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AVID Binders: We Like Them Big, But Are They Obsolete?

If you have ever visited an AVID site, you have seen the AVID Binder: A three-ringed collection of academic essentials, including Cornell notes, planning sheets, learning logs, class assignments, a pouch of required tools (highlighters, pens, pencils, etc.), all carefully divided and organized.  In our AVID college readiness world, we have many artifacts and symbols that define our students as highly academic.  Nothing, though, is so pervasive, so personal, so useful, and dare I say, beloved, as the AVID Binder.  AVID students take great pride in their binders, our tutors grade them weekly, and our teachers use them as a means to reinforce organization and planning.  The binders become an extra appendage for AVID students, their constant companions as they embark on their journeys to college. 

How important are their binders to our students?  I know one family in Southeast San Diego, with all five children graduating from AVID high schools.  Their last AVID binders from their senior years are still stored in the house, in a place of honor, and they still debate who had the best AVID binder.

If we need an extreme example of a strong connection to the AVID binder, we can look at Christian Garcia, who graduated from Valley Center High School in San Diego County, in 2004.  Christian spoke at one of our San Diego summer institutes and recounted her experience with the horrendous Paradise Fire, which in November, 2003, destroyed over 200 homes, killed two people, and injured many others.  Christian lived on the Indian Reservation in the eastern part of San Diego County, an area vulnerable to such wildfires. 

As she recalls in her speech and essay, she was told by her family to leave immediately and to grab what she could from her room.  She scanned her room, looking at her awards, her collection of stuffed animals, her computer, and her backpack. 

“For some reason, I knew that this was going to be the last day that I would see them. The only thing that I grabbed was my backpack. It might sound silly, but this bag travels with me everywhere I go. I treasure it like a living soul.  My backpack means a lot to me because it contains my schoolwork, notes, and most important, my AVID binder. Now I know why it is so important to just carry one binder so I could save it in case of a fire. I feel that my backpack has become more than just the bag that I carry to school every day; it is a part of me like the lungs in my body that help me stay alive. It has become my most valued possession because education is my life.”

Ben Solomon, one of our AVID Texas Program Managers, is known in our organization as the “King of Big Binders.”  He taught AVID for six years, grades 8-12.  Now he works with over 1,200 AVID elective teachers. 

“For those who are starting out,” he says, “there are three big rocks they need to focus on:  Cornell notes, tutorials, and the organizational process, including binders and planners.  If you get those right in the beginning, you will do ok.  If you miss any of those, you will have a problem.  For the teachers I work with, the binder is fundamental, a non-negotiable.  Whenever a student is struggling, I go right to the binder.”

Where are we headed with the AVID binder, as schools have a stronger technology focus, with some having a complete lap-top culture?

“I don’t see those kind of schools coming fast and furious,” Solomon said, “I have one school going in that direction.  But we need to be prepared.”

Solomon still stays in touch with nearly 30 of his AVID graduates.  What does he hear about our graduates using the AVID binder in college?  “What I hear is they don’t carry one binder, but they do tell me they constantly rely on the organizational skills and note-taking skills they learned in AVID.” 

Last week, I had the opportunity to see another large collection of AVID binders, those of students at several high schools in South Florida.  First, I visited Lehigh High School in Lee County, and subsequently observed classes at Golden Gate and Lely High Schools in Collier County.  As the first semester has just ended, I was interested to see the status of the AVID binders, their organization, their girth, and even their condition.  I was particularly focused on the binder situation for the 9th graders, who had just completed their first semester as AVID students.

It is always informative and usually gratifying to look through the binders during AVID classroom visits, and the 9th graders at Golden Gate and Lely told me that they were not only using their binders but also were proud to be seen carrying them.  The binders were full of material, well organized, and colorfully decorated.  The students at Golden Gate had written long-term college goals on the front of their binders.  True, some binders were showing their wear, and were held together with duct tape.  But I saw them put to good use. 

At Lehigh High School, during the Open House visitation by educators from surrounding sites and districts, who wanted to learn more about AVID, we had a chance to hear the student panel comprised of 9th through 12th grade AVID students, as they shared their future plans, challenges, and their strategies.  College acceptances had been coming in, and there was a sense of excitement in the air.  “I got my acceptance to USF (University of South Florida) last night,” one young lady told the group.  “I’m going.” 

But I was particularly drawn to Markensie, a young man in his junior year at Lehigh.  Before he joined the panel, he sat with me and proudly reviewed his binder, a five-inch collection of his academic efforts.  “This is my even day binder,” he said (the school is on block schedule).  “I have an odd day binder, too.”  I am always curious about how the AVID binder works for boys, who tend to struggle with organizational skills.  Markensie’s binder was excellent and any AVID student would have been proud of it. Was there any stigma or teasing about carrying these binders, I asked? 

“None,” he said, “and I wouldn’t care.”  Markensie also noted that he had suffered some emotional difficulties in middle school.  “I used to get so mad at my work,” he said.  “I hardly ever do any more.”  He added that he had improved his geometry grade from a D to an A through hard work and “staying after school.”  During the panel presentation, Markensie shared that he now has a 3.1 GPA and is determined to attend college, first to become a registered nurse, then a physician. 

Thanks to the AVID site team at Lehigh High School, principal Jeff Spiro, and AVID coordinator and teacher Monica Walker, and AVID elective teacher Peggy Leis, Markensie has a great chance.  And his binder will be with him all the way through his senior year.

But I sometimes wonder about the AVID binder.  After 30 years, is it becoming an educational dinosaur?  How does the AVID binder fit in for today’s students, their PDAs, their iPads, their electronic world?  I have seen some AVID classes where teachers are experimenting with electronic binders, but this is by far the exception. 

And I wonder to what extent our AVID graduates replicate the AVID binder when they get to college.

I would love to hear stories about the AVID binder and also get some answers to my questions.


For more on the AVID binder, check out this blog: The Atomic Binder

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Reader Comments (20)

Great post! Your point about whether the binders are enough, despite their value, is well taken. Even at a high performing, higher income school where I teach, though, the binder is critical. Most students (in and out of AVID), even those who have access to numerous technology tools, continue to sport binders, while also using electronic methods of organization (like thumb drives or GoogleDocs). Even if the students are tech savvy, we must also remember that many teachers still rely heavily on handouts and materials that are not electronically available, though that is slowly changing. In addition, students take Cornell notes in all their classes, which need a home.

In my view, the binder has to stay, but AVID teachers would do well to incorporate other methods of organization into our instruction. We teach students who are bridging multiple worlds, who work with some teachers who don't use e-mail on one end of the tech spectrum, to those who use multiple online learning tools. Students have to be able to use all of these approaches seamlessly if they are going to arrive in college truly ready.

I wonder if AVID has incorporated technology skills into the standards...if not, it would certainly be worth considering digital literacy as a key part of what AVID provides. I know I can do more to help my students become proficient with all the digital tools available to them.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSuzi

i hate the avid binder it bugs me cuse its to big and dosent look normal but i do agree it does need to be organized at all times

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraliza

Thanks for the comments. Suzi, you clearly have a different perspective from Aliza. We are looking closely at the role technology can play in the elective class. I like your point about incorporating technology skills into our standards. Good thinking. Aliza, I agree the AVID binder doesn't look normal.

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

On a similar note, we are currently debating the use of planners and agendas in my district. I recently read a piece which discussed how we have to teach students according to their technological intelligence. That means we should be teaching them to keep a calendar on their phones rather than pencil and paper. How effective are we teaching them to be if we don't meet them where they are?

In essence, our job is to offer our students options and for them to use what works best because everything won't work for every kid. I think with binders and planners the answer has more to do with teaching them a system and then teaching them the flexibility and creativity to adapt it as necessary.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKrystal

As a 10 year AVID Elective teacher veteran, I was faced with a new question last year when my step-daughter graduated from high school. She had been in AVID since 7th grade and after graduating she looked at me and said "How do I use the AVID binder system in college?" I had never really given it much thought. I taught them how to use their binders in high school and figured that they would figure out the college way. Together, she and I came up with a solution. Since college classes are typically MWF or TTH, she has a MWF binder and a separate TTH binder. I was anxious to know how it was working, so her first week away, my text messages were centered around how her college organizational system was working for her. I'm happy to report... "GREAT!"
On another note, since planners were mentioned… around July of this past year, my step-daughter came to me for a serious talk. She was about to embark on a new adventure going away to college. She had her class schedule and a dilemma... we had not yet purchased her a planner. I told her that my intention was to buy her one at the book store when she moved onto campus. That was not acceptable. I have spent all these years helping her organize her life and I expect her to wait until 2 days before classes start to map out her days? NO! We went out right then and purchased one. Disaster diverted!
I am also happy to report that she still takes Cornell Notes. I'm such a happy AVID Mom. :-)

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoy Edwards

Krystal and Joy,

You certainly bring different perspectives.

Krystal, I doubt that you'll get much argument regarding meeting them "where they are." We need to move into the 21st Century and we have pilots underway in this regard. Don't let us hold you back, and keep me posted.

Joy, I love your attention to AVID skills! You are an attentive Mom without being a Chinese Mom (see previous posts). Thanks for a creative solution. Please let us know how things go for your stepdaughter, and CONGRATS!!

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

My AVID students use the big binders, but my computer resource teacher and I have been trying to develop ways to incorporate technology into the AVID elective. One thing that the kids love to do is to use OneNote as their "virtual notebook". Although we are still in the early stages, this idea holds lots of potential in not only showing our AVID students how to remain organized, but how to also keep up in the digital age. The students created templates for their Learning Logs and have the option of doing them either "old school" (pencil and paper) or via OneNote. What we have observed so far is that whenever the students use their digital notebook for Learning Logs I get a lot more detail. The kids take pride in their work and have even begun inserting AVID logos and other pictures. Next phase...using the webcams to have them do a verbal learning log to share with their classmates.

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Laura, and all,

As has been discussed in our blogs on AVID and brain research, the AVID Binder is a planning tool, organizing artifact, and a commitment to the future. When our students organize, use, and carry their binders, they are exercising the executive functions in their brain because they are planning, strategizing, and thinking about their futures. As previous respondents have said, the nature of the binder may change with technology, and college students might employ a different approach. Regardless, the focus is still on being strategic, planning, organizing. This is not only good for achievement, but good for the brain. Thanks so much. Keep pushing the envelope.

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

I teach an elective class (8th grade) in Fairfax Va. I agree with both side of the argument. On one hand the binders are unique, so AVID students stand out to both teachers and students alike. The binders are easily accessed, and if used properly, really help students stay organized. Unfortunately, they get beat up very quickly. Most backpacks can't easily hold the binder, and for smaller students it can be cumbersome.
I also like the idea of each student having an e-tablet like binder, where the student could keep most of their files digitally. I think a tablet, which has a cornell template built in for a variety of subjects, and can allow students to take written notes with a special app, would be most beneficial, and would help students to become more digitally literate.
This is a good discussion. Let's see where it leads.

February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames


Thanks for weighing in on this. I suspect we are headed for a combination that includes a binder and etablet. It is interesting to see how important the backback is as well. Our elementary AVID students especially rely on their backpacks. Keep up the good work.

February 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

Organize, strategize, prioritize! This was my classroom mantra around binders and agendas. I agree with Laura that OneNote, or something like it, will be the wave of the future for notetaking in college. In my graduate classes last year, every single one of us took notes on our laptop...I took old fashioned kind using a word document, but my colleagues who used OneNote were able to do some really cool things in their notes.

We have to always emphasize the PROCESS, though, not just the purpose or the format. Note taking, organization, time managment -- those skills will take on different formats in the future, but we need to keep emphasizing to students that the thinking, reviewing, and learning process is what helps them become "smart" students. Taking notes using OneNote is only useful if the students return to their notes, review them, use them, study from them -- make them a learning tool. And the same can be said for smart phones -- students have to use them to help manage their time, and if they do so then the tool itself doesnt' make a difference. I for one have given up my paper planning tools -- it was a tough transition, but I only use my iphone and Outlook now for planning and time management. And I am trying to be more green by printing less and archiving papers and documents more. I hope that by the time my kiddos are in middle school they will have figured out how to do that better than me!

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLauren


Thanks for adding to the discussion. Really incisive comments. You must be a veteran AVID teacher. You are absolutely right. The research supports the process for their development, whether they use a stone tablet or a Smart Phone.

February 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

Observing an AVID student last week, I was at first impressed with her binder, a 3 incher filled to capacity in February of freshman year. She made me aware of two things. She is receiving poor scores on her binder checks, despite the amount of work reflected in the binder; and carrying the binder from home, through the school day, and back home is a burden - it's very heavy and she's not allowed to keep it in her locker and carry a light notebook to class.

March 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterToni

Sorry for the late reply...

I myself am an AVID Sophomore, and not a huge fan of the binder. Now, I'm tech savvy, so my opinion here may be a little biased, however I'm a huge advocate for implementing technology in the classroom. And what better program to show it off than AVID?

OneNote is one of my favorite note taking softwares. It is so easy to create and organize notes. Highlighting categories, being able to search all of your notes instantly when you need to study versus taking forever to search your binder/textbook. Technology can definitely be a great step into the future.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTrae M

I have mixed feelings about the binder. I agree, organization is key. The method is what we are struggling with.

As part of a year-end activity, I am asking my AVID Juniors to draft a proposal about alternative methods of organization to see how they perceive their needs.

If we continue to migrate to a digital world, we may need to rethink the organization of print material and how it can carry over into the digital world.

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

Trae and Leslie both offer great insights. AVID Center recognizes the need to expand our notion of "binder organization." We are rapidly exploring new technologies which, research shows, help students become college-ready organizers and planners.

May 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

I love the cornel note taking.

October 31, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterarmaun

I love the paper work there is a way I can find that page to print.
Please give me any information about it

August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMianair Vargas

I want to be sincere. While the AVID binder is a great tool to accomplish organization, it is not practical. I have 4 AP classes plus other 3 classes. All of my classes require me to have a separate Binder, and they require me to keep every single paper in those binders, which means there is really nothing to put in my Avid Binder besides my Avid work. Let's be realistic. 7 classes in just one Binder? It is not going to happen. The binder will be full just after the first quarter of a semester, and all the teachers have different requirements. I really hope that someday someone will come up with a practical strategy to use the AVID binder; right now it is not working for me. While I haven't been able to keep everything (really anything) in my Avid Binder, I am applying the organization skills that my teacher taught me in my 4 separate binders; different tablets, Cornell notes, putting the work in chronological order, etc. In terms of organization, the Avid binder is a great tool to learn how to be a great student; in terms of keeping everything together, it has been a failed attempt for me until now. I really hope to be able to use the Avid Binder to my advantage; I am really trying.

September 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJulianna P.


December 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterhi

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