Surviving the RETELL Course Part 2: Staying Organized

At this point I am closer to the end than the beginning of my RETELL class.  I've done well so far, so I wanted to share how I've kept up with the demands of the class.  As I said in my last post, it's not as bad as I feared (once I resigned myself to having no free time for the four month duration, hah).  It's just bad trying to balance the workload with, you know, teaching full time.  Which we all have to do.  So here's how I have been keeping organized.  If you want to try it, it's a simple but effective three-pronged approach:

1.  Create a folder on your desktop for RETELL. 

In the RETELL folder, file the course rubrics so you know exactly what you're being graded on for each assignment.  The reports themselves don't always make the expectations clear.

Then, within the RETELL folder, create a subfolder for each class.  I named mine by date.  For example, the first session is "10_2 First Session."  The most recent folder is "11_19 Seventh Session."  This is important because there is more material online (you will have to register with the DESE's Blackboard portal) than in print for this course.  And personally, I don't like to print more than I have to.  So to save paper, within each class folder you should file:

  • Downloaded pdfs of all readings:  Because they are PDFs, you can highlight and make notes within the pdf. 
  • Notes:  Because you will be expected to write a response to most of the readings, as well as discuss them in class, it's important to have notes.  Since I don't print the readings, I simply type up my notes and quote small sections that I find most important.  If you want to save paper, this strategy with help you keep your printing to a page or two instead of the whole article.  You might also want to copy the addresses to the YouTube videos that are part of the online homework requirements and include them in your typed notes, just in case you want to revisit those.
  • Copies of your written responses:  You will need to post your responses to the online readings in the Blackboard forum.  You will also need to respond to two people's posts.  I copy my own post as well as my responses.  I figure this is good security just in case anything happened to Blackboard.  In fact, you should write your response in Word (or whatever word processor you use) before you post to Blackboard, since it "times out" and can lose your work.  This has happened to me on enough online platforms that I've learned my lesson.  Ctrl+A followed by Ctrl+C to highlight and copy before clicking "submit" has saved me a few times, but transferring from Word is even safer because this way I don't forget to do it.
  • Reference materials:  There are WIDA materials that don't require written responses, but you will be expected to be familiar with in relation to your current ELL student.  Having a copy of your content standards is also useful for several of the classes.  If you are an elementary school teacher in Massachusetts, the science and social studies standards are the ones you will focus on more than math and even ELA.  Obviously, if you only teach math, these are the standards you will need to refer to. 
  • Formal papers: (the bulk of which are called SIRs, or Strategy Implementation Reports).  Keep digital copies of your work in the folder for the class in which they are assigned. 

2.  Keep a binder for printed materials.

If you follow my advice above, and do NOT print out every article, a one inch binder should be all you need.  Of course, if you prefer to print out documents to read and write notes on by hand, you'll either need a bigger binder (which I can tell you after several months of physical therapy for my shoulder, is a very bad idea) or a system in which you're weeding out materials that you don't lug to the next class. 

Within your binder, keep loose leaf paper for notes you will take in class.  Although you can print the PowerPoint presentation of every class session from Blackboard, again, I like to conserve paper.  I'd rather have 1 page of the most important points than 10 pages.  You will also find that your instructor will guide you through which slides are important, and which can be glossed over (/deleted).  Your instructor will also clarify the expectations for what you will need to do before the next session, since Blackboard is not always well edited for the newest incarnation of the course.  In other words, sometimes the wrong assignments are listed as being due for the next session. 

Next, print the typed notes as well as the responses you posted online and put them in each class section of your binder.  This will provide you with talking points during your class discussions, since it will have been several days since you first read those materials.  Stick a page flag on the notes for each class to keep your RETELL binder organized the same way as your RETELL desktop folder. 

In the back of your binder, keep a folder with the hard copies of your formal papers.  Although DESE requires that these are posted on Blackboard so they can see our work as well as our instructor's comments/grades, my instructor has requested that we bring her hard copies because she prefers to read them this way.  Store the paper you're currently handing in at the beginning of class as well as your old, graded copies in your folder.  You should also keep hard copies of the WIDA reference materials in the folder, since you will refer to these regularly.

3.  Keep a separate bag just for RETELL course materials.

I keep a tote for my binder, a pen, the Participant's Manual (which we do refer to in class) and student texts, since they are referred to nearly every session.  It's not a lot of materials, but I feel like there's enough there that I don't want to mix it in with my regular school bag.  It's a smaller, lighter bag to carry, which feels much more manageable.  And that's good for your psyche after a long day of teaching. 

Using this system will help you stay organized, which will make the course feel easier to manage.  This system might not work for everyone.  I know some people like to print everything, and other people utilize their tablets for viewing online media during class.  So even if you are shaking your head at some of these suggestions, I hope this post helped get you thinking about how you will manage the materials in a way that works for you!  As long as you start with a plan in mind, you're on the right track. 

Next time I'll talk more about how I manage my time to fit the course requirements with the demands of teaching.  I'll present my weekly schedule to give you an idea of what this course has in store for you.  In the meantime, if you have questions about the course, or a different organizational system, please leave a comment below. 
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  1. My school is offering this course for free and I'm trying to decide whether I can handle it (I'm a first-year teacher and will be coaching the high school's softball team while the course is going on). I know it will be a lot, and if I didn't have to take it, I wouldn't! Even though it will take up every free minute, I probably will take it because 1) it's conveniently offered at my school, and 2) I want to get it out of the way. I will kick myself if I leave the profession in a couple years, but if I stay in teaching, I will probably be glad I got it out of the way.

    Anyway, thanks for laying out what the course entails. It was extremely helpful. I will definitely be using your organizational tips!!

    1. Yes, take it while it's still free! I think having an online component is becoming more common for post graduate work, so it was a good eye opener. Good luck with it.


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