Braving the Junk Drawer

What should you throw out, what should you curate, what should you leave space for?

As I was working with a school client last month designing an instructional template, we identified a field for core resources to be relevant for all learners. The curriculum specialists were in full support of this curation, but one posed a straightforward yet confounding question:

“What do we do with the rest of the stuff?”

Which led me to playfully nickname those materials, assignments, and resources as the junk drawer.

Later, I actually looked up the definition of a junk drawer:

A drawer used for storing small, miscellaneous, occasionally useful objects of little to no (or unclear) monetary value, and possibly significant sentimental value.

When I was back with the curriculum specialists a few weeks later working to develop illustrative examples modeling the instructional template, one specialist clarified that you only open the junk drawer when you are looking for something specific, often becoming more frustrated from the rummaging around, generally unsuccessful from finding what you were looking for and annoyed by the lack of organization.

Everyone has their own organization system to determine what is worthy of students’ time, energy, and effort that could be:

  • Inspired by Universal Design of Learning guidelines: provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action & expression;
  • Inspired by the rigor of many state, provincial and national frameworks that clarify learner dispositions, behaviors and skills;
  • Inspired by a school’s portrait of a learner that has been codified by stakeholder groups in the local community; and
  • Inspired by a learner’s view of what is meaningful and relevant.
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It may be helpful to begin to build a simple organizational habit either when you are tossing something in or considering an item in the junk drawer. If you have determined it is worthy of holding on to, could you begin to label and classify the items?

  • What is it? A text, assignment, example, problem?
  • What might it be helpful for? More practice, spark ideas, provide an illustrative example?
  • Who might it be helpful for? For example, some students need to see the value of the content through a problem or challenge that requires application of skills or ideas.
  • How long does it take? Basic classification of less than 15 minutes; 15-30 minutes, 30+ helps promote agility given time constraints.

If items are not worthy of the labeling process but you are worried about letting go, you can relegate that into a folder (A.K.A. a bag that you place in storage) where if you don’t miss it, you can let it go). That also gives you room in your freshly organized junk drawer for new materials.

Now I am off to practice what I preach to clean up the junk drawer of the files that are cluttering up my desktop. 😀

Learn more about Allison's work with Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Curriculum Storyboards

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Just as Allison advocates for personalized learning to be used by her clients, she practices it when engaging with her clients. It is important to Allison that she develop a relationship with those she pours into, preferring long standing relationships over quick, one-off sessions.

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