Tips for Organizing Student Work
By Mary Montero
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Whether you’re a new teacher or have many years of experience, odds are you still find yourself trying to find your desk under all.that.paper from time to time. Then you add in students who forget to turn in assignments and it can be really overwhelming to sort through who needs what. However, the good news is, with a little bit of planning and organization, you can minimize these challenges and develop a system for organizing student work.
Whether it’s helping absent students catch up, tracking missing assignments, or just finding the best way to sort papers that need to be graded… organizational systems are always a popular topic of conversation in our Inspired In Upper Elementary Facebook group. Here are some of my own tips and tricks, as well as contributions from our group members, to help you stay on top of the paper trail so you can spend more time teaching and less time stressing.
Students Who Receive Pull-Out Services
First of all, I always recommend having different makeup policies for students who miss classroom work due to pull-out services. If possible, I am careful to arrange my schedule around IEP and gifted services so that my students don’t always miss the same type of classroom instruction. This makes it easier to excuse occasional missed assignments. As a gifted and talented teacher, I always encourage teachers to consider their pull-out services their work for that time period. I believe in giving different work instead of more work, though this may not always be possible.
Sometimes it’s also possible to coordinate schedules seamlessly. For example, one of my IEP clusters received daily phonics pull-out services at the same time we were working on phonics in our general education classroom. This year, all of our pull-out services (reading, math, and gifted and talented) happened at the same time. Because of this, those students never had to make up any classroom work from that same time.
Laura B. shared this great advice in our group, “As soon as students leave for services I have them hand me their papers and I make a note on them, drawing a line where I feel they should have stopped, which is dependent on the individual student. I give them the percentage they received adjusted for work completed.”
Procedures For Collecting Assignments
It sounds really simple: complete an assignment, turn it in, and receive a grade. However, we all know that feeling when we go to grade a set of papers and realize several are missing. These systems can help with that!
First, set up a specific area in your classroom where students can turn in their work. This will help you ensure that all the work is in one place, and it will make it easier for you to collect it when you need it.
After trying many systems, I’ve found that subject-specific trays or color-coded folders (Amazon affiliate links) work the best. When I had a free minute during the day, I’d pull that tray and quickly sort the papers alphabetically. We used a numbering system where each student added their classroom number beside their name, which made this process even faster. Then I added a sticky note to the top of the pile with the names or numbers that were missing. As students turned work in late, they crossed their name off the list. By doing this, you can quickly track which students have turned in their work and who needs a reminder. I found that collecting papers the same day greatly reduced the number of missing assignments. As more time passed, papers were accidentally taken home, got lost in the blackhole of student desks, were accidentally thrown away, etc. Oftentimes the assignment was finished and just never made it to the turn in location, so this method helps tremendously.
Teachers in our Facebook group had similar suggestions. Here are a few:
“I have done this with clothespins on the side of a tub. The kids who haven’t turned them in will still have their clothespin on the tub.” Nancy K
“I use dividers with pockets and hot glue them onto a wall. Each kid has one so I can see at a glance who didn’t turn it in. Then when they get collected they are in the order of the gradebook so that’s a bonus!” Taylor B.
“Make it a daily job. My students put their # on papers. The student who has that job goes through to make sure all numbers are there. They report to me if a number is missing.” Colleen M.
Missing and Incomplete Assignments
As a classroom teacher, you already know how tricky it can be to keep track of missing assignments and provide opportunities for students to complete the work. I’ve found that it’s much easier to stay on top of assignments throughout the grading period instead of waiting until the last minute. I personally track missing assignments daily and provide frequent opportunities for students to catch up..
How I Keep Track of Missing Assignments
- I keep the sticky notes with the name of the assignment and missing names/numbers on my desk. This is an efficient way to see at-a-glance who has missing work each day.
- A spreadsheet is a great way to track missing assignments over time. I keep a main sheet with all students’ names that I can print (or use digitally) as-needed for various tasks during the year (permission slips, assignments, etc). I use one for a running list of missing assignments.
- I enter grades into our digital gradebook weekly. Any assignments marked as missing can be printed or emailed to parents.
- Consider using digital tools such as Google Classroom, Seesaw, or Edmodo to cut down on paper assignments. You can collect work, grade assignments, and provide feedback all in one place.
How Students Manage Missing Assignments
- Each student has a color-coded folder for incomplete assignments. If they finish other tasks early, they can work through items in their folder next. This specific folder reduces lost papers!
- We have weekly choice time where students can select a center, play brain games, work on projects, etc. All missing assignments must be completed first before choosing a different activity.
- In years where I’ve been lucky enough to have a teaching assistant or parent volunteers, I’ve used some of their time to help students with these assignments.
More Tips From Teachers
“Post everything, even paper assignments, in Google classroom and have students mark it as submitted when they finish it.” Kristine A.
“Google Classroom keeps track of what has been turned in and what hasn’t. You can set up due dates and if students miss a due date it gets marked as missing. It allows you to return work that you have graded or return work before you grade it if the student turned it in unfinished or incomplete. When I grade my student’s work it gives me a list of those who have not turned in the assignment. I click one button and it puts them all into a BCC email. I add their parents to the mass email too and then send a message saying this work hadn’t been turned in. You need to train your students to check their email regularly. The parents usually see the email first. Google Classroom also gives the kids a To Do list that shows current assignments, as well as all late or missing work that needs to be done. Parents can also sign on as a guardian to get a weekly report of their child’s work history.” Kerri C.
“I make students keep a contract/agenda/must do-may do sheet. It has all required assignments for the week and any extra items they can do if finished early. When students turn it in, they get a piece of candy (you could do tickets, points, etc). I’ve had the best success with it the past few years. I keep a checklist on top of the stack and mark off their name when they turn it in. This helps me see quickly who hasn’t finished.” Angie C.
“I do a weekly 30-minute block for catch up, rework, or complete. We clean out desks and organize as a class before the 30 minute block. Students who are done have a choice of quiet activities to do—games, Legos, art. It’s a chance for me to check in with kids and catch missing/late work. It’s also a time for kids to rework something that didn’t meet expectations. I also have a missing work board that is updated throughout the week. Students can work on missing/unfinished work if they finish something early. To get their name off the missing work board, they complete a very brief work habit reflection slip that is signed by me upon reviewing work with them. There are more names and the need for explicit teaching in work habits at the beginning of the year. Kids learn how to monitor time and work completion. Kids need explicit teaching and practice with work habits.” Tracy S.
Work for Students Who Were Absent
We do a lot of learning every single day, and not all of it can easily be made up when absent students return. I recommend thoughtfully considering which missing assignments need to be completed and which ones can be skipped. I also evaluate which assignments need to be completed together at school and which ones can be sent home. I sometimes have a teacher center during weekly choice time where I can help students with missing or makeup assignments.
To manage the paper for missing assignments that will be sent home, I write the absent student’s name on each paper as it’s handed out and leave it on their desk. At the end of the day, I staple all assignments together.
If a student will be out for multiple days and a parent has requested makeup work, I collect the daily papers, textbooks if needed, and put everything in a rubber banded stack with a cover sheet. I always write a little note letting the student know how missed they are.
Here’s how other teachers handle paperwork for absent students:
“If a student is absent, I put their names on the papers they will need and put it in a specific tray at the front of the room. BONUS TIP: As soon as I pass it out, one copy goes into a drawer in my cart for masters, and then the rest go into the next drawer for extras (for the inevitable “I can’t find mine” kids). If I’m out in the extras drawer, I can easily find the master to make more copies, without worrying about using my last.” Beth W.
“Our team does an absent packet every day. On the left is what we did during class and the right is any work that needs to be turned in. I only require kids to make up graded work.” Michelle J.
Managing the paper trail of missing assignments can be overwhelming, but with a little bit of effort and organization, you can make it more manageable. By following these tips, you will streamline your workflow, save valuable time, and provide a more efficient learning environment for your students.
Have your own organizational ideas to share? Join our FREE Inspired in Upper Elementary Facebook group to be part of the discussion!
I’m so glad you are here. I’m a current gifted and talented teacher in a small town in Colorado, and I’ve been in education since 2009. My passion (other than my family and cookies) is for making teachers’ lives easier and classrooms more engaging.