It was my first year teaching fourth grade about five years ago. I am from a small town in New York called Elmira. I was teaching 4th grade in a title I public school. I was extremely overwhelmed and stressed as it was being a first year teacher and my to-do list seemed to grow longer than my grocery list each week. I sat at my desk one afternoon frustrated that my kids could not seem to get or stay organized, discouraged because it was so hard (almost impossible) to get my kids to be creative, and hopeful to find a way to change this. I was sick and tired of hearing things like, “I can’t find my class notes from yesterday.” “I can’t remember what we did in class yesterday!” “What do I use to study for the quiz or test?” “I got home and I didn’t know how to do my homework.” or finally, “My mom and dad don’t know how to do it the way you do it.” I was determined to change my ways of teaching. I did some research and came across something called interactive notebooks. At the time, I had never heard of them and knew nothing about them. The more I read and learned, the more I wanted to give them a try. And so it began, my amazing journey with interactive notebooks.
It is now five years later and I am still using interactive notebooks in my classroom. In fact, now I not only use them but I also present about them. Last year I was fortunate enough to present at the North Carolina State Gifted Conference. The session was so popular that they had to add an additional session. Next month I will also be presenting at the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators conference. So, you are probably thinking, well let’s get to it already, what are they? I like to describe interactive notebooks as a personalized textbook and working portfolio of the entire year. They help keep students organized, help students to think outside of the box and be more creative, they allow students to learn using the different multiple intelligences, they allow for differentiation, and finally, they are a great study tool. I could go on and on about what interactive notebooks are and how they help each child in my classroom. It’s funny because now, I can’t imagine teaching without them.
I use interactive notebooks in science, social studies, and math. The organization is very consistent and strict. They begin with a table of contents. For the table of contents I usually have students skip about 4 pages at the beginning of the notebook to make sure I have enough space for the entire year. The inside of the notebook is organized by right side/left side. The right side is teacher directed and this is where the content goes that you want students to learn. The students may not write anything on the right side unless they have the teacher’s permission. In third grade we begin by giving the students notes to glue in their notebook and as the year goes on we wean them off and have them taking their own notes. The left side is the students side. It is student directed. They are responsible for showing their understanding of the right side on their left side. This is where you can use creativity and differentiate among students. Students final product on the left side should show a thorough understanding of the right side.
All of the materials that I use for interactive notebooks are added to my supply list at the beginning of each year. Each child needs 2 packs of colored pencils, 1 pack of markers, white and colored 8x11” paper, 12 pack of glue sticks, and a composition notebook for each subject you wish to do interactive notebooks in. I recommend not using spiral notebooks because the pages rip out very easily. Composition notebooks stay together all year for me.
You can still be creative with how you teach the content that goes on the right side of the notebook. Some examples include using a Smart board or Power point presentation, field trip, guest speaker, internet, textbook, chapter book, video, Prezi and so on. I usually start the year by giving my students guided notes until they get familiar with the note taking process. As the year goes on I make them less guided, and finally they are taking their own notes. One note-taking strategy that I love to use is Cornell notes. Students draw a picture to represent each key idea from the lesson. When they are finished they write a summary at the bottom of their notes about what the lesson was about.
The left side is by far my favorite part of using interactive notebooks. You will find it is your students’ as well. The key to getting students excited about doing any type of work is giving them choice. At the beginning of the school year students have less choice because I want them to try out different left side choices and then as the year goes on I allow them more choice. Eventually, the goal is to get students choosing what they want to do on their left side on their own by the end of the year. My students are not quite old enough to have that type of responsibility or independence so I usually just give them a choice of two or three different left side assignments. Examples of left side assignments include poems, pictures, advertisements, wanted hero posters, text message summaries, foldables, brochures, graphic organizers, you be the teacher and create a quiz, on your own research, newspaper article, crossword puzzles, and so much more! Check out some of my students' examples.
I collect the notebooks about 3-4 times per quarter to grade. We grade the notebooks based on a rubric. See the rubric below:
Finding a way to incorporate as much technology as I could was my goal last year. Some of the ways that I incorporate technology is through Pic Collage, Socrative.com, KidBlog, research, flipped classroom, iMovie, and much more! If students decide to do a left side using technology I will either take a picture of it and have them glue it in their notebook, create reflection questions for them to answer about their technology project, give them a rubric where they have to grade their project, or finally have them write a summary about their project.
Here are a few examples of PicCollages my students made about measurement.
Jaime Deming is currently a third grade Talent Development teacher at Irwin Academic Center. She is originally from New York, but has lived her for three years and entering her sixth year of teaching. She loves to teach! In addition to holding a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education and a Master's Degree in Reading & Literacy, she is certified to teach Academically Intellectually Gifted students. She has been using interactive notebooks with students for five years and has trained many teachers in how to incorporate them into their instruction. She would love to connect with you on Twitter or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.