Monday, June 16, 2014

Thoughts after Year 1 of ISN

After a full year of using interactive notebooks in Algebra, there are three main things I want to work on doing better in the upcoming year.

1.  Hold students accountable for them

I chose not to include the notebook as part of the students' grades for several reasons.  One being that I use standards based grading, and I feel like a notes grade would be more a compliance grade than an understanding grade.  The other is that I teach about 90 Algebra students each year.  That would be a lot of notebooks to check.

I had told students that I would hold them accountable because when they asked for help the first thing I would do is ask them to take out their notes.  If they did not have their notes completed, then they would have to complete them before I was willing to help them.  I did OK at this, but I must not have done well enough, because even at the end of the year students were frustrated when I was making them copy notes from earlier.  And this actually meant that some students just stopped asking for help. :(  Not really what I wanted...

My notebook--no papers sticking out :)
Student notebook--lots of papers that should be glued in :(
My notebook--filled out TOC :)
Student notebook--empty TOC :(
My notebook--worked out problems :)
Student notebook--answers with no proof :(
In discussing this with the Algebra 2 teacher at my school, she suggested some accountability in a different way.  She recommended that I require students have their notebooks completed for the unit before I allow them to take the unit test.  I tried this with a review assignment later in the year and it didn't work out well, less than 50% of students had it completed on time... But she thought if I started with this at them beginning of the year students would come to expect it.  I know that I need to hold students accountable, but I'm not set on this as the way...however I do know that I could make this work.

I envision checking notebooks the day before the test while students are working on review stations.  Doing a 100% or 0% check like Sarah Hagan does (see here) would hopefully make the checking process faster.  If students do not have their notebooks complete I warn them that they must complete their notebooks before the test tomorrow.  When we start the next day I pass out tests only to the students who have completed their notebooks.  Other students must get on a netbook and work to update their notebooks.  If they don't get it done in time, then they have to take the test on their own time (before/after school) another day.

Like I said, I'm not sure this it what I'm going to do, so I would like feedback on this idea, please :)

2.  Be more organized 

One of the reasons why it was hard to hold students accountable was because I did not have a good organization system in place.  I figured out a decent system right before 4th quarter started, but I didn't share it with the students because I wanted to see how it would work.  It worked well enough, and with a few adjustments I think it will work great.  I shared some of it here.

I plan on including a monthly calendar on my bulletin board instead of writing on the folders, I can write on the calendar.  This will help if students want to see something more than a few days in the past.  I have a small file cabinet that I will use to store older papers.  I will have to try to organize the file cabinet a bit better than I did this year...I also think I might make one copy of each paper a specific color (ie. yellow) and then students know not to take that one, but to make a few copies first.  (I also want to write the page number that the copies go on before I make copies.  I read of that idea from Type-A Mathland here, and tried to implement it from then on, but mostly forgot.)

One more thing I can do to help make things more organized is to post pictures of my notebook on my website.  This will help hold students accountable, because I only have my one noteboook and when multiple students need to make up notes (or when students want to make them up at home) they will have the ability to get on a computer and view them.  This will be a significant amount of more work, but I think I could choose to do it first thing during my prep each day and I would be OK.

3.  Give more opportunities for student ownership

I was hesitant to have students do reflection activities in their notebooks since I wasn't really holding them accountable for it.  The few times we did do reflection things I really, really liked it.  I think that students were willing to think and process as I was asking them to.  But I need to start out doing those things in the first unit, so students learn to develop those thinking skills.  Here are some examples of reflection-type things we put into our notebooks:

Students had to write own steps for calculator
Students had to finish sentences on their own
Another way that I can give students ownership of their notebooks is encouraging them to use color purposefully.  I didn't encourage this at all this year.  I did it myself, and some of my students did it too, but I think it is something all students would benefit from.

An example of my use of color
So those are my goals for next year...hopefully I can handle that :)



  1. Next year, I think I'm going to stop grading the notebook and make it a gateway to the unit test. No notebook. No test. I loved the results and beautiful notebooks I got as a result of the 0/100% grading, but I think it ended up inflating my students' grades. Because they had all 100s for their notebook grades, they realized that they could not do their homework and still pass my class. Definitely not what I intended for them to do!

    I want to them to do their notebook and their homework!

    Great reflection! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sounds like you are thinking of doing something similar to me. Kathryn brought up a concern, and I was wondering what you thought...Do you have any concerns that students will choose to not have their notebook completed on time so that they won't have to take the test on the same day as other students? I'm not sure if that would end up being a big issue for me or not...

      Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment :)

    2. Okay, I'm going to play devil's advocate here. But I feel like we're all internet friends so I can do that. :)
      I think you'll have students that intentionally don't do the notebook so they cannot take the test. For a couple years I instated "qualifiers" in my classroom - things student had to do in order to be eligible for a retest opportunity. I found that it was like pulling teeth and I was all but begging some kids to take their retest. You mention SBG and compliance grades, wouldn't those be compliance grades? Okay, no more devil's advocate.

      One idea... maybe during an exam give a 10 minute "notebooks open" time where students who had their notebooks completed could use them for a designated time period to look up/check anything they wanted to. Those students who did not have their notebooks ready couldn't do that. This would still give incentive for completion without getting into the situation where kiddos didn't take the test and then drug their feet making it up. Just an idea...

  2. I only graded notebooks one time this past year, but I really
    Iike how I did it. I had each student turn to a random page and if that page was complete, they got a 100. If it was not, they got a zero and could complete it and show me for a 100. I graded a different page each period, and I just walked around and checked them off while they were doing classwork. Honestly they stopped asking if it was for a grade, so I did not feel the need to grade it.

    I do however let them use it on quizzes, which I think is a pretty good incentive to keep up with them. And I gave bonus points on tests if they had a parent signature and date saying they used it to study for the test.

    As for taking pictures and posting them on your website, do you use Google Drive? I found that taking the pictures of my notebook and uploading them to Google Drive with my ipad was super fast and very effective. Then just share the link or the folder and you are done!

    This was my first year doing interactive notebooks too, so I am glad to see that we are on the same page! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Love the suggestion for google drive! I will have to look into that. I have all my devices auto upload pictures to dropbox, but google drive does sound easier...Thanks!

  3. This was my first year with ISNs too. :) I graded notebooks every few weeks as a small point-value assignment, but I don't do SBG. I graded them with diminishing frequency as we progressed through the year because my students actually did a decent job overall and I had less and less time to collect them. The biggest problem I had was missing page numbers, titles, or TOC entries. Pages were almost always in place. I usually took one week to grade them all (about 80), just by announcing which week they were due and encouraging students to turn them in each day. I aimed to get 20-30 turned in each day and would return them the next day.

    1. I feel like I have crafty students who would purposefully NOT do their notebook so they don't have to take the test when everyone else does, whether that's because they don't feel ready for the test, want to try to learn what the questions are from their friends, or are otherwise unmotivated. Few people want to take a test, so I wonder how much of a motivating factor it would be to say, "You can only take this test if you do your notebook pages first." Also, what would you do for a student who leaves his notebook at home by mistake on the day of the test? Would additional delays in giving tests mean longer time before Ss would get feedback on the test? I try not to pass back tests if there are students who need to take it. This might be a moot point if you already have several test versions available.

    2. I recognize that pictures could be helpful for Ss who were absent and am thinking through how/when I could do that well. I don't have a student computer or other web-enabled device in my room, nor do all of my students have internet access at home. For Ss who were absent, I put their names on their papers and place them in the missing work area and they borrow my notebook or a classmate's to finish the pages during warm-up time. I don't usually have to give extra copies of notebook pages because I insist they attach them the day we first use them. I hope the calendar system will work well for you; I'd love to see how you set it up.

    3. Student ownership is so important. On my end of the year surveys, Ss claimed that they didn't like having choice for the left sides, but I saw some amazing work that I never would have seen from kids if I'd assigned problem sets. One girl rewrote Smashmouth's All-Star about quadratic functions. It was phenomenal and it was memorable for her and for her classmates, so much more so than any assignment I could have planned out to the last detail. I also struggled with color (it annoys me when there is extraneous noise like everyone rustling for colored pencils at once), so I need to work on how to encourage this as something students do independently after taking notes to help them internalize what they've learned.

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I'm teaching an ISN workshop this week and will take your ideas into consideration as I finalize what I'm going to say.

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I can see what you said about students intentionally NOT being ready for the test on time. I do always have two versions of a test, so I'm not sure how that would affect it. I would LOVE to not pass back tests until all students have taken it, but that would take a minimum of 3 weeks with the way attendance is at my school. So I usually end up passing them back before. Plus I am pretty slow getting them back to students...I don't mean to be, but it is the truth.

      Good luck with your workshop! I can't wait to read about it on your blog :)