Fun Folders: a meaningful, student-centered way to assign homework practice
Looking for an easy homework system that gives kids enjoyable and meaningful assignments? Try Fun Folders! This page will tell you how to create, implement, manage, and assess a homework program.
What are fun folders?
Fun Folders are a homework system I created several years ago by writing open-ended activities on file folders. Students pick out a different folder to take home each night. They complete the folder’s activity on a sheet of notebook paper and fill out the tracking form reflection on the front of the chart so they know which folders they’ve completed.
What kinds of homework activities are in fun folders?
Anything you want! Though my Fun Folders were always based on state standards, I used stickers, kids’ magazines, photos, and all sorts of other things as inspiration for creating interesting activities. I’d save up new materials as I found them, and then about once a month, I’d make new Fun Folders while relaxing in front of the T.V. in the evening. They were actually very enjoyable to create–much better than grading homework worksheets! The slideshow below shows some photographs of Fun Folders so you can get an idea of how they work:
9 reasons to convince parents and principals that the fun folder system works!
1. The system allows families to see the wide variety of skills in the curriculum and become more familiar with state standards.
2. It ensures that each child practices one or more state standards nightly (objectives are always written on the back of the folders).
3. There is no busywork assigned just for the sake of having homework.
4. It allows for differentiated homework practice. Folders are leveled, with a thirty-minute timeframe for completion so that students who work at a slower pace do not have to spend an unreasonable amount of time on homework, and all charts have challenge activities to make the activity more rigorous as needed.
5. There is an easy-to-remember routine: homework is in the same general format each week and takes about the same amount of time to complete each night, providing the child has no incomplete class work to take home.
6. It eliminates photocopies, saving teachers time, saving schools money, and saving the planet’s resources!
7. It doesn’t penalize students for not understanding concepts or not having someone at home to help, because Fun Folder work is not given letter grades (charts are shared with the class, credit is awarded for completed tracking forms and attempts to complete the activities, and actual Fun Folder work is collected for portfolios.)
8. It allows for distributed practice, meaning that students must retain their knowledge of skills and concepts all year to complete the Fun Folders (rather than completing homework only the current chapter, testing, and forgetting!)
9. It’s fun for kids!!
How fun folders fit into a class homework program
Fun Folders can be the entire homework program or just part of it. In the 2002-2003 school year, I used them as the main homework assignments all year; the only other homework students had was to read self-selected materials nightly. In 2005-2006, I gave more traditional homework at the beginning of the year and used Fun Folders after our state standardized testing was done in early March.
I continued using Fun Folders even after I started making homework due on a weekly basis instead of nightly, with assignments always given and collected on Fridays so students had a full 7 days to complete them. I had each child pick 1 folder of each type (math, reading, and writing) and complete the folders by the end of the week (in addition to self-selected reading and spelling practice as needed). They loved it and I could tell they were really benefiting from the skills practice.
In later years, I sometimes used the Fun Folders as extra practice and reinforcement, optional homework, and even centers because the kids enjoyed them so much.
Collecting and assessing fun folders
Typically I had children share their work each morning with a partner, then turn in the work for my review and trade folders. This system gave students accountability for their work and allowed them to talk about what they learned. I often heard students say things like, “Yeah, I did that folder! This part was tricky–let me see what you did,” and “I want to do that folder tonight! How did you figure out the first part?” It was great to hear the kids exchanging strategies and generating more enthusiasm for homework practice!
When I collected homework weekly, I would often have little mini-conference with each child as I looked through their work on Fridays. Fun Folders were graded on completeness and were not checked for accuracy (though I could easily skim over them and notice if there were any glaring errors–since I made the folders, I had a good idea of what was on them!) I have always marked homework as either complete or incomplete, and Fun Folders were no exception. Completed Fun Folder work was saved in student portfolios, which students filed and organized themselves.
Keeping folders organized/using tracking forms
My folders were kept in a file box, which was almost empty most of the time because the children have the folders in their binders to be taken home. I used a tracking form that was simply glued to the front and back of the folder (or stapled just to the front so state standards were visible on the back.) There was a space for each child’s assigned student number. After completing the folder, they would write a short reflection sentence next to their number (I liked…, I learned…I thought this chart was…, etc.) This would not only give me and the other kids feedback about how the chart worked, but gave students a record of which charts they had completed so they wouldn’t take the same chart twice.
Leveling the fun folders
The first year that I used Fun Folders, I had the Talented and Gifted (TAG) inclusion students, so differentiation was very important. I leveled my folders with a little check mark next to the title on the side of the file folder.
Green check mark folders were easy folders with very basic fact practice or below-grade-level work. Blue check mark folders were appropriate for everybody and comprised 90% of the folders I made. Red check mark folders required more time and higher-level thinking questions than were typically required of third graders. Students were allowed to choose any folders they wanted and picked appropriately the vast majority of the time.
Students were taught that they could stop working on a folder if it took longer than 30 minutes to complete, as folders were designed to take between 10-20 minutes. Parents were to indicate next to their signature on the homework assignment sheet/student agenda book that thirty minutes had passed and the student had been working diligently but was unable to finish. There was no penalty for this.
A note about the origin of fun folders
The inspiration for this program was the Choose-A-Chart program designed by a fabulous third grade teacher in Canada, Michael Moore. Michael has since removed his website and all teaching resources from the web, so I can’t link to his original idea anymore, but there is some information saved at Real Classroom Ideas if you’re interested. There are a few differences between his charts and my Fun Folders:
-Mr. Moore used chart paper and mine are done on file folders, which I chose because it takes me too long to write in large print on charts (as you can see, my small print is messy enough!) and I thought they might be a bit cumbersome compared to the folders.
-Mr. Moore starts fresh each school year, making brand new charts customized for his particular group of students, and uses their names often in the charts. While this was my original intention, I had put so much work into my charts that I thought it would be a shame to re-make them all each year. Almost every chart was re-used from year to year to save time.
-Because I wanted to re-use my charts, and the fact that I used a lot of stickers and papers glued onto them, I laminated my charts. Mr. Moore rightfully points out that this is expensive and a bit wasteful, but I have been able to be more creative with the materials I use to enhance the charts because I know the laminate will protect them. Most charts lasted 3-5 years.
-All of my charts include state standards listed on the back and optional challenge activities for those families who want extension ideas for homework assignments.
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