Yee-Haw! I’m in Austin, TX this week for the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference, so it’s the perfect time for a Thursday Throw Down!
This week I’m getting back to the basics with interactive notebooks. I receive and answer dozens of emails each week and have all intentions of answering each and every one, although I know a handful have fallen through the cracks. If you’ve been using interactive notebooks so long that you’re a pro, I’ll warn you now that this might be basic for you. But if you’re curious or have questions about the basics of starting, implementing, and maintaining interactive notebooks, this post is for you!
What are Interactive Student Notebooks?
Interactive student notebooks are a fun and engaging way for your students to keep track of what they are learning. Each interactive notebook page is like a mobile anchor chart that your students have with them at all times.
My students’ interactive student notebooks (ISNs) are a record of everything they have learned in my class this year. Most of the pages are 3D – they open, flip, flap, fold, or move in some way. The students have constructed each page by coloring (we color-code everything), cutting, and gluing. I no longer give notes. Instead, we add pages to the notebook. Of course, it takes longer for students to construct these pages than it would to take notes. And yes, I’m crunched for time both in the day and in the year. But, taking the time to make these pages is the BEST thing I have changed about my instruction in the past 11 years! When students come to my class, they are engaged. They are active. They are moving. No one is sitting like a vegetable listening to me or someone else speak. No one is passively learning. Everyone is active. As students record the content information into a 3D graphic organizer, they interact with the information. They are learning so much more! They are organizing it in a way that is visually appealing and sometimes includes a gimmick, such as writing the definitions for story devices onto iPods. Now, my students will remember which words are classified as story devices. And if they don’t remember it all, they can look in their notebooks. I will never again say, “Don’t you remember this? I taught it in October. How could you forget it already?” Instead, I say, “Turn to page 16 in your ISN and refresh your memory. Then, complete this activity independently.” BAM. Your students are now accountable and self-sufficient!
There are many different ways that interactive student notebooks can be set up, organized, and implemented for different subjects and grades. Here, I’ll share with you how I use them in my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade ELA classes. Here are the topics I’ll discuss:
– The Right Supplies
– Setting Up the Notebooks
– What Goes in the Notebooks?
– Keeping Up With Notebooks
The Right Supplies
Does it really matter what type of notebooks or glue you use for your interactive student notebooks? Absolutely! First, you’ll need to use composition notebooks in place of spiral bound notebooks. The reason for this is that the pages can easily be torn out of spiral bound notebooks, while it takes work to remove a page from a composition notebook. That being said, I have heard of teachers having success with spiral bound notebooks or even binders, but I have definitely found composition notebooks to work best. Any brand is fine, but name brands such as Mead do tend to hold up better than the Dollar Store variety.
While the notebook may be negotiable, the glue definitely is NOT negotiable. You cannot use glue sticks for interactive notebooks, period. They won’t work. I know that you really want to. I know that your students already have them. I know that they are less messy. But, they don’t work. If you glue something into the notebook with a glue stick, it isn’t going to stay there. It will come off with just a little bit of pulling and manipulation. Don’t even consider glue sticks! There must be something scientific about the liquid glue and how that stuff creates a permanent bond between paper, because man, if you use Elmer’s School Glue in a notebook, that stuff isn’t coming off! It’s a must. You must use Elmer’s School Glue. I recommend having a class set that stays in your classroom. Wrap the bottles in decorative duct tape so that they don’t leave your classroom.
The method of gluing is equally as important as the type of glue used. What happens when you use too much glue inside a notebook and then close the page? Yeah. This is why you must overtly teach how to glue, no matter the age of your students. There are two basic rules when it comes to using glue in interactive notebooks:
1) Use baby dots. No big sister dots. No Daddy dots.
2) No toaster strudeling!
You’re picturing what toaster strudeling with glue looks like, and your students will also understand this analogy immediately. They’ll love it, too. Never toaster strudel. Ever. Baby dots. That’s it! If you follow these rules, your pages will not stick together and the pages will only wrinkle a tiny bit. Here’s a nice visual:
Glue dots should NOT have shadows!
Setting Up the Notebooks
It’s easy to set up interactive student notebooks for the year. I have heard others suggest that you map out your notebooks for the year, making a complete table of contents ahead of time so that you already know exactly what will go where. That’s just crazy talk to me, as I honestly can’t tell you in August exactly what and how I’m going to teach for the year. Sure, I have a plan, but it’s going to vary based on my students’ needs and the opportunities that arise. I never teach the same thing twice – I’m constantly tweaking and updating and moving things around from year to year.
So, to start your notebooks, just leave 3 blank pages at the beginning and number the first page with a 1. There. You’ve started! Now, label the very front page “Table of Contents” and begin listing what is on each page as it is completed. This way, you can do whatever you like in any order. Here’s what one of my 6th grade notebooks looked like after about 9 weeks of school:
Another common question I get is about what goes on the left side and what goes on the right side. I have heard from other teachers that they always put the content information on the left side and the student response or interpretation on the right side. I don’t do this because I don’t like to be committed to something like that when there isn’t always something logical to put on that second side. And to be honest, my students do not use their notebooks for responding or reflecting. They are strictly for reference. Sometimes, there’s a left-side, right-side spread. Sometimes, there isn’t. Below I’ve included an example of a two-page spread and a single page.
If I had to, I’m sure I could have come up with some sort of adjective activity to put on the left side, but my 6th graders only needed a brief review so I didn’t take the time.
What Goes in the Notebooks?
This is definitely another frequently asked question. Can my students use their interactive student notebook (ISN) for DOL (Daily Oral Language)? Can they use them for daily journal entries? For these two items, my answer is definitely NO. Each page has a specific purpose. There are no “throw away” pages in the ISN. What’s the rule for knowing if something is a “throw away” page? Well, if your students will need to refer back to this information in the future, it definitely goes into the ISN. If your students really won’t need to refer back to this information (like a journal prompt answer, daily activity, or comprehension questions), then put it somewhere else.
Additionally, my students only keep one ISN for my class. So, I do not differentiate between literature, informational text, and writing, even though my notebooking products are organized that way. We just put it all in the same notebook and call it ELA. If I tried to separate them, I’d have students losing pages and putting them in the wrong notebooks and it would be a huge nightmare.
Finally, don’t be afraid to put extra stuff in the ISN that isn’t necessarily interactive or perhaps not even content-related. My students set AR goals each 9 weeks, so of course, we put those in the ISN and include it in the table of contents. No more students asking me what their goal is – it’s right in their notebook! Goals, data, etc. that you want students to keep for the year should definitely go into the ISN.
Keeping Up With Notebooks
Once your notebooks are started with a table of contents, there isn’t much maintenance other than adding new content and other information to the notebook. Some teachers have asked me for a rubric or asked how I assess the notebook. The answer is easy – I DON’T! Everything in the notebook is content information. It takes the place of notetaking in my class. Would you grade your students notes? You could, of course, do some type of notebook check to be sure students are maintaining a neat notebook. I don’t.
What about when students are absent and miss a lesson? Do they have to make it up? Absolutely. I usually have them come after school. I hand them my notebook with the completed page along with the templates they need to construct the page. I’ll explain briefly if necessary and they construct the page. This is a great time to go over the skill with the student if I need to after their absence.
Students entering mid-year can prove to be tricky when it comes to the ISN. I do NOT suggest keeping extra notebooks as you go to hand to new students when they walk in the door. Someone else’s constructed notebook is of little value to a new student. Instead, give them a brand new notebook. Have them copy the entire table of contents from your notebook and number each page that you have completed so far. I like to have them add the title, too, and leave the rest blank. If there’s something essential in there that they can’t do without, or if we are in the middle of a skill, I’ll have the student construct one or two pages right off. Then, later on when we come across pages that the new student needs but doesn’t have, I’ll have the student add it at that time. Will the student have a completed notebook by the end of the year? Perhaps not. But they haven’t been there for your instruction and teaching of that concept, and the ISN is a great way to know when you need to reteach a skill for a new student.
I hope you’ll join in on the Thursday Throw Down fun and link up your blog post about how you make learning interactive for your students. This link-up is not limited to interactive notebooks – you might link a post about cooperative grouping, music, dance, technology, or anything else that’s interactive! Just grab the button below and link your post back to this post and sign up below.