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Teaching full-time English and AVID found me drowning in papers - you know the feeling? A weekly stack of hundreds of papers to check off or grade left me frustrated, tired and unhappy most weekends. In an attempt to cut down on the overwhelming, mind-numbing amount of papers submitted to me by my middle school English students, I've been trying something new the last few years - interactive student notebooks! In my never ending quest to teach kids to be organized, to personalize their learning, and to create a document that actually will help them not just DO their work but LEARN from it by STUDYING, I decided to give them a try a few years ago, and THEY ARE AWESOME!
What is an interactive student notebook?
We use one 70-page spiral notebook each semester, which means we will use two notebooks during the year. The notebooks are more than just a place to take notes- they’re a personalized, customized textbook for our class. The notebook is filled with notes - but so much more than that. We free write, draw, create, reflect and document all our learning.
What’s the best way to set up interactive student notebooks?
-Aside from a spiral notebook, students need scissors, a glue stick or tape, highlighters, colored pencils and Post-Its.
-The first step for notebooks is to give them page numbers - if kids do this first, they are less likely to get their work out of sequence or tear out pages. I make a BIG deal of keeping everyone on the same page - if they need more space, they can use the back of the page, or tape on an ‘extender’ piece of paper that folds up into the notebook. They quickly learn to never go ahead - if they do, I tell them to ‘fix it’. They figure it out.
-We set up notebooks with the first two pages for a Table of Contents - students make three columns labeled “page”, “assignment” and “date”, and write in the numbers 1-25 on each page. If we go past 50 pages, we use the back of the second page. Then, they use a highlighter to write page numbers in the top right hand corner of every RIGHT side page until they get to the end of the notebook.
-At the start of each lesson, I show the Table of Contents on the document camera so students remember to enter the correct title and date. Then, we flip the to page we’re working on, title and date that page, and start our lesson.
What are some helpful hints for teaching with interactive student notebooks?
-Students should bring their notebooks to class every day. If they forget, I have them write the lesson on binder paper and either transfer it into their notebooks, or redo it in their notebooks. They learn quickly to remember to bring it!
-Only allow glue or tape for securing foldables into their notebooks - staples are hard to manage and tear the paper.
-Formally grade the notebooks at least once a quarter, but use a rubber stamp to spot check work for correction/completion.
-Have kids glue anchor charts or reference pages into their notebooks - they can use them all semester, and refer back to them as needed.
-Mix up your lessons - use a variety of notetaking, foldables, graphic organizers, creative projects and students created pages. Check out Teachers Pay Teachers for lots of cool lesson ideas - Erin Cobb at I’m Lovin Lit has some of my favorites!
-Let the students occasionally use their notebooks for open note tests or quizzes to reinforce the importance of keeping them neat, complete and organized.
-Keep a ‘master’ student notebook for kids to reference when they’re absent. I don’t put all the answers/info in mine-I want them to just get the skeleton of the lesson, not copy all the content.
Want to see some examples?
Each year my notebooks have looked slightly different - I’ve adjusted some ideas as I watch how my students use them, and am constantly trying to make them as relevant for student learning and studying as possible.
Excited? You should be! Interactive student notebooks have not only dramatically cut down on the loose paper load I have to grade or check off - they’ve allowed students to be more organized (everything in one spiral bound place? YES!), they offer a great communication tool for parents to talk to their students about what they’re learning, and they give students time to go back, add to/finish their classwork at home, and become a beautiful document of their learning that they can be proud of.