Jun 21, 2020 - 8 min read - 3,166 views

An Interactive Notebook Starter Guide

Why switching to interactive notebooks made me a better teacher .

So when I was hired at an AVID school and told about the school-wide use of Interactive Notebooks, which will now be referred to as INB's. I was excited for the new challenge and ready to take them on. Then I went to the multi-day AVID training on how to correctly use INB's in a science classroom and I am not going to lie, I thought they had lost their minds. In my previous years of teaching I had a hard enough time getting my students to staple and turn in two pieces of paper, and now you expect me to get them all to worry about page numbers, Cornell notes, gluing in countless (awesome but time-consuming) foldables and activities... nuh-uh, NO WAY. I was about to call it quits before I even began. Lucky for me, and I hope my students, the contract was already signed and I decided to give it a try. I said I will give it 1 year and then I am moving on. Fast forward 4 1/2 years later and here I am, writing this blog post about how INB's changed me as a teacher... for the better. Shocking I know!

Below are the ways I adapted the rigid and glue/foldable heavy INB's and made it my own. With these adaptations, I have fallen in love with them and I hope you will gain the confidence to take the plunge!

Make it your own

I cannot say this enough. There is no 1 way to use an INB! Do not fall into the trap of seeing others INB's and the thousands of complex INB foldables you see on Pinterest and think if you do not make yours exactly like that you are doing it wrong. I am about to share the ways I use INB's in my classroom for inspiration and do just that, be inspired but do not think these are rules to live by.

If you are at an AVID school you have a little less flexibility and I hope you are getting the proper training through AVID and plenty of support. Everybody else, do not stress! If you hate glue and will not, I repeat, will not touch a foldable, INB's can still work for you. If you are repeating the same curriculum for the 14th year, don't worry INB's are still for you. Let's look at what exactly I mean.

Mindset shift

The first thing to start considering is that an INB is just a bound (spirals are a mess) workbook that students get to create instead of collecting and then losing individual pages of notes and handouts. You will be surprised by how the most unmotivated student begins taking pride in their INB after a few weeks and somehow my little 6th graders and even my older 8th graders never seemed to lose them... well except for that one kid. lol When I started using INB's the ownership in my students' work immediately impressed me. Then I was blown away when I caught my students referring back to past pages in their INB's to answer questions! Seriously, how often do you see that in middle school?

Here are some beginning ways to use INB's to help you start making the shift.

My INB Set Up

So let's look at how I set up my INB. Warning, this is beyond the basics above. Do not get overwhelmed and just use what you feel like can work for you and your students.

Why did any of that transform my teaching?

INB's help keep me focused and plan out actual chunked learning intentions for a unit. When I have a new unit to teach I sit down and think "What is the big idea?" and "How can I chunk that idea into 4-5 lessons that teach the required concepts and flow together?". Since I started using INB's I have stopped using the "traditional" 30+ page long and boring PowerPoint presentation with vocab and pictures. I now practice the art of storytelling. Each page in the INB is a chapter of their science "text" book that helps my students master the curriculum in ways I never saw before.

Whatever I want the students to learn from my teacher-driven instruction on an input page will drive the content of the adjacent output page. This allows my students to have focused lessons with built-in brain breaks and time for synthesis after learning a small part of the unit. Before INB's I was just waiting for my student to create 1 big project after I finished the direct instruction for the unit. Every once in a while I would throw in a lab or worksheet, but with INB's my students create small 10-20 minute projects in their output pages throughout the unit. This has radically changed my daily engagement levels.

With INB's my students are actively creating their textbooks and showcasing their learning. I am no longer just giving them work because I need a formative grade, I am crafting their learning into manageable and meaningful lessons that help deepen their understanding of their learning.

All of their work for the year is in one place. I do not know how many times I have seen binder cleanouts where hours of work are just tossed aside to make room. Most of my students tell me that they are never going to get rid of their INB's at the end of the year. I do not know how accurate those statements are in real life, but I do know how proud they are of their work. My students created each page and know what is on it. They know where to find the answers when they start reviewing for our end of year exams. I never saw that before I made the switch. I know it may seem like a lot of work, but wow, I will never go back to a binder again! Now if only I can make it to a 1-2-1 school and convert all of this awesomeness to a digital format... ahhh one day and then I will have another new post topic!

Here are my INB must-haves:

Happy INB'ing!