Interactive Notebook Challenges

It seems my post the other week about using Interactive Notebooks in my classroom has been quite a hit, frequently getting the majority of search returns for my blog. In an effort to share as much as I’ve learned in my 3 years using them, I wanted to toss out a few of the struggles I have had with the notebooks in that time:

  • Grading – I mentioned this before, but grading the notebooks can be troublesome in several ways.  First, there’s the question of how to grade it in a standards based classroom.  Since there’s no standard for “properly maintaining and organizing a notebook” in most state standards, this becomes somewhat of a challenge to include in the grading schema.  Second, there’s the issue of the time it takes to grade the notebooks if they are collected and graded.  My general plan was to do spot checks throughout the grading period, then collect them at the end for a full grading.  I would collect my notebooks by homeroom group as there were 7 groups instead of just 4.  This meant I had roughly 12 to 15 notebooks to grade each day.  The good ones weren’t a problem, I could knock those out in a few minutes usually.  The problem was for those students who were struggling.  I felt compelled to comment on a number of the things that needed fixing, and this led to a great deal of time spent on commenting and grading.
  • Freedom of Choice – While this is overall one of the greatest benefits of the notebook, for some students it is a tremendous stumbling block.  Students have not often had the opportunity to choose what they do to process knowledge.  They have a hard time making that switch.  They often ask teachers to “just tell me what to do.”  This is not the intent of the Interactive Notebook. The goal is for students to understand the Sinkers so they can choose things to process information on their own, in the best way for them.  This requires a large investment of time discussing the various uses of Sinkers and how each student learns best.
  • Initial Setup – This requires a huge investment of time.  Students have to understand the purpose of something they are entirely unfamiliar with before really diving into the notebook.  The first day we’re in the notebook, we spend the entire time setting up the table of contents, Hook pages, and gluing in page after page of initial information.  I give students several sheets to glue in: Notebook Rules and Purpose, Grading, 3 pages of Sinkers, Common Notebook Activities, Standard Course of Study…this gives great practice for gluing pages into the notebook, but it is also a lot to go over prior to really using the notebook.  We also number out the first 50 to 60 pages to help prevent misnumbering…all this leads to my biggest challenge…
  • NEW STUDENTS — When you spend a solid week of class time getting students familiarized with the notebook format, doing sample and practice activities, and then go on to use it the rest of the year, there are bound to be repercussions.  Every teacher is driven crazy by that student who moves in during the 3rd or 4th grading period.  However, with the extent to which the notebook has become a part of our class at that point, it’s even more distressing getting that new student late in the year.  How do you go through a half year’s worth of set up in a few days? How do you get that student to understand the goals of the notebook? What if it’s right before a notebook test?  All of these are issues and concerns that have to be weighed.  I normally keep an extra notebook or two handy with the first set of pages already glued in for the new arrivals.  This seems to lower the student’s initial investment in the notebook in most cases, so it’s not a foolproof idea.

These are the primary challenges I’ve faced using Interactive Notebooks in my classroom.  I still think that overall the impact of the notebook is very powerful.  I’m hoping this year to focus more on the intermitent grading/checking of the notebook to help maintain quality throughout the year.  Anyone have other issues, suggestions or comments? Feel free to share!

Image: “Grading” by ninniane licensed through Creative Commons

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4 Responses

  1. I think that grading is something that everyone who uses the notebook struggles with. This year, I’m going to have the students self-select assignments for me to grade in-depth. In a standards-based approach this could work two ways – 1) each page in my notebook corresponds to an indicator or 2) use the student assignment to track skills. After a close examination of my standards, the students are to be able to explain, summarize, and compare – I’m working on developing rubrics to evaluate those skills.

    I work with fairly young students, so I do offer them choice, but it is usually one of 2-3 assignment choices. A friend I have uses the “teacher’s choice” option. She picks an assignment that would fit and students have the option of doing that one or another of their choice.

    I agree with you on many of the sticking points. I like the thought of having a “spare” set up for new students! I usually assign a new student a “notebook buddy” for the first week or two until they catch on.

    Thank you for your post!

  2. I’m intrigued by the concept. I will be digesting the idea bit by bit and I am going to investigate how to implement it next semester. Please keep us updated and if you have any pictures showing what one looks like, please post that also. Thanks!

  3. Hello, I am a new teacher and I really like the idea of the interactive notebooks. Can some one give me some ideas or point me to the resource as to where I can find info on creating the table of content page, the rules for the notebook, etc,

  4. Exactly the issues I face. Thanks for sharing. Nice to know I’m not alone! 🙂

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