AVID Binders: We Like Them Big, But Are They Obsolete?
Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 7:56AM
Rob Gira in Secondary, WICOR , binder, organization

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

Article originally appeared on AVID Adventures in College & Career Readiness (http://avidcollegeready.org/).
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