Interactive Notebooks: Why I Don't Grade My Notebooks

Hi everyone! In today's interactive notebook post, we're going to talk about grading the notebooks. Or for me, the lack thereof...
In the traditional sense, I don't grade my notebooks. I don't think it's right to assign students an academic grade for formatting the notebook, cutting on the lines, or coloring/writing neatly. In my district, we score to the standards. If the goal of my lesson is for students to identify characteristics of mammals, then that's what I'm looking for when I'm assessing my students' notebooks.

We are BIG on formative assessments in my district. As my students are working, I'm walking around my classroom and checking out the thinking side of the notebooks. I keep a checklist of the standards we're working on, and I score my students on a 3, 2, 1 scale; the same scale they use to self-assess themselves before and after the lesson. Actually, I don't record the 3s; just the 2s and the 1s, so I know who needs extra practice or reteaching. If the box is blank on my checklist, I know that they've earned a 3.

At the end of a unit, I have multiple formative grades, both from the notebook and from other sources. We take a summative assessment, usually in the form of a test. After the tests are graded, I look at the scores. Anything 80% and above is a 3. If a student's score is below 80%, then I look at the formative scores throughout the grading period and use a trend grading approach. If I notice that the student has mostly 3s, then I would give the student the benefit of the doubt and give a 3 as the final grade for the standard. We all have bad days every now and then, right? If I'm seeing lots of 2s and 1s, along with a low score on the summative assessment, then I give 2 or a 1 for that standard. Students who get 2s and 1s as final score rarely come as a surprise to me due to my formative assessments.

So if I'm not grading my students on neatness, how can I ensure my students put forth their best effort when working in their notebooks? It's simple. My kids need their notebooks. I let my students take their notebooks home a few days before the test to study. If they don't write neatly or have all of the information in their notebooks, then they can't prepare for the test. I do send a note home to families outlining what will be on the test (don't forget, we are second graders after all!), so they have some guidance from me, but the rest is on my students.

I also let my kids use their notebooks when they take tests.


Yes, it's true. My kids can use their notebooks on the test. So there's even more motivation to make sure their notebooks are in tip-top shape.

Here are a few photos of my kids using their notebooks on the test:
Do you see what I see? Yep, they're not even using the notebooks! Why not??? Because they don't need them! Through the learning and application activities, my students have a strong grasp of the skills and standards we've learned. I have seen a few kids paging through their notebooks to confirm their answers, but for the most part, the notebooks don't even get opened.

"Isn't that cheating?" you ask.

I don't think so. My kids worked hard to learn and apply the new information. Why not get rid of that added stress and pressure of taking a test? After all, they are second graders :) And honestly, since I've been formatively assessing my students every step of the way, I already know who's mastered the standards and who hasn't before I even pass out the test.

So what do you think? Let me know in the comments section!
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Interactive Notebooks: Teaching with INs

Our amazing lessons are planned. Our notebooks are set up and ready to go. Now it's time to TEACH! 
I have a SMARTBoard in my room, and I create a lesson for each interactive notebook lesson I teach. These SMARTBoard lessons not only guide me during my teaching, but they show the students what their notebooks should look like.

I am required to use a lesson plan format called GANAG. Having used this format for 5+ years, I will admit that it has made me a more focused, goal-driven teacher (as opposed to a-bunch-of-activities-strung-together teacher), and even though I'm required to use it, I do actually enjoy it.


Here's what a typical lesson would look like in my class. This is a math lesson on triangles from my Geometry IN unit. I took screen shots of my actual SMARTBoard lesson for you to see what my kids see.


First we read through the goal/objective for the lesson on our table of contents. We look for key words. Sometimes we underline them or highlight them. We talk about if we know what the key words mean. Then my kids give themselves a "Before Learning Score." They rate their knowledge of the goal. I use a 3-point scale:
   1 = I know nothing about the goal
   2 = I know a few things about the goal
   3 = I know many things about the goal.
I know many people use a 4-point scale, with 4=I know many things about the goal AND I could teach it to someone. I use the 3-point scale to maintain consistency with my grading system.
Then they flip to the next open page in their notebook and write the heading for the lesson in the top margin of the Learning/Information page. This is usually the topic of the lesson or maybe a few of the key words from the goal.


My next step is a quick 1-3 minute activity to jump start their brains. I talked about this a bit in the application activities post. It may or may not include writing in the notebook, but if it does, we do this writing/drawing on the Thinking Side of the notebook.


After that, we dig into the new information. I gave tons of examples on the learning activities post of ways I present the new information. We work on the Learning/Information side of the notebook during this step. A lot of this is guided by me. As a second grade teacher, my ultimate goal is to teach my students how to take notes to prepare them for the upper grades. We discuss what we want to write in our notebooks (with a lot of guiding from me to make sure we get the important info), I write it on the SMARTBoard, and they all copy it down. I would say that 90% of the time, all of my students' notebooks all look the same on the Learning/Information side. Keep in mind, though, that since I'm a primary teacher, my kids don't have experience taking their own notes. So we do it together :) If you teach the intermediate/upper grades, you would adjust your involvement according to your students' ability.


The fourth step is when the true "interaction" of Interactive Notebooks happen. It's when the students take what was learned and apply it in a way that makes sense to them and makes the information stick. This post was all about strategies and activities we use to apply the new information.
For this activity, students were also supposed to draw their own example of each kind of triangle, but those directions are not written on the slides.
I mentioned in a previous post that I will oftentimes give new information in small doses and then we complete the application activity. Then more new info, then more application. Rinse and repeat as often as necessary :) That way I don't find myself lecturing for 20-30 minutes and my kiddos falling asleep on me!


The last part of my lesson is when we go back to review the goal. Think of it like wrapping up a present and putting a bow on it. We go back to the table of contents, read the goal, write the page number that has the information on it, and students give themselves an After Learning Score. While they are doing this, I am circulating the room and checking to see who thinks they still need more practice with the goal. My students self-score every day, several times a day. At this point in the school year, I don't really have to worry about kids who are generous with their self-score; they tend to be pretty honest if they don't understand. We also have lots of discussions about how if they tell me they understand a concept, but they really don't, then I can't help them because I don't know they need help. Other ways I check in with my kiddos are exit slips, pair/share with your neighbor: 2 things you learned, one question you still have, etc.
Is it a lot of work to create these SMARTBoard lessons? You bet! Thankfully I have an awesome team, and we all work together to divide and conquer the work. And the nice thing is that we have these lessons for the next year too, so it makes our job a lot easier.

In my next post, I'm going to talk about why I don't grade my interactive notebooks. I know that it's a hot topic, but it's something I believe in very strongly. So stay tuned!
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Interactive Notebooks: Setting Up the Notebook

Now that we have AMAZING lessons all planned out, it's time to start teaching. First we need to set up our notebooks.

Materials Needed: notebooks, red and green card stock or construction paper, sticky notes, clear packaging tape.

My kids bring in 3-one subject spiral notebooks and 1-three subject notebooks at Open House before school starts. We use the one subject notebooks for math, science, and social studies. The three subject notebook is our literacy notebook. One subject for reading, phonics, and writing. I choose to use spiral notebooks rather than composition notebooks because they're bigger and cheaper.

I get to work right away labeling the Thinking Side and the Learning Side of the notebook. I use card stock or construction paper to make tabs that stick up out of the notebook. That way, no matter what page my students are working on, they can see the Thinking/Information tabs at the top of the page. I use red paper to label the thinking side and green paper to label the learning side. I chose these colors for a reason: Green means Go… Go ahead and write down the new information. Red means Stop…. Stop and think about what you just learned. This year I typed them onto the paper, but last year I hand-wrote them all. Yes, you can imagine how long that took me… Then I "laminated" the tabs with clear packaging tape. I covered the front and back of the tabs with the tape so that they are sturdy.
I choose to put my Learning/Information Side on the right and the Thinking Side on the left. Yes, I know that seems a little backwards, since we typically write on the information side first; however, I always tell my students we need to stop and think about what we've learned, and I like the physical "going back" to the left side to write down our thoughts. 

On the back cover I also put an envelope to store small pieces. This year, I had a parent make me some out of construction paper and staple them to the back cover. You could also buy real envelopes if you wanted to. I don't put envelopes on my three subject notebooks because those have folders inside the notebooks, so we just use that to store our odds and ends.
I've also seen people attach a piece of yard or ribbon to the back cover for students to use as a bookmark to keep track of what page they're on. I tried that two years ago, but I found it to be more of a hassle than something helpful.

Before I start each unit, I take a day to set up the notebook. It's slow and painful at first, but once they've done it a few times, it takes 10-15 minutes to set up our notebook. We use sticky notes to label each unit. My students write the name of the unit on the edge of the sticky note, opposite the side that's sticky. Then they put the sticky note so it hangs off the side a little bit, like a tab. A parent helper covers the entire sticky note with clear packaging tape. I think I need to buy stock in clear packaging tape...
At the front of my science, social studies, and math notebooks (not the literacy notebook), we glue in a notebook Table of Contents. As we start a new unit, we write the color of the unit sticky note on the Table of Contents:
We are working hard to stagger our sticky notes on the side :)
Each unit gets a table of contents, which includes the lesson goals, and spots to write the page number and rate their before and after learning understanding of each lesson goal. You can also see that this is the page the unit sticky note goes on. We put it underneath the unit table of contents, so that when we glue the TOC down, the sticky note gets glued down too. Just be careful when you're covering the sticky note with the tape to NOT cover the boxes where the kids are supposed to write :)
This Little Love is awfully tough on herself when she gave her After Learning ratings!
The next step in notebook set up is numbering the pages. Each lesson needs two pages, so I just count the lessons and double it. Students write the page numbers in the upper corner of each page. Students just use the red margin lines to guide where they write their numbers.
I also have cover sheets that students can decorate. And you guessed it… when they're done, my parent helpers cover them with clear packaging tape. I love my parent helpers!!! Not sure if they love me...
Click here if you'd like a copy of my interactive notebook covers!

So you might be thinking… if you don't use a book mark, then how do your students know what page they're on? I've seen people cut the bottom corners of their used notebook pages, but I haven't tried that. It seems like a good idea in theory, but if we don't have our scissors out, then it seems like an extra step. I also don't want 21 little paper triangles all over my floor. Honestly, my kids just know what page they're on. Even the slow pokes. We start every lesson on the table of contents page, and with the sticky notes, they can get there very quickly. My literacy notebook doesn't have a table of contents because it's more of a mishmash of skills and strategies, rather than whole units. So when we're working in our literacy notebook, I'll just say "Open up to the next clean page of the _______ section (reading, phonics, writing) in your Big Literacy Notebook." Then I circulate the classroom and help those that need it to get to the right page.

I think that's it? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments section below if you have any questions!

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Interactive Notebooks: Application Activities

In today's Interactive Notebook post, we're going to focus on how students will apply what they've learned to help the information stick.
Please see the previous post to learn about how we've taught students the information they need for the lesson. 

The left side of my notebook is the Thinking Side. I know it seems a little backwards that I organize my notebooks this way-- with the information on the right and the application on the left, but I love it! I like the physical-ness of stopping and going back to reflect on the previous page.
I use the Thinking Side of the notebook for two purposes: to activate prior knowledge before my teaching, and to apply/interact with the new information. 

Activating Prior Knowledge

Before we dive into the new information, I always "jump start" my lesson with a quick, 1-3 minute activity to fire up my students' brains. It can be as simple as watching a short video clip, talking with their neighbor about what we learned the day before or what they already know about the learning goal, or using our interactive notebooks to write or draw pictures.

Here are some ways I've used the Thinking Side of the IN to activate my students' prior knowledge.
  • math lesson about measurement: make a list of some units we use to measure.
  • social studies lesson about geography: draw a map of your bedroom (make sure you set a timer or else they're drawing for 5, 10, 15 minutes! I usually give 2-3 minutes to draw a quick sketch).
  • writing lesson about adjectives: draw a quick sketch of your favorite animal. Again, set a timer for 1 minute! When the timer goes off, write 3 words that describe your picture.
  • science lesson about the moon: write three words that describe the moon (this is my ultimate favorite! Students are so careful and thoughtful about choosing the best 3 words!)
Here are a few examples from my students' notebooks:
Please note that I don't always use my notebooks to access prior knowledge, but it is an option to vary my lessons.

Application of New Information

OK friends. This is IT! This is where the interactive magic happens!! Remember when I shared this?
How are you going to take the new information you presented and give it to your students to take ownership of their learning? Jane Pollock said something during one of her trainings that has always "stuck" with me (no pun intended): 
How are the kids going to cement their learning? 

It depends on what kind of information you've presented. Is the new information procedural (a step by step process) or declarative (facts)? 

Procedural Information

If the new information is procedural, the best way to apply the new information is practice, practice, practice! An example would be teaching 2-digit addition in math. As boring as it is, students would benefit the most by solving many 2-digit addition problems. But instead of giving your students worksheet after worksheet of problems, maybe they're solving them on their whiteboards, solving task cards, or playing a math game that focuses on the skill being taught.

Declarative Information

There are so, so, SO many things you can do if your new information is declarative-- it requires your students to just "know" it. You want your application activities to require deep thinking. Here are some thinking skills you could use and examples of how I've used them:
  • Compare/Contrast: Tell similarities and differences between maps and globes. Venn Diagrams work; I typically make my Venn Diagrams with rounded squares so the kids can easily write in them.
  • Classify: Sort animal names into animal categories (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, etc.)
  • Analyze Different Points of View/Perspectives: If you're learning about westward expansion, how did the explorers feel about taking over Native American land? How did the Native Americans feel when the explorers took over? Write about it in your notebook!
  • Create an Argument: When learning about Native American regions, which region do you think would be the best one to live in and why?
  • Make a Decision/Choice: We were learning about who studies space, and students wrote a few sentences telling if they'd rather be an astronaut or an astronomer and why.
  • Conduct an Experiment: When learning about electricity, we tested different materials to see if they were conductors or insulators. In our notebook, we made a T-Chart to sort our materials into the two categories.
  • Invent Something: After learning about magnets, students invented something that used magnets that would make their lives easier. I gave them 3 minutes to draw a quick sketch and 3-5 minutes to write about it.
  • Create: We were learning about pentagons, hexagons, and other many-sided shapes. Students created examples of each type of polygon on geoboards (actually we used the geoboard iPad app) and drew pictures of their creations in their notebooks.
We do a lot of writing and drawing on the thinking side of our notebooks, especially with vocabulary words. Here are several examples from my students' notebooks. Sorry for the photo overload! I had a hard time narrowing it down :)

A great way to help new information stick is to give it to kids in small doses. Example: We were learning about 3 confusing vocabulary words in our solar system unit: rotate, revolve, and orbit. Instead of throwing all three definitions at them at the same time, we did one word at a time. 
New Info: define "rotate"
Application: draw a picture of what it means
New Info: define "revolve"
Application: draw a picture of what it means
New Info: define "orbit"
Application: draw a picture of what it means

Now that we've learned about setting goals/objectives for our lessons, ways to present new information, and how to apply that information, we're ready to get started TEACHING! In my next post, I'll share how I set up my notebooks for learning. 

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