License to Learn - a Classroom Check in System

One of the most important aspects of running a good classroom is consistency. If students have specific tasks that are consistently in place each and every day a sense of routine is set for the classroom and with it a sense of responsibility. Many teachers in the middle and elementary levels use student check in systems that give the students a sense of responsibility while making it easier for the teacher to take attendance. I have seen everything from popsicle sticks to clothespins and each system has unique characteristics that work for that teacher. I wasn't happy with the way those systems functioned for my classroom and wanted something a bit more mature for my sixth and seventh grade students. What I decided to develop is what I call the "License to Learn". I explain to my students that once they check in their card they are showing that they are ready to learn in my classroom, almost like they are punching in for work. Using this method has allowed me to do more than just take attendance. It has allowed me to use the cards to keep track of extension projects my students complete, how many tokens (see page 3) my students have used, and two distinct goals my students have set for the school year in my science class. An added bonus is that the cards work beautifully for creating groups and assigning new seats since the students photo is adhered to the card. The photo also benefits substitute teachers and make fire drills safer and easier since the cards can be gathered up as you head out the door and you know who is absent.

I have been using this system for ten years and feel that its virtues are worthy of any teacher checking the system out to see how they could use it or something similar in their classroom. The initial set up and making of the system is easy and straight forward, and each year you will need to print new cards and laminate them. For a small investment of time and materials you will reap a heap of benefits.

Supplies:

Fabric - pretty much anything works, I used scrap fabric of varying textures and colors to help make the entire thing pop

License to Learn templates - You will need enough of these for one for each student

Laminator

Colored Sticker Dots

Photographs of your students (if your school uses an online grading / attendance system the headshots work best, otherwise you might need your students to bring in their own pictures)

Scissors

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Step 1: The License to Learn Station

The cards I used for my LTL station are approximately 4-3/4" long and 2-5/8" wide. I typically have 20 students in each class but have had up to 32 and as low as 14. I decided to make each section have enough room for 28 students. I was able to use an empty section for the extra kids in my large 32 student class, and that has only happened once. I typically have five sections of students each day but have had up to seven, so I made seven sections with the station.

The basic design is simple. Use a heavier backing fabric to attach each section strip to. The section strips are sewn into pockets with one card below and one above. A "check in" pocket is sewn to the very end that can accommodate the laminated cards and is strong enough to handle some less than gentle hands. Make the pockets so that they are 2-3/4" wide and approximately 2-1/2" deep so that the students photograph clearly sticks out of the top, making it heaps easier for them to check in. My wife was instrumental in helping me sew it all together since my sewing skills are so-so (sorry, I couldn't help it). If you need more details on how I put the whole thing together please do not hesitate to reach out to me or put a note in the comments section.

As for affixing it to the wall, I just used a stapler and the thing hasn't moved in ten years!

Step 2: Preparing the Cards and Photographs

You will need to print off photographs for your students that are approximately 1" wide and 1-1/2" tall. I used the photos supplied in our Powerschool database. They are not perfect, but they work for this application. You will also need to print off all of the LTL cards using the template I created or something similar. Make sure to cut out the cards in advance of the day you plan on completing them with your students, it will speed things up immensely.

Step 3: Putting Them Together in Class

The entire process of putting the cards together takes no longer than 15 minutes with sixth and seventh grade students. You will benefit from prepping the pictures ahead so that you can easily clip them off for students quickly. Distribute one card to each student and have them use a pencil to complete the front of the card so that you can have them go over it in pen when they know they are happy with their work. I then have the students flip to the back and we discuss what good goals could be for my science class for the year. I tell them to try and come up with measurable goals so that we can see how they are making progress with each time we check in on their goals. Goals could range from acquiring a specific grade or range, completing extra credit projects such as my extension projects, not turn in late work, etc... I have the kids write their goals in pencil and then go over them in pen. At this point you can have the students paste on their photograph in the space provided and you can go around and collect the cards.

Now that you have all of the cards completed you need to determine how you are going to keep them organized in your check in station. I use colored dots (see supplies) to represent each class. Since my homeroom students help me load the cards each morning, the colored dots help them identify what section each card goes into. I use an index card with the class number and the appropriate colored dot to help students find their card and help my homeroom load them up. Put a colored dot on the bottom corner of the card so that it does not interfere with the photograph. Once the cards are ready to go you can then laminate them. I use a simple Scotch laminator with the heat sensitive pocketed sleeves. I like how heavy the cards come out when compared with using my school's laminator. I then cut the cards out a second time (yes, a bit time consuming but mindless) and then nip the corners off so that they don't get stuck on the fabric as they are being loaded and checked in.

Step 4: The Final Product

The final product is easy for students to use, allows you to get a quick check on attendance without having to do roll call, and gives the students a consistent task that helps build excellent classroom routine. I have had over 1,000 students use this system over the time I have been using it and it has worked perfectly. I hope that you give it a try and please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or comments.

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