June 4, 2009 / Consider This

Color your world

Written by Jan Hensel

One bad habit that just drives me nuts is misplacing things. I even put my keys on a big, pink, stretchy bracelet only to get in the habit of taking it off everywhere – in the darkroom, by a computer, at the overhead projector…. Many staff members seem to have similar habits requiring them regularly to hunt for notebooks and pens.

We never have to search for yearbook spreads, though, not since we switched to our color-coded system.

Here’s how we do it.

When a deadline starts, like mugs, the editor gives all staffers a colored folder for each spread; if they have two senior spreads, they get two folders. The folder tab is labeled in marker with page numbers and student name. They also get a color-coordinated disk, which makes keeping track of current spread files as easy as looking only for “yellow” ones.

Inside the colored folder is the section editor’s design for the pages, with the left page stapled onto the left inside flap and the right page on the other side. (Staple pages at the top only.) For the rest of the deadline, every printout of the spread gets stapled on top of these first sheets.

Next, each person starts what we call “The Guts.” Our “guts” begin with a spread grading form behind which students add interview questions, verified quotes, scoresheets from the athletic director, club rosters – anything used to write the spread.

As days pass, the folder get fatter, with every new thing being added to the bottom of the stack, and the printouts multiply. The folder becomes a “diary” of the progress the student makes.

This system offers more benefits than a multi-vitamin!

First, when you grade that final draft and wonder if you truly missed the run-on sentence lead or that the same student was in three photos, all you have to do is peak behind the current printouts. Previous notes and suggestions on the rough draft are there!

Second, even if the whole spread crashes on the computer, the student will not have to start over. All progress (or lack of progress) is documented in the red, blue or green folder. Teach students to get in the habit of printing spreads everytime they make major changes – once a week in the beginning, every day near deadline.

Third, it is quite easy to see which spreads are in trouble just by flipping through folders during class. There is no hiding from the truth. In fact, I have taken to writing bold notes on the folder covers so I remember to recheck a quote or see if all five captions are finished. Watching the progress of staff members is easier than ever now.

One rule is necessary: Folders must stay at school in the staffers’ mailboxes. When kids need to take work home, they remove the top printout or make a separate one. We have not lost a folder yet, but then I’m adamant about this rule!

One last note. We’re still working on what to do with photos. Usually I have students keep photos loose inside the folder so when I do a weekly grade I can see what they have selected and compare photos to captions. However loose photos can slide out and I am especially fearful of losing senior baby ad pictures or expensive color reprints. My newspaper staff – which uses the colored-folder system, too – attaches a manila envelope for photos and art. That is another idea we may try this year.

Jan Hensel

Jan Hensel is the former adviser at Liberty High School in Liberty, Mo., where she taught yearbook, newspaper and photography.