Implementing Interactive Student Notebooks Part 1: Introduction & Choosing a Medium

I first began researching Interactive Sudent Notebooks during the summer of 2008. I was about to enter my fifth year of teaching and I was frustrated with the lack of organization skills and the apathy that my students had towards turning in notebooks. I would only have half the class turn in the notebook. And of those half, only half of them had all of the materials that were important to the class and the majority of it was not in order so they couldn’t not readily find what they needed. In other words, the notebooks no longer served their purpose: to aid the students in learning and retaining the information. As always, I took to the Internet to search for alternatives and stumbled across and was introduced to Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) for the first time. What I found was not just a way for students to organize the information…but a way for them to interact with the information to guide them to understanding the content. We were already utilizing many of the activities that were used as “left side activities” so it seem like an inevitable match. Even after seven years, I am still learning how to make ISNs work best for my students and for me!

Over the next few weeks, I will try to give you as much information as I can to help you to successfully implement ISNs. There will be several parts because I want to keep the posts informative but also as short as possible. If I don’t answer your questions at the end of the series, don’t hesitate to email me!

So what are ISNs? When I first tell people about INTERACTIVE Student Notebooks, they immediately think that it has to deal with technology! Simply put, it is a way for students to take the information that the teacher gives (input) and complete some type of hands on activity (such as a foldable, graphic organizer, drawing, etc.) that demonstrates (or improves) their understanding of a concept (usually utilizing higher order thinking skills and/or incorporating multiple intelligences). The ISN essentially becomes an portfolio of student learning. We will get into more detail about left vs. right and setup in a different post…so don’t worry about that part just yet

Like choosing a vehicle in which to travel back and forth, choosing a medium for your ISN is all left up to functionality, need, and personal preference.

Spiral Notebooks: This is my personal preference for high schoolers. I stress to my students to make sure that their notebook measures 8.5X11 because it makes adding in handouts easier. With anything else, they will have to do extra cutting or they will have pages hanging from the notebook. I suggest Five Star College-Ruled Notebook (I use 3- or 5-subject). This notebook is the right size and the cover is sturdy enough to last after being thrown in a locker a few times. CON: If the student is too rough, the pages will tear…especially if they use heavy weight construction paper for their activities.

Composition Notebooks: After using composition notebooks for one semester, this is probably my least favorite. However, when I train elementary teachers, I usually suggest composition notebooks. The size is PERFECT for younger students and there are not usually as many handouts at that level or endless pages of notes to add. The notebooks do not tear as easily and will probably last the entire semester or year. Finally, the cost of a composition notebook is not just appealing to teachers but also to parents. CON: The size!!!! If you have handouts, you will have to resize the pages to make them fit and there are ways to do this by using your settings on your computer or just reducing the size when you make copies. However, I like to print as is, glue/tape, and keep it moving.

Binders: Many people prefer binders. The greatest (and worst) thing about binders is that you can add and take away paper as needed. I have stayed away from this option for the most part (except that one semester I tried with my Spanish 3/4 class). With binders, you can still have your sections and only choose to use a certain section as your “interactive” part. With my class, I only had them do left side activities in their grammar section (not the best idea but hey, at least I tried). CON: The chance that students will not have the information in order is pretty high. Additionally, the pages rip from the rings easily if they are not reinforced when you start gluing or taping stuff in (if you choose to do that).

3-Prong Folders: I have done a couple of trainings during which we set up a mock ISN in a folder and this option could be very useful. If you choose to do individual units, this would be perfect! I imagine that the students will store their folders in the classroom at the end of each unit to use as reference. CON: Due to the nature of the folders, you will not be able to add a ton of content because you will not be able to expand but so much.

So there you have it, a brief introduction and some information about what your options are for housing your ISNs. Use this information to decide which choose you will use because by the end of this series, we will set up our very own ISN. During the next part, we will look at the different adhesive options!

Happy Notebooking!


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