In college, I was pretty fastidious about organization. I carried an agenda with me at all times, color-coded all my class notes, always kept copies of my syllabi on hand, filed my class materials in accordion filing binders, and organized the literature I referenced for my thesis using the software, Zotero.
But it wasn't until I came to Taiwan that I realized how much I value organization in the classroom setting from a teacher's perspective.
At Fuchuen Elementary School, I work with one co-teacher in the same English classroom year-round. This means I have the luxury of really settling into the classroom, as I have my own desk, and can decorate the walls for various holidays.
One key element I wanted to add to the classroom was name tags for each student. Because I teach ten classes and nearly 300 students on Mondays and Tuesdays at Fuchuen, learning all of my students' names poses a significant challenge.
I first started out by creating seating charts for each classroom as a personal visual aid. The students already had assigned seats (they simply sat in their homeroom seating arrangement), but my co-teacher did not have seating charts on hand. I began by passing around a blank seating chart and asking the students to write their Chinese and English names, if they had one. I discovered that many students did not have English names, knew how to pronounce them but couldn't spell them, or even forgot them entirely.
After I collected all of the written seating charts, I had the daunting task of deciphering the students' handwritten scrawls. Their names were written in traditional characters (fantizi 繁體字), rather than what I studied -- simplified characters (jiantizi 簡體字). This is because Taiwan retained the use of traditional characters rather than switching over to simplified characters, despite (or rather, in opposition to) the PRC's promotion of simplified characters in the 1950's and '60s. Schools in Taiwan (as well as Macau and Hong Kong) stick to traditional characters, unlike schools in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia.
In any case, it was difficult enough for me to read the traditional characters, but so many students wrote their names quickly and haphazardly so they were practically illegible!
Once I finally transcribed all the written names, I decided to add the pinyin for each name as well, so that I had three items per student: their Chinese name, English name, and the pinyin of their Chinese name. (Pinyin is the official romanization system for Mandarin Chinese in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia. Developed in the 1950s and based on earlier forms of romanization of Chinese, pinyin employs the use of English letters and four tones.) Adding the pinyin was not a necessary step in the process of making my seating charts, but I figured it'd be a good way for me to practice recognizing traditional characters.
However, because Taiwan does not use the pinyin romanization system, I had no way of checking the accuracy of my transcriptions with my co-teacher unless I said aloud all ~300 students' names to her to correct my spelling errors. Instead of pinyin, Taiwan uses the Bopomofo system of phonetic notation, which consists of 37 characters and four tone marks. This remains the primary phonetic system taught in elementary schools in Taiwan and is also used as an electronic input method. In fact, most people I've encountered in Taiwan do not use pinyin and cannot type characters into my phone as a result (that is, unless I download a Bopomofo keyboard).
So my only alternative was meticulously typing all the students' names into online Chinese dictionaries to find their pinyin spelling, then adding it to my seating chart and calling aloud the students' names during each of my classes to verify the spelling.
The seating chart for my 402 (4th grade) class.
The next step in the name tag process was preparing the name tag templates! I bought large pieces of white paper at a local stationary store, a green cutting mat, an X-Acto blade, and black adhesive velcro strips.
Next, I cut the white pieces of paper to fit the following dimensions: 21cm x 24cm. I folded each piece of paper twice to make 3 blank sections, then taped them and added the velcro strips to the bottom.
Then, over the course of 2 weeks, I packed an obnoxiously large blue Ikea bag full with blank name tags to bring to school on my scooter.
We set aside about ten minutes for each class to decorate their name tags and write their Chinese and English names. This allowed me to identify students who lacked English names and help them pick ones out. I did this by asking them what their favorite letters were and visiting a few websites with name ideas for boys and girls. I read aloud names until they heard ones they liked. I felt more comfortable letting the students pick names rather than arbitrarily assigning them.
Finally, I collected all the name tags for my students. Pictured below is one of my student's name tags on her desk. (Each desk has two velcro strips to secure the name tags -- if it weren't for the velcro strips, they would fly away due to the strong gusts of wind that tend to blow into our classroom from the windows).
Thanks to the velcro strips, I can easily replace the name tags on each desk!
I organized the name tags into cabinets for each class: I currently teach ten classes per week (grades 2-6), and fittingly, there happened to be a shelf with ten drawers in our classroom. The shelf was hidden along one of the classroom walls and inaccessible because it was blocked by students' desks.
After cleaning it out with some baby wipes, it looked good as new! I moved it to a more accessible and open space in the back of the classroom. I designed the labels for the cabinets using colored paper I bought from a nearby bookstore and laminated them as well! (I wanted the grades to be color-coded, and felt that the classroom could benefit from a pop of bright primary colors.)
I will switch from teaching grades 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 to grades 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 halfway through the semester (that's next week -- crazy how quickly time has passed already!) So next week I will swap out the blue labels (201 and 202) with the other blue labels I made (101 and 102).
(I had to crouch underneath a student's desk to capture this angle.)
A view of the inside of the 401 cabinet.
Some cute name tags from my 501 class.
I even made a name tag for my own desk!
Apart from the name tags, I also decided to organize the flashcards that supplement the students' textbooks.
Before I decided to organize the flashcards, they remained in the original cardboard boxes provided by the textbook publishers in the back of the classroom. It was difficult to find the correct flashcards for six different textbooks because they had been mixed around in the different boxes. So I decided to clean out another shelf that was blocked off by students' desks and move it to another more accessible part of the classroom.
Here, I organized the flashcards by grade and bound each unit with binder clips for easy access.
I also added a "Lost & Found" section to the classroom for students' misplaced belongings.
A complete view of the inside of our classroom -- the cabinets are in the far back and the flashcards are in the shelf on the right-hand side.