If you’re reading this article then you probably have done your homework and know a thing or two about interactive student notebooks, but might be a bit skeptical that this can actually work OR might be having some issues with implementation in your classroom.
Either way, in this post I plan to dispel some of the ‘scary’ aspects of introducing ISNs to your students and also provide some tips on keeping the experience a positive one.
#1. Demonstrate Why Organization is a Priority
Your students will not do something you don’t tell them to do, and your students will not understand why organization is important if you don’t explain it explicitly. It’s just the way things are! Students cannot read our minds (and I think that is a good thing sometimes!).
So… at the start of the year when my classes are setting up their interactive notebooks, I tell them that organization is important OVER and OVER again. I make sure they understand I want each part that we create together to be organized the same: same layout, same page numbers, same titles. I explain to them that later in the year this ISN will be their lifeline and that we will refer to it while we work. I ask exaggerated questions about what would happen if everyone’s lessons had different page numbers and we tried to refer back? I ask what would happen if someone had to borrow their ISN and it was set up totally different? And if all that patronizing isn’t enough, I also mention organization is a part of their grade.
After this initial dose of brainwashing and random reminders through the year, no one has an excuse not to know I expect organization. This will get you off to a great start!
#2. Only Insert Essentials
However, there is more than just that, or this would be a really short post! You can explain why organization is important and threaten that it will affect their grade, but at the end of the day, if you don’t set them up for success – they will not succeed.
What I’m warning against here is over-using the ISN: don’t make it impossible to keep it organized. Only insert what the students need to complete their assignments, ace their tests, and carry with them to future classes. This makes the task of staying organized much more managable for your students.
Only insert what the students need to complete their assignments, ace their tests, and carry with them to future classes.
#3. Make a Place for Everything
I learned this one by experience: if you allow students to decide for themselves where to put something, it will usually lead to disorganization. Generally, it’s good to have an idea of where you want various things to go in the ISN.
You can read more about how I use ISNs, but I have a set layout for organizing a lesson (2-pages only, left side is direct information, the right side is examples and practice). Vocabulary, student progress trackers, and the grading scale all have specific pages. I even have a set place where unfinished work goes (front pocket).
So my rule of thumb is this: if you don’t have a place for something and a student asks, make one up! At least every student will do it the same.
#4. Have Procedures in Place
One of the things I like best about interactive student notebooks is some parts of class can be automated and don’t need my immediate attention. Any time I can take a mental break, even for a moment, is awesome!
For example, when my students walk in, there is always information projected on the board for them to write in their ISNs. This procedure is in place and all the students know where this information goes (because of tip #3), and this buys me some time for attendance.
Another example is once the direct instruction is done we usually glue in our foldable. The students are so used to this procedure that they hardly ever glue when they aren’t supposed to, and they always wait for me to show them where the foldable goes. This saves the hassle of them guessing and gluing it in the wrong place!
These are just two examples of procedures that work in my classroom, but everyone is different. Just be sure to create some that work to your benefit and help your students reach that goal of staying organized!
#5. Use a Table of Contents (TOC)
This tip is pretty straightforward, but let me just say: YOU NEED A TABLE OF CONTENTS!
Sorry, but some teachers think it’s not necessary, and I understand you might feel it’s a waste of class time to write it. However, your students NEED the table of contents: they have six other classes during the day, and trust me, they will forget what they did in your class.
The table of contents will be a go-to when they need to review some material but are not sure which page to go to. It will help them visually see which lessons are on their next test. And this is the reason I like best: some students will use this in future classes, and they will need the table of contents to find the lessons they need. Not too shabby for a minute or two of your time (I use time before the bell!).
#6. Use a Set Layout for Lessons
I already mentioned this earlier, but it’s a good idea to have a general layout for lessons that students get used to. This doesn’t mean you ALWAYS have to do that exact layout (students can be flexible), but if your students get used to a layout, it ups the likelihood that they will stay organized. Check out my layout below: 2-pages only, left side is direct information from me and the right side is examples and practice.
#7. Grade Regularly
If you don’t want your student’s notebooks to get out of control, be sure they grade them regularly (or ‘check’ if you don’t do grades for such things). I don’t know about you, but I know I definitely keep things more organized if I know someone will be checking in periodically! Students are the SAME WAY. Grading the notebooks shows that they are valuable, and the feedback you give students will let them know if they need to improve their organization or keep going on as usual.
This is your last line of defense against chaos with student ISNs. If you grade an ISN and it’s a mess, you know you can specifically check on that student for the next week or two or maybe even offer to help them with their organization!
Have more tips to share? Please share! Have questions? Shoot me an email. I’m excited to hear how these tips help you in your classrooms too, so come back and comment how your fight for organization is going!