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Frustrations #1 - My materials are all over the place

Teaching can have its frustrations. In the first of a new series, Amanda Robustelli-Price explores how you can conquer those challenges.

Today we start a short series of posts by Amanda Robustelli–Price, World Language Consultant for Cambridge. In her ten years as a high school French teacher, Amanda worked as the department coordinator and presented numerous workshops.  Passionate about pedagogy and the effective use of technology, Amanda is now home with her son, stays connected through Twitter and professional organizations, and continues to work as a world language consultant.

In this series, Amanda looks at those frustrations that can cause teachers trouble, and offers some solutions. Today's frustration is 'clutter in the classroom'.

Systems for managing “stuff” in the classroom

Teachers manage an avalanche of both electronic and tangible stuff, which gets larger every day.  In my first years as a French teacher, I felt overwhelmed when planning because my materials were all over the place.  My list of teaching “stuff" includes:     

  • Authentic resources, in the form of physical objects like (unused) air sickness bags and empty food boxes, or electronic links, such as YouTube videos.   
  • Student materials, such as make-up work, homework, portfolios, and books.
  • Teaching materials, including the textbook and ancillary texts (such as additional activities, the workbook, and assessment book). 
  • Computer files of all types: Documents, exams, video clips, presentations, or images.

Over time, I learned that utilizing the right tools for pedagogical materials could simplify my teaching, giving me the time and space to be creative.  Below are some ideas that worked for me and my own classroom. 

For tangible objects: 

  • Dollar store bins are ideal for authentic resources.  Store them by unit, and if possible, out of sight.  Materials will be accessible while the room will be less cluttered.
  • Storage racks.  Inexpensive shelves come in many shapes, sizes, and materials, and can hold paper, binders, and more.  For example, I purchased a hanging shoe rack that was ideal for flashcards. 
  • Student helpers.  Give students extra credit for organizing the classroom, which is a great way to build relationships while making a welcoming environment. 

For electronic files and materials:

  • Online bookmarking.  Sites like Diigo or Delicious allow users to import and export bookmarks, adding multiple tags.  (Mine is here.) These bookmarks can be accessed from any computer with internet, and organizing authentic digital resources or pedagogical websites by tags makes them easy to find.  For example, a website about foods for holidays in Mexico can be tagged by “Mexico,” “foods,” and “holidays.”  Both teachers and students can use the bookmarks. 
  • Digital workspace.  Finding and using one location for files (for teachers and students) can be an incredible time saver, linking mobile devices as well as work and home computers.   Popular sites include Evernote and Dropbox.

Moving towards a digital classroom: Learning management systems

Since my first years in the classroom, technology offerings for schools have evolved.  Today, the best-case scenario for simplification is, in my opinion, a learning management system that provides a common workspace for students and teachers.  I’ve had the opportunity to experience the ELEteca for Mundo Real, Media Edition, a secondary Spanish text by Cambridge University Press.  The ELEteca is an example of an interactive platform that would streamline both the physical and electronic tools for classroom learning. 

Through the ELEteca and one login, teachers can access all series ancillaries in digital format and the text, as well as contact students, store and grade student work, create assignments for students with authentic resources, and provide a collaborative area.   Students can do practice exercises, submit and store their work (including audio and video), access course materials, view videos and experience a “flipped classroom.”

As teachers, we deal with an endless influx of stuff.  Using the tools available to us, such as student helpers or learning management system, keeps us, and our students, able to focus on the most important part of school:  Learning.

Amanda will be back next week, looking at another common teacher frustration: textbooks!

© Cambridge University Press 2014