Foldables are nothing new to most K-12 educators. It seems that a foldable craze hits districts or buildings every few years. Made popular by Dinah Zike, I currently blame Pinterest for the resurgence of the things.

Our school has had several trainings on them recently. Thankfully, they have all been department-specific and I have yet to receive an invitation. This is fine with me, you see, because I am convinced that foldables are a complete scam. Many teachers are drawn to them because they are so visually appealing and fun to make. They create a beautiful finished product, filled with all of the incredible things that your students have just learned, that is impressive to parents and administrators alike. Like many projects, I believe that their value is negated by the massive amount of class time needed to do them well.

The idea behind foldables is that they are a fun, visually stimulated way for students to organize information. A quick google image search will show you thousands of examples of really beautiful and clever ways to create foldables that give story elements for a recently finished novel, timelines for historical events, and a plethora of other graphic organizers. They are truly portfolio-worthy products that students can keep to study from or reference for much time to come.

However, if you have ever tried making a foldable with your class, you will quickly discover two things: (1) it is going to take way longer than you anticipated, and (2) most of the finished products are going to be a far cry from the quality of your beautiful example. In order to create high quality foldables, most of the teachers in our school have taken to printing out the information that goes in them, and simply having students cut, paste, fold, and add detail. While the kids are left with a fun study guide, was it really worth the class time? Couldn’t they just as have easily taken Cornell Notes or drawn a graphic organizer like a story elements glove? Construction paper is not cheap, and class time is precious. I do not believe that foldables are the best use of our time or resources as teachers. What could have been accomplished in a more “boring” way ends up taking an entire class period, or often more than that! Beyond that, many teachers eliminate the evaluative and other higher-order thinking skills that give value to the project in the interest of producing quality finished products.

I should say that I have seen many people make super-quick, sloppy foldables that I think are just fine. Kids basically make tears and folds in pieces of lined paper and then add information, and it gives them a break from the ordinary note taking yet doesn’t create the demand for much class time because they are supposed to be sloppy.

Have you ever undertaken a project that you quickly realized was simply not worth the class time needed to complete it? Developed a solution that makes a previously time-sucking activity go snippity quick? Had a positive experience with foldables? I’d love to hear about them!

10 replies on “The Great Foldables Scam

  1. I have never liked foldables either. The only thing that happened when I tried them was a lot of whining and a big mess.

  2. So true… reminds me of the endless family tree projects I used to see being made in other WL classes: two class periods of cutting and pasting photos and decorating poster boards, all while the kids chat in English. A few moments before it is due one of the ‘good students’ whips out a vocab list and they all dutifully copy the word “abuela” under a photo. A+!!!

    Can we start an archive of common waste-of-time projects in the WL classroom?!

  3. What are your thoughts on Projects Based Learning in the WL classroom? My school has a Projects Based focus. I really struggle to come up with projects that don’t waste the precious class time that I feel should be focused on input. We spend a week doing projects that must “provide choice” only to end up with results and final products that are rushed, haphazard, and are far below my expectations. Incredibly frustrating.

    1. I am zero help in this area. I have had too many bad experiences to want to spend the time trying to find a way to do projects that work. I think that Kristy Placido and Carrie Toth have had success doing some pretty neat projects in TPRS classrooms…maybe check out Kristy’s site?

    2. I saw this post pop up on Martina’s Twitter recently and generally I have to say, I agree with Martina in that projects typically take way too much valuable class time and are more trouble than they’re worth.

      However, I do think Laura Sexton has done a fabulous job of integrating Project-Based Learning into her classroom. All projects are in response to a larger, overarching question and she frontloads the input and scaffolds in a very thoughtful way. I’ve adapted a couple of her PBL units for my French classroom and have been very pleased with the results so far. The focus is always on the language first, and the pretty product second.

  4. Hi Martina!
    I am not a tremendous fan of time-consuming projects either, but as a culminating project for an intense unit in an upper level class, they can be great. For example, my Spanish Civil War unit in level 3 (I did in level 4 last year but level 3 this year) takes the better part of a semester and we end up with an art gallery day of student-created art.

    Most of the times when I have done projects in lower levels I want to stab myself in the eye before I am done with it.

    1. I also like the Spanish town deal that you do, Kristy! But I can’t imagine tackling either of those with my kids. Not sure if it’s the age, the level, or just the nature of the beast.

  5. I’m glad I read this post! Given all the hype, I always felt I was remiss in not spending more time on things like foldables. But it’s true, they are a waste of class time where students end up mainly chatting in English with each other, and then they get shoved in the back of a notebook (or in the trash) and reviewed only be the students who already have good notes of their own. I assign all projects as out-of-class work (about one per week). Sometimes they’re of the stereotypical family tree type, and sometimes they have a more “realistic” purpose, like go online and find real estate listings in Paris that would accommodate your family. It’s the only homework I give. Many of the finished products still don’t live up to my “dreams”, but it avoids the regret of wasted class time. I tell my students, even if we work entirely in French for the whole hour, you’ve still spent less than 5% of your day in French, and 95% in English! That tends to help them understand why we devote so much class time to comprehensible input and so little to IP work.

    1. I’m going to steal your 95/5 quote! I never thought of putting it to the students like that, and I think that it would help them better understand why I am such a stickler for Spanish only!!

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