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Making interactive notebooks

Okay ya'll I heard about interactive notebooks so when Katy Gibson decided to write a guest post about it I was so excited. So here she is in her own words writing about one of her new favorite teaching strategies - interactive notebooks.

During my first year teaching, I was really ambitious and wanted to make sure I could reach all my students. I did extensive research before teaching topics, and communicated with other educators about different teaching methods as well. One method I was considering to use in the beginning was interactive notebooks.

I first heard about the marvelous interactive notebooks during the first week of training before students returned. My Vice Principal recommended using interactive notebooks when teaching mathematics. She explained that it helps keep students organized, and it was beneficial for them to keep their notes throughout the year. She also noted that it is a great resource for students with special needs and ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages). I was hooked and eager to learn more since I was teaching such a range of students in my classroom. Additionally, it was also a crosswalk year in mathematics in Virginia which means the standards were changing. This meant teachers would have to teach extra curriculum to ensure students were ready for the next year.

I am the type of person that wants to research more before committing when it comes to my students. I wanted to learn more about this tool to see if it was the right fit for my class and worth the time. I read about how it was a good tool to prep students for high school/college, they take more ownership of their work, practice organization, and they have an entire years worth of material all in one notebook. If you teach middle school students, these are some very important skills to teach them before entering high school. I made the decision to use this method in my classroom, especially since I was teaching two subjects (math and science). I felt it would not only help me stay organized, but also my middle schoolers.

I had the students use these notebooks throughout the year, and they were very active using them. Although, as I reflect today on how I incorporated them for the year, there were some areas I want to improve on for my future students. Here are some tips and suggestions that I recommend if you are considering interactive notebooks:

Composition Notebooks Work Best

Request your parents/guardians to buy not just any notebook, but a composition notebook. Parents/Guardians do not need to buy fancy notebooks for the school year. If you take the notebooks home to grade, they are heavy and can hurt if they are bond with metal spirals. Additionally, if you allow your students to leave their notebooks in your classroom (because you are afraid they will lose them), composition notebooks are easier to store. The reason is because these notebooks will not get caught on each other as the metal spiral bond books do. Some of my students’ notebooks did not last long because the binding fell apart when they got caught on the other notebooks. These issues are easily solved with ALL your students simply buying composition notebooks. They last the longest, they are cheap for parents to purchase, and they are pain free! Just make sure the students get the college rule.

The Most Important Part....Setting Up The Notebooks

If I could redo any part of using interactive notebooks, it is how I had my students set them up and sticking to it. I had the students number their pages and create a table of contents. It took a very long time to create, so I recommend making it the students homework. Another way to save time (and to make the table of contents look neater), a colleague of mine shared a printable table of contents. This table of contents was only one page, and the students had to fold it, and then insert it on the first page. It was additionally a great way to save paper. If you are going to have your students put in the table of contents, you have to commit to it. They will not understand the significance of having the table of contents. The last suggestion (if you are grading the students’ notebooks) is for you to create a grading rubric. This way it provides students with the expectations, it is consist for them, and they always have it to view.

It can be cute and artsy, but…

There are some super cute activities that make interactive notebooks look incredible. However, you should take a moment and think if the core of the activity will benefit the students academically. If the craft is more emphasis than the academic part, than it probably is not worth the time. Unless they could do the crafty, artsy piece at home. For example, every new topic I would have the students design a cover. They had to include pictures and words (in a creative way) they had to deal with the topic. If students ever had extra time in class, this would be an activity I would grant them to work on.

Tape NOT glue!

Another way to speed up the process of putting items in the students’ notebooks is to have them tape the papers into their notebooks. Any paper I passed out I would require them to tape it into their books. I felt that if I took the time to print out the paper, they should take the time to put it in their notebook. The other reason tape was beneficial was because the students could still use the lined paper for scratch paper. For a math class, this was extremely helpful.

Remind Students to Reference Notebook when Completing Activities

This is one area that I want to improve on in the future. I want to make sure I am encouraging my students to use their notebooks during projects, review worksheets, and more. Students in middle school need to start learning how to use their notebooks as reference. I mean that’s why they have it in the first place.

Absent and/or Unorganized Students

I wish I would have thought of this sooner during my first year, but I started towards the end. Any extra papers to be inserted into notebooks, I would put in a binder with clear protector sheets. It would be great for a student to have a job to do so they can take ownership. Any time there is only page left that student could tell me so I could get more copies. Even though I provided tape to my students...somehow their papers would still magically disappear.

Make A Teacher Interactive Notebook

The one task that I am so happy that I did not skip is creating a teacher interactive notebook to model for my students. If a student was absent or wanted to redo/update their notebook, all they had to do was ask to borrow mine. I made sure to do the pages before my teaching the section, and I would then post it pictures on my website for students’ to view on their own time. One improvement that I would do in the future is to have the students put their notes on the same pages as mine. It started off with them taking ownership of their notebooks and for them to make it their own. Unfortunately, since it was the first time my students had interactive notebooks they had many questions about the organization of their notebooks. It additionally made it more difficult to grade and was more time consuming.

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