Folder Care for Chorus Teachers

Here is a problem a chorus teachers was experiencing, and my answer to that problem:

 I teach 3 grade levels (6, 7, 8) divided into 6 class periods (2 per grade level). Budget limits prevent me from buying an octavo for every student, so each grade level shares a folder with the other half that meets a different period. Every student has a number, which is the same number on his/her folder, octavo, and storage cubby. After class, students are supposed to put octavos in folders, folders in cubbies. Despite all this attempt at order, EVERY period of EVERY day someone comes to me with "I can't find...(folder, octavo, music theory workbook)." Eventually it turns up in another folder, in another cubby, behind the cabinet, etc. The custodians moved and cleaned under our bulky risers this summer and found all kinds of lost stuff. I have explained the procedure, demonstrated the procedure, practiced the procedure. We have tried putting items away with everyone doing it together. I have tried taking off points for missing materials, but since students share with someone in the other class, they each blame the other (and I have no way of knowing who is responsible). I tried having section leaders check materials as students put them away, but it was really time-consuming. Short of violating copyright and making everyone his/her own music copies, 3-hole punching them and putting them in individual ring binders, I am completely baffled at how to get my students to keep track of their stuff. I teach in a pretty affluent community and most of them are of the mindset that it doesn't matter if they lose something, parents will just buy another one. I would really appreciate any suggestions before August 5, my teacher pre-planning week when I need to get folders ready. Thanks in advance!

 My response:

 I have over 300 students in my program, and I have solved this issue for myself. Your situation is identical to mine (6 classes/2 per grade level). I have as many as 84 children in my classes, so I had to figure out a solution! It's all about accountability, ultimately. Each technique below is designed to help increase accountablity. You are doing all of the same things I did to solve this, but here are a few extra details that might help: 1) Is the music inside each folder also numbered to match the folder number? The music needs to have a specific folder to which it belongs. Then, when you find music that is left on the floor, you know who to hold responsible. 2) I am super picky. I require my students to keep the music in alphabetical order inside the folder. This requires thought on the part of each student each day before they place the music in their slot or cubby. Also, I make sure the folders are all turned the same way inside the cubby. I only allow the bottom of the folder to face out (the black part...I don't allow the music to show). This is helpful because I've noticed that the kids who allow the music to face the wrong direction are the ones who haven't taken the time to organize their folders properly. I can target them and hold them accountable. I make jokes about it at the beginning of the year. When I see a folder turned the wrong way (music out), I walk over to the container, and I over-react. They laugh at my reaction....humor always works! 3) How do you dismiss the students? I've noticed that when I handle dismissal poorly, the folders are messier. Putting the folders away is NOT a part of dismissal in my class. Five minutes before the end of class, I call the students by row and tell them to put the folders in order and place them in the slot and sit back down in their chair before the real dismissal. I end class with "Starburst" questions. These questions are a review of 3 main points of the day. The students who get the answers right get a Starburst. Since they know "Starburst questions" are the final part of class each day, they are motivated to put away their folders and then sit down. 4) Because it is impossible to check 300 folders each day, I use RANDOM checking. I keep a color-coded excel chart on the wall with 5 columns (one for each day of the week) in a visible place where my student leader marks the folders that haven't met the criteria (alphabetical order; folder turned incorrect way; music on right/theory book on left). My student leader who checks the folders daily randomly checks 3 folders per day. RANDOM is key. None of the students knows when his folder will be checked. The leader checks the folders during "Starburst" question time. If it's Tuesday, and he finds folder 56 violated the rules, he marks it under "Tuesday" with a specific color...each color indicates a different problem. I keep the color-coded key on the wall above the excel sheet so everyone knows how to interpret the data. A "Black" mark next to your name means the folder was turned the wrong way in the cubby. "Red" means the music wasn't alphabetical and so on. The kids check the excel sheet daily to see if they have any marks next to their name. They do not like to get marks next to their name...especially marks that everyone can see each day. I take the chart down once per week or so, and mark their grades accordingly to hold them accountable. Checking only THREE folders RANDOMLY takes very little time and is very effective. 6) Targeted Checking: I use targeted checking occasionally also. Sometimes, we get a child who fails to organize his folder well repeatedly. I have a reporting system in place for that. Children aren't allowed to even tell me about folders that are out of order or messy until it has occurred three times. Then, they must tell me only at the end of class. This cuts down on disruptions. On the third time, they can tell me because, obviously, we need to fix the problem. Once a child has informed me that whoever shares his folder in the previous period has left it in bad shape repeatedly, I tell my student leader to make sure to check that specific folder number and mark the excel sheet on the wall each day. Also, I will talk to that child to help make sure he understands what is expected with folder care. Sometimes they don't! Just talking to them helps! Adding these little extra details helped me tremendously. Now, folder care takes very little time, and my music is in great shape! I hope these ideas help you! Dale Duncan My blog My Sight Singing Program for Middle School Teachers: My YouTube Channel with teaching tips and teaching examples: My free Middle School NAFME Sight Singing Webinar:

Here are some visuals:


  1. What theory books do you use?

    1. I don't use any. I couldn't find anything that worked well for beginners in this age group. It felt like the books were created for people I'd never taught in my 24 years teaching this age group. That is why I created S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners. Level 1 is very "skills-based". In Level 2, we continue building skill sets and problem solving, and we introduce many elements of theory. Once they finish Level 2, they are ready to move into great detail with theory, and there are many books on the market available for this purpose.

  2. Dale, Can you talk a little more about your color coding system that the student leader uses for noting issues with the way folders are filed? I love this idea and want to steal it. Thanks -- Pam

  3. I just added a couple of visuals to the blog post. Does that help?

  4. Having read this I thought it was rather enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worth it!

  5. Thank you for the detail! This is great!

  6. For grading the folders, do you have just one "folder check" grade each semester? So each kid starts with 100pts and if, on a random check, they get a mark, you take off 10 points or so? How do you manage the grading of this system?