keep stuff I no longer needed out of my way, making collecting grades much easier.

On the right hand side you can see that there are items in the prongs. I placed their table of contents, class syllabus, and class procedures pages (all color-coded) in the front of the prongs before initially giving them out. I also placed all of the papers from the first unit I wanted them to keep in their folders permanently in the prongs (handouts, note pages, study guides). That way all of those items were in there secured so that they wouldn't get lost, AND I wouldn't have to spend class time passing those pages out. Before starting the next unit, I would insert the next unit's packet in the prongs. A couple of my classes were able to handle this on their own (classes either entirely or predominantly composed of 7th graders), and I would pass out the packets and have them do it themselves. Other classes (entirely or predominantly composed of 8th graders) made a mess of things like this so I did it myself to save the headache of lost papers and destroyed folders.

Some other details. I tried out the "Missing Work Form" I've seen floating around the Internet this semester. Whenever a student didn't turn an assignment in, I slipped a form into their folders that required them to supply an explanation as to why they didn't turn it in. Then I held on to these for parent/teacher conferences, IEP meetings, etc. It worked great with some students, not so great with others. The best part is that for students who forgot to turn it in or planned on turning it in late, this served an extra reminder to get it in (for some reason a "zero" on the grade printout doesn't get their attention, but this sheet does. Sheesh.).

I kept all of the folders in these file crates, which were just the perfect size! At the end of each class, I would have each row stack their folders together on their row's supply table, and then I would collect them and store them in the crates (after a couple of weeks I had student volunteers do this for me in most classes). Then before each class began I could just place each row's stack on their supply table where they could retrieve them.

Here are the advantages of folders as opposed to binders:

(The rest are in no particular order)
-Easier for one person to collect and handout
-Less cumbersome to pull papers out of and put back in
-Papers in the prongs stay put, much less likely to accidentally tear, all in the correct order
-Easier for students to take home if they need to
-Forces me to have all handout/note pages/study guides prepared and copied for a unit before it begins
-The papers that I actually grade are loose and easy to handle - I don't have to flip through the binders to find things
-I have the option of easily taking the papers out of the folders to take home to grade, or can easily take home an entire class's folders without much hassle or heft (taking home a class of binders is quite a pain)
-Cost! 15 cents for a folder versus 92 cents for a binder - this adds up big time!

Here are the disadvantages:
-Papers are not nearly as easy to add to prongs as to rings
-Because of the above, you can't pass things out piecemeal, you've got to have everything together in advance
-Papers cannot be rearranged without a big hassle
-Cannot clip concept card pack rings around prongs (another future post)
-Much easier for students to lose if they take them out of the classroom
-Having to open and close the prongs on over 100 folders before every unit (this one would not apply to my new hs students - they should be able to handle this)
-Very difficult for students to quickly find their own folders if I don't pass them out (no labels on the side); this is challenging when a student comes in during a different class to get their folder for some reason, or if I were to put the responsibility for getting all of your materials on the students again

I'm torn on what I want to do for the coming semester. For the most part, the advantages of the folders outweigh the disadvantages. The sticking point is that with going back to high school I'd really like to make the students responsible for getting out their own folders/binders, and that's hard to do efficiently with folders because you can't put name labels on the sides like you can binders. I don't want it to take 10 minutes for kids to find their folders; kids can find their binders in just a few seconds. I don't necessarily want to have someone "in charge" of passing out the folders either, because almost every day they need to start using them immediately.

Maybe I could put some kind of class procedure in place where the first person to arrive spreads the folders out on the table where the crates are kept - that way it will be easier to for kids to find theirs? Most of my class sizes are pretty small, so I don't think folders getting knocked around and onto the floor will be a problem - especially since we're not talking about junior high students anymore.

Any opinions out there? What do all of you do?

I have modified my folder system a bit for my new school. If you are interested in starting or tweaking a folder system, check out this post to see the changes I made to see if any of the new ideas would help you out.


  1. In my room I have one designated notebook person per table. This student is one that has high attendance and gets to class early. Also that same person places notebooks up at the end of the hour.

    1. That sounds like the way to do it! I'm all for giving responsible students responsibilities!

  2. I always did folders. I would spread them out on the front row tables so they would see them as soon as they walked in. Eventually one of the first students in the room would spread them out for me if I didn't first. I agree about the inconvenience of the prongs. And there is always one student (or 9) that just don't get the concept of lifting the flap, putting paper face down, flap down, closing prongs. But I am too cheap for binders. If I could reuse them many years, maybe, but doodles, tears and damages make that impossible.

    1. You're right, binders do not survive the year! And they are definitely more expensive. For the life of me, I don't know why it is that so many of them can't grasp the concept of the prongs. How can you not tell that it's wrong just by looking at it??

      I've decided to go the folder route. If it's a disaster I can reboot next time. Retirement's a loooooong way off!

  3. I tried the folders, and I love them! I started at a new school this year, and the previous teacher already had crates for file folders set up for each class. There is a hanging file for each student with a file folder in it, and I just keep their prong-folder in that hanging file, with the file folder. Does that make sense? Then, when things are graded and don't need to be in the prong-folder anymore, they go into the file folder. This way they aren't gone forever after grading, and for meetings, parent or grade questions I can just go get both the file folder and the prong folder.

    1. Sounds like an awesome system! I do something similar with tests and quizzes - I keep all of those in individual file folders, so I can pull them out along with the class folder for meetings and such. Love having a system!

  4. I lOVE the idea of using the folders - but can't imagine it with my classes. I have 4 classes of 30 kids each. How many students do others have in theirs?

    1. My class sizes aren't that big, but I have six classes. At my high point last year I had around 120 kids, it's lower this year now that I'm working at a smaller school. If you can establish some procedures that would work for your classroom, I highly recommend using folders - it eliminates a lot of hassles.

      This year I have eliminated some of my folder procedures and substituted others to save a little time (i.e. I don't do the missing work slips any more, but added a week-to-week grade label). Be sure to check out the update post if you haven't yet at - maybe some of the ideas in there will be a bit more manageable for you.

      Thanks for reading!