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Creating The Perfect Education Smoothie (Part 4)

Posted by 
Mitch Weathers
February 15, 2021

Put It All In The Blender

In the first three parts of this article I make the case that students need explicit daily modeling and practice with noncognitive skills and habits. I suggest that this happen from within learning environments that are blending analog resources with technology. And because educators are so short on time, the best way to accomplish this is by offering students this practice as a byproduct of the routine of the school day, class period, or distance learning session. 

The number of inquiries about a digital Organized Binder has increased during the pandemic. Although Organized Binder already exists in a digital form, for use in virtual instruction, we always encourage schools to equip students with a physical Organized Binder as well, especially in 100% digital instruction. Each time I am asked about a digital Organized Binder, in light of my personal experience with distance learning and the studies and work quoted in this article, my favorite question to ask is simply, "Why? Why a digital Organized Binder?" I sit patiently and listen for any compelling reason that a 100% paperless learning environment benefits students or teachers, more so than a fully analog or a blended one. Over the years I have not heard one convincing response. What I've witnessed is that when schools are bold enough to invest in their students with Organized Binder, to blend the learning environment, magic happens.

I Eat My Own Cookin’

I recently was privileged to co-author an article with Daniel Bauer, of Better Leaders Better Schools, on instruction in digital learning environments. In our article we unpack different types of digital instruction - synchronous, asynchronous, and a new technique we are calling semi-synchronous instruction. I share my personal approach to distance-teaching in this article so I thought I would share the same here. In whichever approach used for digital or distanced instruction one thing is certain - students are more successful in structured and predictable lessons, and when they have something tangible to use while learning online.

Another thing my friend Aubrey, who I mentioned in Part 2 of this article, often says is, "I eat my own cookin'". In other words, I am not merely suggesting this blended approach. I personally teach in a 100% online virtual independent study program. I always encourage my students to think of their chromebook, or device, as simply the new textbook. Since my students have few physical resources, all the information they are learning they access online - my pre-recorded lessons, activities, articles, etc. Their device is their textbook. No teacher worth their salt would ever hand a student a textbook and say, “go learn". Support and scaffolding are needed for learning. Educators need to be deliberate. Or as my friend and colleague Bonnie Nieves likes to say, teachers must be awesome "on purpose". This may even be more important in a fully digital and hybrid learning environments.

Here is the key: even though my students are engaged in my 100% digital semi-synchronous "classroom", they still get to develop the skills and habits research indicates are the foundation for success. Skills like goal setting, retrieval practice, time and task management, note taking, organizational skills, and yes...all on real paper. They can see, touch, and organize the effort they put into their education even though what they are learning is all online.

How? My students use Organized Binder.

Why? The human brain retains more when we write things down, organize it, and routinely revisit it.

What? My students create and curate real world evidence of their effort and learning, a portfolio of the entire school year, they take with them after completing the course.

Evidence Matters

I need to unpack the “what” from above. As a homeschool parent discovered, by incorporating Organized Binder into her 4th grade son’s daily routine, they created evidence of his learning and, at the end of the school year, he will have a portfolio of his effort to look back on and build upon in 5th grade.

Three years ago when I first started teaching in a fully online classroom I felt guilty when we reached the end of the school year. My students finished my class in June when they took the final exam. Then, they were logged out forever! They could no longer access any of the material or content of the course. Worse, they had nothing to show for their year-long effort in my class. Even the "notes" they could take via the tool of our online curriculum were housed in the program. It all just disappeared. That is not okay!

We miss a golden opportunity in the rush to move everything online. Students’ sense of pride and accomplishment is overflowing when they hold their effort, a physical portfolio, what I call a trophy. They beam because it represents all of their hard work and learning for an entire school year. When students can see the evidence of their learning and effort, week after week, they can identify shortcomings and improve.

“You are an amazing teacher because you give your class information in a relaxing way. It is relaxing because it is consistent. The Unit Packets in Organized Binder have similar structure and it makes it easier to improve on the next packet."

High School Student

Build A Foundation for Learning

There's one final point I would like to highlight as I advocate for a blended learning environment. When students have their own completed Organized Binder at the end of a course they're set up for success for the next school year/course. As we know, knowledge builds on knowledge. Most subjects or classes rely on the foundation of knowledge established in previous courses. You can’t skip a grade or two, or a class or two, and thrive. Instead, imagine a student starting 7th grade English Language Arts, equipped with his ELA binder from the previous year. Sure we can Google anything, but there is a discernible sense of pride and agency in students when they can look back on their own work to review a topic. This can only happen by creating evidence of student learning and effort - that trophy. My dream is that every student would graduate from college with an Organized Binder for every grade and every class they completed since kindergarten. What a bookshelf, or trophy case, that would be!

As I write this article, my students are finishing the first half of this school year. I am literally beaming with pride when I see the portfolios they are creating for themselves. Here are some samples: The first picture below is a student's notes, the second is a sample of a student's 5 Unit Packets and Academic Toolkit. Keep in mind, these students are engaged in a 100% digital online independent study program, I have never had the privilege of meeting them in person, yet there it is - evidence of their effort and learning.

A student's lesson notes taken longhand while reading the lesson online.
A student's Organized Binder (deconstructed for the picture) - 5 thematic Unit Packets housing all of their work from semester 1, as well as their Academic Toolkit.


So go ahead. Give it a try. Blend your digital solutions with Organized Binder to create a new kind of education smoothie. Who doesn’t like a good smoothie?! Like the OneNote video said, “What are you waiting for?”

I'll leave you with a friendly email I received from a professor who attended a talk I gave a few years ago in Austin, Texas:

“Thank you for the training on Organized Binder. I will definitely be passing it on... the more I work, read, and explore, the more I am convinced that executive functioning and social skills are the two most important things we can teach our students.”

Zachary Walker - University of Central Florida

You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this article by clicking here.

Before You Go, Meet My Friends

In the four parts of this article I have mentioned and quoted some friends that I would love for you to meet and connect with...

Meet my friend Danny Bauer. If you are a school leader do yourself a favor and "level up" by joining one of Danny's School Leader Masterminds - you won't find a better PD! Danny is also the host of the number one downloaded podcast for school leaders and the author of The Better Leaders Better Schools Roadmap.

Meet my friend Aubrey Patterson. I encourage you to visit Nohea and learn about their really unique work with school and district leaders, as well as school secretaries. Then, pop over to Warm Demanders where he and his team work with school and district leaders to foster a growth mindset and lead authentically. Both are worth a visit!

Meet my friend Michelle Goldshlag. Michelle is a homeschool parent who adopted Organized Binder this school year. She shared her story with me a few weeks ago. She is also the CEO of a nonprofit called Cultured Kids. Their innovative program promotes curiosity, acceptance, and early childhood literacy, while partnering with schools to develop global citizens.

Meet my friend Bonnie Nieves. She is one of the most creative, kind, and deliberate educators. Bonnie is a veteran High School Biology teacher and edtech guru in Massachusetts. She is on a mission to encourage teachers to "Educate On Purpose". Her first book, Be Awesome On Purpose, will be published this year. Do yourself a favor and catch Bonnie on Twitter to join her for a Clubhouse conversation Sunday mornings at 10am EST.

As I mentioned yesterday, I accepted a 30 day writing challenge with Danny Bauer so look for some more content tomorrow.

Until then, be well,


Leave a Reply

One comment on “Creating The Perfect Education Smoothie (Part 4)”

  1. Mitch - I love this! When we had our brief chat, I didn't get a chance to ask how you incorporate your Organized Binder work as a virtual teacher. And now I know! Thank you for sharing these thoughts. After 10+ years working in virtual schools and programs, I can say that I 100% agree with you that a blended approach is the way to go!

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