Interactive Student Notebooks are my absolute FAVORITE way to help students organize their notes. If you’ve ready to ditch your textbook altogether, this little concept can help you get there! I know people who use binders for notes, but I have had a TON of success with the composition notebook way – I honestly swear by it.
So what is an ISN, anyway? Well, the name helps in this department: it’s a student-created-developed-maintained book full of all the most essential material from class. Everyone sets them up slightly differently, but the main premise is that students can keep their notes organized for future reference AND to reuse inserted activities!
- A collection of essential notes and learning activities.
I always limit myself to two pages: left side and right side. This keeps me from cramming too much in one lesson (because seriously, how much can students absorb in one lesson anyway?!) AND the material is a lot more accessible to students if they aren’t flipping around.
What is “essential” is really up to you, but for me, essential is any new rules, processes, or thoughts that wouldn’t already be in their heads… along with some examples to demonstrate those new rules, processes, and thoughts.
I know that seems redundant, but it’s easy to forget. These notes should NOT just be prepared for students and pasted in (although I’m a huge fan of pre-typing). Students should be at the bare-minimum writing and highlighting, but I also include foldables, “thought bubbles”, sorting activities, pockets, and more. Get creative to make the use of notes more enjoyable – the students will love you for it!
Each person can stress this to a different extent, but a core purpose of the ISN is to be used. Not just for that lesson, but for future lessons. The usefulness of an ISN is tied to its organization. My ISNs have a table of contents much like a textbook, a vocabulary section (dubbed WWK – words worth knowing), and lesson headings on every page. You can do more, but I think these three things are essential.
- A lifeline!
Students will not want to be without their ISNs in my classroom! Most days we are adding something to them, but even on the days where we are not, we are referencing it. If students don’t have it, they are severely handicapped, and that’s the way it should be.
When a student asks me a question, nine times out of ten my first response is, “Did you look in your ISN?” Since I’ve only placed essential information in it and it is super-organized, answering their own questions is usually within grasp.
So now that you have an idea of what an ISN is and how it can be used, let’s talk about what it is NOT. If your ISN is any of these things, you will not reap the rich benefits of implementing ISNs in your classroom.
ISNs are NOT…
- A collection of everything done in class.
If you insert everything you do in class, the ISN becomes a monster. First off, I don’t even think it is possible to fit everything from an entire year. Secondly, I would loathe grading such a thing. Lastly, it would defeat the purpose of having one, because it is meant to be accessible to your students.
- Worksheets glued in a notebook.
This may very well be only the essentials and it may be organized, but… it’s just plain boring. The learning won’t be memorable and the using won’t be enjoyable. I guess this is better than nothing, but please don’t call it an Interactive Student Notebook.
One last thing: students notice if you take pride in what you do – I’m always bragging about my latest foldable or activity, and this makes them cherish their ISNs more. I don’t think anyone can truly be proud of worksheets glued in a notebook.
- A mess.
Back to the accessibility… Sure, you might only have the essentials but if you don’t have a system in place for organizing the lessons and materials, the students won’t either. It never ceased to amaze me how I had to remind students well into October to write their titles and number the pages of each lesson. Inevitably those students who ‘forgot’ to stay organized complain later when we refer back to something in the middle of a lesson!
In three years and with several hundred students, I only had two students who did not buy into the idea of the ISN. When I say they didn’t by in, I mean they didn’t take notes, they didn’t bring it to class, and they didn’t utilize it. Only two is a MAJOR success in my opinion. I believe there are a lot of factors in why I have such success, but one of them is I really push that the ISN is a lifelife – an essential part of our class. Do not leave room for the ISN to be “optional”.
I hope this post has inspired you to consider taking the plunge and using an Interactive Student Notebook this year in your classroom! I know I LOVED using them in mine.
Do you have any thoughts to add on what an ISN is or isn’t? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!