Binder Checks, Redux


As you may remember (or not, because come on, it’s not like you commit to memory everything I write here), I have been using a binder system in Algebra II this year. I made it a conscious goal this year to teach organization, and to try to make homework more meaningful. The basic idea behind these binders is to (a) help students learn how to be organized and (b) allow students to view homework as not just a chore to “get it done and forget about it.”


So I thought I’d end with the punchline. The binders were a darn good success, for the first year I used them. I saw the results in class when we talked about homework. And for the most part, students themselves bought into the system and saw the benefits themselves. I’ll probably change things here and there a little, but not much.

Signs of Success: Evidence for the Conclusion

I already knew they were doing something seriously good when I threw up answers to the homework on the SmartBoard, and almost all my kids marked the questions they got right with a CHECK and the questions they got wrong with an X. They were also much more proactive in asking homework questions. For that alone, I knew I was probably going to continue these binder checks.

On our last and final binder check, I asked the following:

For 5 more points, I ask your honesty when answering questions on two things. I would never penalize you for being honest when I ask you to be honest. I really am looking for some thoughts on this binder thing.

(1)  Has keeping a binder kept you more organized throughout the year than without the binder?

(2) What is your process for correcting homework/assessments? When and how do you do it? Does it help you?

I also verbally talked to them about how this feedback wasn’t about them, but was about this thing we did this year, and I need them to be completely honest in their responses — even if it meant bashing the binders.

I contemplated typing the most positive responses, letting y’all think that those were representative, and moving on. Because overall I think that the binders were a success, and these responses would have illustrated that dramatically. But heck, things are nuanced, and skipping over the details leaves out the juicy and important bits. So…

Here are a some of the responses to the first question.

(1)  Has keeping a binder kept you more organized throughout the year than without the binder?

It has kept me more organized for the long term versus the present. I think that more frequent binder checks would help us keep us up to date, so like after each unit/assessment.

Yes! Honestly it does because in past years when it comes time to study I can never find the notes/hw/tests I need.

Keeping a binder has made me less likely to lose my work and more organized. It is likely that this will help me in studying for the final. Although it is a pain, I am glad that we do it.

Yes!!! I honestly am so happy that you made us do this, even though it is a bit of a hassle. Now that exams are coming up I am so grateful I have all my material. I wish I had done this for all my classes.

I really did not enjoy doing it. I thought it was really annoying but now when studying for finals it is very helpful. And it has definitely made me more organized.

I guess it has forced me to keep a lot of my old things together but it is not necessary.

I didn’t type all the responses because most read like the one in italics. Overall, when looking at the responses, I distilled the following. The binder checks are slightly annoying, but definitely helpful. For the few students who are already organized, nothing much changed with organization. For the rest who aren’t consistently organized, many seemed to find it frustrating but helpful, and a few just found it frustrating. Many also said they are happy they’ve done it because now they have everything set in order to study for the final exam.

I typed out most of the responses for the second question.

(2) What is your process for correcting homework/assessments? When and how do you do it? Does it help you?

Either I correct them when we go over them in class or I check the course conference later and correct them. It doesn’t always help because sometimes I forget to correct them and then I lose points, but for the most part it helps.

I do it the night before the binder check and it helps me because it’s review and usually I forget how to do the problems at first.

I usually do it before the binder quiz and I go over it with someone for the corrections. Honestly it does help even though it is tedious and hard to do corrections. When I study for tests it is very helpful. It is also good because I know what I have and don’t have.

I try to do it when we go over answers in class or when I get an assessment back. If I realize I’ve not done that, then I will try to correct it when studying for an assessment or before a binder check. It’s helpful to have the right answer to study, but sometimes we go fast going over them and it usually messes me up if I missed out on correcting them.

I usually correct homework when we go over it in class. It is pretty helpful because if I don’t understand something we will go over it when I usually wouldn’t ask too many questions. I correct my assessments out of school on my own. Usually I’ll try and figure out what went wrong but afterwards if I can’t figure it out I’ll ask a teacher for help.

I correct homework when we go over it in class. And I usually correct my tests the day I get them back but sometimes later. It is helpful because then you know what mistakes you have made and how to fix them, and also what you need to work on.

I correct them when we go over it in class. Sometimes before binderchecks I’ll go thru them to find wrong questions. It doesn’t help me personally.

I correct homework assignments in class when we go over the homework and I correct assessments as soon as I receive notice of a binder quiz. Correcting homework helps me better understand problems that I did not know before. It also compels me to be more proactive in my learning.

I correct homeworks in class when we are going over how to do the problems, because that is when I understand what I did wrong and I correct test[s] before the binder checks. It would help me if it were just for the sake of correcting, but binder checks hurt my grade more than help.

Yes, it helps.

With HW I do it in class as we correct it, but for tests, I usually do it a little before the binder check by pulling out notes and old HWs on the topic which helps me overall.

My process is checking in the back of the book, writing down right answers in class, and revising my work in class so I have it correct. It helps me keep track that I’m doing it correctly.

I do it all at once when the binder check comes. Probably not the best idea, but it works.

I do it when we go over it in class or before the binder check. It doesn’t really help me. I never really use that material to help me study anyways.

I was most interested in reading the answers to this second question. Because it was on this front that I predicted that my kids would all tell me that they do all their homework and assessment corrections the night before the binder check, and that they didn’t find doing them useful, and that there would be an outpouring of complaints about their grades (many got Cs and Ds in the first quarter for the binder checks). I suspected that most would say it was just an annoyance and not helpful at all.

But clearly most students explicitly or implicitly talked about how being forced to correct their work helped them, and be more proactive in their learning. I was happy that many found it useful in consciously separating their knowledge into what they do know and what they don’t know.



  1. So I like the idea of binder checks for younger students who need to learn organization, and I very much like your approach, but at the same time, I’m really starting to be a true believer in SBG (including not grading homework) and binder checks seem to be the opposite of that. Thoughts?

    1. Hi John,

      Thanks for the question. I don’t think they are opposites. In fact, I sort of thought that binders and SBG were working in the same vein.

      One of SBG’s two big draws[1] is that it gets students to be proactive in their learning. That they can make mistakes, but then they can remediate them. That’s how these binders work. I check homework on a daily basis for completion only, but the binder checks ask for correctness. Students can mess up on homework, but are required to remediate those mistakes for the binder check. My students have become more proactive about their learning because of these binders.

      I know that for some (but not all) proponents of SBG is that a student’s grade should be totally based on their mastery of the standards. And I see the draw of that — how not grading homework really forces students to be proactive at a whole different level.

      However, I really don’t think that SBG’s philosophy NECESSITATES that homework isn’t graded. And personally I’m not yet willing to not count homework in a student’s grade[2].

      Imagine an SBG class where 80% of a student’s grade was based on these standards. 10% was based on homework completion. And 10% was based on homework correctness (binders). How have you lost any of the benefits of SBG?

      Thanks for getting me think about this. Definitely reply if you have thoughts about what I wrote.

      [1] The second big draw is that students know EXACTLY what they need to remediate. I think the binder check which forces corrections helps students see what they are weak at before an assessment.

      [2] I’m not going to try to articulate the reasons why here… but in my school, for my kids, I am not convinced it would be for their benefit.

      1. This makes a lot of sense to me. I’m going to think about how to implement something like this for my physics class.

      2. “Imagine an SBG class where 80% of a student’s grade was based on these standards. 10% was based on homework completion. And 10% was based on homework correctness (binders). How have you lost any of the benefits of SBG?”

        Since you asked the question….:)
        Yes, it does negate one of the main premises of standards-based grading: a student’s grade should reflect his/her level of understanding…period.

        A student can still “flunk” the standards using this formula, earn 10% in both of the other categories and pass the class. Is is likely to happen? Probably not. For that exact reason, some sbg advocates will then ask – why do you do it then?

        With that in mind, I philosophically believe grading homework isn’t a good idea, but in my own experience there may be a time when it’s needed (with the goal of weening students off of it as the course goes on) in order to help students, particularly younger students, make the transition to the new (to them) grading system.

  2. I teach Algebra 2 in Texas and I’m thinking about trying this next year. Any advice on getting them to take this seriously?

    1. Hi Jacki! Yes, I definitely do. I think I have some advice on my original post about these (link in post)

      1. Holepunch EVERYTHING you give them without exception (including tests/worksheets/instructions) and put a DATE ASSIGNED (or date due) blank on the top for them to fill in. If it isn’t easy for them, it’s harder to get ’em to do it.
      2. Have some place (website?) where the assignments are all listed by the DATE ASSIGNED (or date due). So students can organize their papers in case they forget to date things.
      3. Talk to them about how this is an easy 100% for em, and WHY you want to do this for them. Explain to them what the binder is and how they create it. Then ask ’em “what do you think you need to do to make sure you get that 100%?” (Things they should hit on: marking things right/wrong in class, correcting wrong problems nightly, dating their assignments and putting them on holepunched paper, correcting assessments once they are returned…)
      4. After you return each unit’s assessment, let students know that they can empty out everything from their folders, chronologically.
      5. In the 1st quarter, do 2 binder checks so they have a chance to get used to ’em.
      6. If a student bombs the first one, individually talk with them about their organization — and how you want to help ’em do amazingly on the next one. In that discussion, they’re pretty much going to know what they should have done and need to do. Let ’em tell you, instead of vice versa.
      7. STICK WITH IT and BE CLEAR AND CONSISTENT. My first binder check grades weren’t high. But it’s a learning process for ’em. They do eventually get it.

  3. One other question—I always have a few kids with diagnosed learning differences, and often these differences can manifest themselves exactly in ways that would seem to make counting neatness and binder checks a severe obstacle with them, when they do understand the physics (or math, as the case may be). Did you have students with issues like this? How do you try to accommodate them?

    1. Yes, I have about a *good* number of kids in my class who have diagnosed learning differences. Some really do initially struggle with organization — but they’ve all been able to do this. I’ve spoken w/our awesome learning specialist, and she acknowledges the value of teaching these kids explicitly about organization.

      That’s what this is.

      I don’t make accommodations for them. This is FOR them.

  4. Yay an SBG question! The one area I can contribute. Short answer: Totally compatible you just need to keep it separate. At my most militant I might say organization might be a standard but not the binder checks precisely. If a student can maintain a system that meets all Sam’s criteria they should be able to. After separating out you/your department/school will have to decide if it’s just reported or should be included in the final grade. Personally I think they should be kept separate forever & if your school has the abiliy to include a nonacademic score you should go for that. That shouldn’t be a breaking point though if you don’t want to fight over that. More here if you’re curious

  5. In connection with SBG homework grading has no place in the grading system, period.

    However, from a not so recent Time Magazine article.,8599,1978589-1,00.html

    We find that rewarding students for doing the actions that will improve their learning is effective in getting students to learn more.

    So as an educator artificially inflating students grades by requiring them to do actions that will improve their learning is a fair trade off.

    The reason we would move to SBG grading is in part to get students more engaged in learning and to heighten learning, so diverting from “pure” SBG grading to get students more engaged and heighten learning seems to be a fair trade. Just be cognizant that it is a trade off that you have chosen and the reasons for your choice.

    1. I think that SBG can take many forms by teachers in different situations. There are good reasons for doing SBG in a variety of ways. But as you said, you just need to think about what you’re doing and have reasons for why you’re doing.

      The goal of everything we do is to better serve our students. There are many ways to do this.

  6. Sam,
    Have you thought about putting page numbers on the things you create for them in order to help them stay more organized? Just a thought, although this may not work for things that are copied from somewhere….unless you white it out and write a page number before copying it.

    Two questions. One, have you ever had students switch binders with another student for the binder check? I was just thinking that the real test of being organized is if someone else can find things in your binder!

    Two, I’m thinking about making my homework all based on vocabulary. This would not necessarily be something that could be corrected as easily as actual math problems. I’m thinking I could still do the same thing, they just wouldn’t be looking for a correct numerical answer during the binder check but more like completeness. Any thoughts?

    1. Sorry for the late reply! (1) No. I agree, but I want to see what they are doing. I should be able to find stuff in their binders quickly! (2) I don’t see any problem/issues with it!

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