Interactive notebooks are not for the faint of heart.
My first year using them, I had no idea what I was doing.
I liked the idea of student ownership: that the students would physically put together a record of their learning, that they could put their personal style into this amazing portfolio of all we did.
Well, here’s Exhibit A of how that turned out, from an 8th-grade boy:
Amazing, I know. Like most good things, ISN’s can be great…. but they truly require a lot of thought and planning to be done well. Now that I’m developing a page devoted exclusively to lovelier images of interactive notebooks for my Spanish I class, I’ll give you a look into The Year I Didn’t Plan Well. It’s kind’ve embarrassing, but it’s for a good cause: to help YOU!
Here are my do’s/don’ts :
1. Don’t be unrealistic.
I started these the same year I first experimented in throwing out my Spanish textbooks, the year my baby was still waking up several times a night, and the year I had 6+ different preps and no planning period. I teach 3-4 days a week, so my planning period was me trying to type and grade on a Wednesday morning, while my kids played in the toilet or tried to sit on my head.
I’m glad I tried them out– even though they weren’t perfect, we enjoyed them. Just be aware that without proper planning and procedures, Exhibit A might result. You may want to start with just one subject or level.
2. Do develop one or more “go-to” outlines for when you’re not using a printable/foldable.
It’s totally fine not to glue or attach anything some or most days. For note-taking, it’s really helpful to have a routine or outline the students know well. I wish, for example, I’d taught my students how to take Cornell Notes. There were many days I wasted paper printing out chapter outlines or questions when we were reading Piratas del Caribe, worksheets that got written on and thrown away. It would have required more thinking (and saved copies) if I’d had them in a routine of note-taking for each chapter.
3. Don’t think that printables/foldables have to be fancy.
It can be something really simple like a strip of keywords and questions, glued in and then responded to. Efficient, sensible, and just enough structure.
4. Don’t use regular glue. Glue sticks are way better.
I had read somewhere that glue sticks don’t hold as long as regular glue. Well, I don’t care. Regular glue was a horrible mess. I really thought that middle schoolers / high schoolers might have a handle on the whole “a little dab’ll do ya'” refrain, but apparently not. It also takes a long time to dry, which is annoying if they need to go back and write something in.
5. Don’t number every. single. page. Just number the ones on the right.
Overall, the students really liked our ISN’s. But The Day We Numbered All 200 Pages was a bad day. It’s quite hard to number them correctly without skipping one and only realizing it 20 pages later. It’s much easier to stay on one side of the page and refer to the right and left side (good practice for derecha and izquierda!). One title will often work for both sides anyway. You could also term them sides “a” and “b” as well.
To buy my bilingual Table of Contents / Índice, click here!
5. Don’t forget about the table of contents.
As you can see in the picture below, my 8th grader wrote exactly one title: El cuento de Paco.
Some of my students wrote every title page religiously, and some didn’t. It was my fault because I wasn’t enforcing/remembering the whole table of contents thing. I also had somehow lost track in every class of what page things were supposed to be on. Now that I have a better vision for what I want our notebooks to be, we have specific sections and it matters what page everything is on.
Then, usually one responsible student would ask for the title and page number, and I would shoot back, “Whatever’s the next page!” The root cause was not establishing a routine for our notebooks, and not staying a step ahead in my “Master Teacher Versions.” (Hah, hah. Those poor notebooks got abandoned by October, I think.) Which brings me to my next point…
6. Do make a Master Teacher Notebook for each subject/level you are doing.
This seemed so… unattainable that first year. I was so overwhelmed, but it really would have helped me. You need to think very specifically what you want each page to look like, because it’s amazing how students can misinterpret an overgeneralized explanation of something you think is fairly obvious. My goal is not to make a notebook of cute and clever worksheets, or a student-made textbook of drills. I want it to be thoughtful, sensible, and creative solution for organizing and using what we learn. A well-done interactive notebook will make learning more efficient.
And that, my friends, takes some thinking ahead.
7. Don’t expect interactive notebooks to make or break your teaching.
I love them. They make sense to me. But they’re just a tool, in the end.
And my 8th grader with the torn-up notebook above? By the end of an informal 6-8th grade Spanish elective, he and the others were reading Piratas del Caribe. He had some of the best comprehension out of the class, and could give amazingly thoughtful answers. I’ll take that over a beautiful notebook, any day.
Did I miss anything? What’s you best advice for interactive notebooks?
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My Spanish Interactive Notebook Pinterest Board: