With what seems like everything going digital these days, more and more schools are also picking up on the trend. Even my son’s high school uses their 1:1 policy as a selling point to attract more students. But is all-digital really better?
It isn’t often, but every couple of months I’ll have a teacher ask me how he/she can adapt interactive notebooks and make them work in a paperless, all-digital environment.
Umm.. you can’t.
Disclaimer: I love technology. You don’t know this, but teachers who have taught with me know me as the Technology Queen. I spent 4 years as a technology director, coaching other teachers in instructional technology, writing grants, and outfitting classrooms with all the technology I could get my hands on! I have a Master’s Degree in.. you guessed it! Educational Technology. My non-teacher friends call me before purchasing a computer. They laugh at me because I always have the latest gadget. I was the first person I knew to get an Apple Watch. I am an elite breed of tech nerd. I’m no hater! But technology does NOT make everything better. It is NOT the answer to every problem. It’s not.
Let me give you an analogy. Stay with me!
Two young boys are making mud pies. Boy A is doing so via computer simulation. He uses his mouse to pick up the shovel, dig the dirt, and put it in a bowl. Then, he uses his mouse to measure and pour water in. He picks up a stick with his mouse and moves it in a circular motion to stir the mud pie. Voila! He has now made a mud pie!
Boy B is making his mud pie outside, in the dirt. With dishes from his mother’s kitchen, he messily measures water and pours it into a bowl. He grabs handfuls of cold earth from the ground, dirt stuck under his fingernails. With a prickly stick, he stirs the mud pie to the desired consistency. Voila! He has also made a mud pie!
Both boys made a mud pie. And now, both boys know HOW to make a mud pie! But, Boy B definitely had a more meaningful experience. Boy B is MUCH more likely to remember that experience in the future! He felt the cold dirt, the stick, the water. He smelled the mud pie as soon as he mixed it. He had a sensory experience!
That is what we are missing when we take digital too far.
I don’t have to tell you that interactive notebooks are a sound, research-based practice. Two minutes and a Google search are enough to stifle any doubters. This can take the place of me boring you with lengthy explanations about learning styles, multiple intelligences, and right brain vs. left brain.
What I CAN tell you in plain English is WHY interactive notebooks revolutionized my classroom.
I taught for 8 years before landing my dream job teaching middle school literature. This was it. This was what my years of experience had prepared me for, the grade and the subject I’d wanted all along.
I spent the entire summer enthusiastically reading middle grades literature and planning lessons around the best stories and novels I could find. The year started. I was ready!
One month into school and I realized something. I stunk! I was not an effective middle school teacher. I was not an effective literature teacher. I just stunk.
I did what my predecessor did. I did what my fellow middle school teachers did. I gave notes. I lectured. And I tried really, really hard to spice things up as much as possible. But my students were bored. They couldn’t remember a lesson from one day to another. They couldn’t plot a story. I was teaching the same concepts over and over again. Half of them were bored with the repetition, and the other half were lost and hopelessly clueless about literature concepts.
Then, the Kindergarten (yes, Kindergarten!) teacher told me about a workshop she attended on foldables. I asked her to show me, and she did. I figured this might be worth a try – it looked fun to me! It was too late in the year to jump on the bandwagon full-force, and I didn’t know enough, but I experimented and tried some foldables and activities with my students for a few months. That summer, I went to a workshop, and my life hasn’t been the same since.
When the next school year started, I was rock and rolling! No longer did my six classes consist of bored, apathetic teens and preteens sitting and staring. My students were BUSY! They were trying to keep up. They were retaining information. They were smiling. They were doing stuff. They were engaged. They were engaged with the content. And they liked it.
Quote whatever scientific data you like. But I can tell you that my students were learning because they were moving. Drowsy, passive learners were replaced with engaged, active learners. Cut this. Color this. Glue this. Fold here. Color here. Glue there. Write this. Snip that piece. Add color here. Voila! They were moving.
And they HAD something. They had a lot of somethings! They had a masterpiece. Everything that I deemed important to their learning was now in one neat package. And they were learning. So. Much. They retained information like never before! Why? Because they were interacting with the content. They constructed those interactive notebook pages by hand. They created the shape, the object, and they added the color. The color almost always meant something important. It was all color coding! And they wrote those notes and terms and definitions and descriptions and content. With a pencil.
The reason interactive notebooks work is both the process and the product. But the product only means something because of the process involved in creating the product. When you attempt to make interactive notebooks digital, you’re removing the process. You still have a similar product, but it is not as meaningful without the process.
A file on a computer somewhere cannot take the place of an actual, real-life notebook with meaningful pages that a student has hand-constructed. Even if he interacts with the digital content, types the words in, fills the boxes with color, it isn’t a replacement for actually doing it and actually having it. Did you know that simply hand-writing information with a pen or pencil on paper instead of typing it actually increases retention? It’s that simple.