I LOVE interactive student notebooks (aka ISNs)!!! If you’ve read any of my other posts, you already knew that. They make learning more accessible for students and are super handy for many reasons – some of which you’ll come to understand if you finish this post because I’m about to spell out PIECE by PIECE how I utilize ISNs in my classroom. Hopefully this gives you some inspiration whether you’re a veteran ISN user or just starting out!
I 100% believe that organization is part of what makes ISNs so successful; students feel familiar with its pages like an old, well-read Bible by the end of the school year.
I always take a full class period (once I know students have gotten their supplies) and walk through setting up their ISN with them. Here are the essentials we begin with: grading rubric page, table of contents, words worth knowing (the vocabulary section more aptly named), and cover pockets. (Keep in mind, this is no problem for me because I had a document projector. If you don’t, it might take a little more work to show students how to set theirs up, but please don’t let this deter you from pursuing ISNs!)
First of all, I have never had students customize the front of their ISN (more on that later), so the front cover is a good place to write their names. I don’t want it to be lost forever if they misplace it! Also, I have a class website that I want students to utilize, so we paste the URL and a QR code link on the inside of the front cover. Believe me, students do NOT remember your class website, so why not put a little reminder here?
Another nifty item I include is a pocket (front and back) for storing temporary materials. These don’t hold up super well, so I’ve tried to brainstorm something different that serves the same purpose. Stapling is better than taping, but both aren’t that strong. In the mean time, I just stress to students that I want to use them for foldables that don’t get finished, and that’s about it.
On the front page (after skipping the FIRST page for the pocket) is where my students paste their grading rubric. I created my own SBG set to a four-point scale (read more on that here), and this concept is still quite new in our district. Therefore, I want them to be able to reference it for themselves, as well as show their parents. The next two pages are left blank and will be filled in later.
My table of contents are pretty self-explanatory if you look at the picture below: page numbers, lesson number, and lesson title. (In the future, I would like to block these off by unit somehow, perhaps with color.) I always left 3-4 pages empty for this, because some students write HUGE!
Next is vocabulary, aka Words Worth Knowing. I do have to admit, my vocabulary section could be a little more organized – right now we just write words in order, I didn’t even make them write the corresponding lesson number! But I still love that the ‘WWK’ is there; often I will reference a word in a future lesson and ask students to look it up either as a warm up or in the midst of teaching.
As the year progresses, I will go back and add new items with students as needed.
In Algebra II students begin learning to use a graphing calculator, which can be confusing at first! To help with this, we insert a printout of a calculator face on the back page (we call it the calculator reference page) and take notes as we learn about new functions. (We also have fun highlighting it!)
Remember those two blank pages after the front page? After my students’ first tests, this is where we will paste their progress logs. Since I break up material and test it by skill, this is easy for students to track. After each test the first thing students do is open their ISN and log their scores. Any time they want to know how they performed on a skill or are wanting to remediate a skill, they just open to their logs.
One over-arching goal of my ISN is to never make a lesson that cannot fit in to pages of the ISN. This helps me to only pick out the essentials of a lesson, which in turn makes learning more accessible to my students.
Prepping my ISN materials is divided into two categories: left-side or “teacher input” and right-side or “student output”. I have always been far more intentional with the left side than the right side, but as I progress with using the ISN, I find myself coming up with better activities for the student output.
Left-Side / “Teacher Input”
When I sit down to develop the left side of my ISN, I always ask myself, “What is most necessary for students to grasp the material and be able to solve problems independently?” If it is not necessary, I try my best to cut it out. Usually I end up with a couple formulas or graphs and a few pertinent explanations and examples.
The rest of the prep work is a matter of determining the best way (or a good way if I’m in a hurry!) to present this material in one page. Foldables are a wonderful thing for helping display material visually! Often times I name some on the front flap, state a rule / explanation on the left and give an example on the right.
Sometimes I have to get a bit more creative, but with practice it becomes second nature to set up notes this way. Click the links if you need more help with developing your own foldables or want to look at more of my examples.
Right-Side / “Student Output”
Determining what goes on the right side of my ISN doesn’t always take as much for-thought as the left! This is simply the area where students work cooperatively or independently to practice what you have taught them – be creative but don’t feel like you have to be all the time!
Sometimes I create a lovely activity. Sometimes I ask the students to complete ‘curve-ball’ problems that require some ingenuity. Several times I just have practice problems that serve as great examples to reference later. On rare occasion I’ve even gotten away with making up problems off the top of my head, and it turned out quite nicely.
Once you’ve organized your ISN and prepared a lesson for the ISN, there is just one thing left to do: use the ISN! I use mine primarily three ways: direct instruction, practice, and remediation.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have a document camera that allows me to teach directly from my ISN. Whatever I have planned for the left side, I teach through linearly, usually one foldable tab at a time. Then, depending on what I’ve prepared for the right side, we work through that.
If you don’t have a document camera, don’t sweat it! It’s the easiest way to go, but there are ways to improvise.
If you have a projector, you could pull up a Word document or Smart Notebook file with your lesson ready to go. The main downfall to this is that the size you write will not match exactly with that of your students.
If you don’t have a projector, you could still write the information on your whiteboard. However, students will have a harder time being sure they are organizing the notes correctly. Just plan on being super-explicit about locations of notes!
If you don’t have a whiteboard… well, I REALLY REALLY hope you have at least a whiteboard. =]
Once I’ve taught the lesson and the notes are complete, then it’s time for students to practice, practice, practice! This is where your hard work in organizing, preparing, and teaching reaps benefits. After a lesson is complete I usually have anywhere from 10-25 minutes of class left, which we use to do activities, additional practice problems on whiteboards, and occasionally some homework. I like it this way, because now I can see my students in action and help them if they have concerns.
I really play up the importance of the ISN in my classroom, so this stays out during practice. When students ask questions, the first thing I ask is if they looked at their notes first – this small interaction is sooo valuable! Students learn to be independent learners and also to ask well-phrase, pertinent questions. I encourage my students to ask one another questions using their ISN and also help others by referring to their ISN.
AND if my ISN lessons are done well, test preparation becomes a beautiful form of practice in my classroom. Rather than going through the review with the students problem by problem explaining, I can virtually stand back and watch the students work independently. Everything they need to know should be in their notebook.
Lastly, the ISN comes out for remediation and tutoring. If a student is struggling in my class, I will ask them to come to my room during study hall, and the first thing I do is check to ensure they have filled out their ISN correctly and completely. Sometimes issues arise from miscommunication or lack thereof; if it is wrong in any way, we fix that first.
Next I can ask them to read through their notes. Sometimes this is all that is need! When it isn’t, I ask them what confused them during their read through. We start there, with that practice problem. If I ask them to do it on a whiteboard, they can check their own work immediately after without me! I hope I can get an amen when I say that level of independence is super valuable during a chaotic study hall. After a few practice problems with ISN in hand, most students walk away from remediation bragging about how easy it was, and that makes me so proud!
I hope this helps you see the day-in day-out methodology of my interactive student notebooks. If you organize, prepare, or use your ISN in another way, please comment below! I love to hear from my readers to make this a learning community. Also, if you have any questions about anything that I’ve mentioned, feel free to ask.