I refuse to spend time grading notebook organization. I know teachers who do this and I remember taking many classes in school in which there were binder checks. Personally, I think trading notebooks to check them in class is a waste of instructional time. Collecting them to check myself is just plain daunting. And for what? It's not like grading a student's organization indicates their mastery of the content the subject requires them to learn. I'm terribly disorganized when it comes to paperwork, but I know my math!
The only benefit of checking notebooks in the traditional way is that it encourages students to have the life skill of being organized. I've started a notebook check this year that goes a step further to ensure a student is familiar with the location of papers in his binder. After all, I want students to be able to reference their notes as needed to help them attack problems. When we have a few minutes at the end of class to spare, I pull out a stack of "cat cash," the money in our grade level economy. I name a paper and award $5 to the first child who can find it and $1 to any other student who can find it before I call out the next paper. The catch- it must be in the binder rings in the right section to count. I run through three or four papers and that's it. In about 3 minutes, we've checked every binder in the room. I've done this twice so far this year and the students have responded well. I've reminded them of this system when I pass back papers and it appears that this year more students are actually using the binder rings instead of a folder or the pocket inside the binder's cover (or the trash can).
What do you do to encourage your students to be organized?