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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!

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

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.

  • Worksheets - I know you already have a ton that you have that you love and use every year. Here is the INB tip. Print them on 1/2 sheets or (2 to a page) and voila you have your beloved worksheet for your students to glue into their INB's and not leave on the floor. I promise everything that you fit on a full page can be reformatted or simply printed on a half sheet instead and be legible! Don't worry I am not saying you can't still use a fantastic worksheet outside of your INB too, but by finding ways to integrate them into your INB, you will save your self so much in printing costs and lost worksheet drama. Bonus - you save paper doing this too! Pro Tip - If your worksheet is double-sided just leave a space or insert a "glue here" box along the backside and have your students glue them in like a sticky note so they can flip the page and work on both sides.

  • Notes - Before I used INB's I hated collecting stapled and torn pages of notes for grading. Having to flip through these and in some cases pry them apart was one of my least favorite things to do. I have a whole other post on Cornell-ish style notes and why I love them, but if that's just not you simply have your student take the notes you already have them take in their INB's. Then when you collect them for grading you can just flip through the bound pages quickly and see everything (or at least you should) that you expected them to write down in one sequential location. (I will have a whole post on my easy grading of INB's... spoiler alert I only fully grade them a few times a year!)

  • Paper problems? I once taught at a school that seriously rationed my copying. I could barely make it through each semester with class copies of tests, so printing tons of foldables and cute activity pages for INB's was out of the question. Instead of panicking, I just projected the worksheet or assignment and had the students write their answers in their INB's! Voila! Overnight my loose-leaf paper expenses went down too.

  • Lab Reports or essays - Have your students complete them in their INB's. Peer grading can happen in INB's too. If you haven't seen structure strips look them up or read my post about how I adapted them for science labs.

  • Daily warm-ups? - I do these with my students every day and I was tired of having their papers everywhere at the end of the bell. Solution... I had my students flip their INB's over and write in their daily warm-up questions and bell ringer quick writes in the back Manga comic book style (flip pages in reverse). That was such a win for me when I figured this one out.

  • Things I have seen but do not use - Printed or stamped INB grading rubrics, parent communication pages, and using INB's for quizzes and assessments.

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.

  • Inside cover page - I cannot for the life of me understand why my school does not enforce the use of planner passes, but currently it is up to me to make my own bathroom passes and keep track of student movement. So my solution was to have students tape/staple their 1/2 sheet of hall passes inside their front INB cover. It is expected that my students bring their INB to class every day, so they always have their passes. See how I drastically reduced my non-emergency hall pass usage here!

  • 1st and 2nd page - In the first week of school I give my students a table of contents to glue in here. 1 page for each semester and it has the title and page number for each of the INB pages. Now I was not able to do this until I had taught the same grade level for a few years, but it was a game-changer in helping my students keep organized. If you can plan for a year or semester ahead, I would recommend it. I leave some titles vague like water cycle art, building blocks of life, or something that can be interpreted in many ways if I know the content of the instruction but have not quite figured out the activity yet. I have also seen many teachers that have their students complete their table of contents as they go. I personally don't have the time for that, but I know it helps with organization too. P.S. I used INB's for years without a table of contents and it was also fine!

  • Pages 3 and 4 - These pages are always my shortened syllabus and class/lab safety rules on page 3. On page 4 I have my INB guidelines and Costa's leveled question words as a student resource.

  • All left side odd pages from there on out are creative output pages. I start each unit with a vocabulary building activity that the students have to complete by defining and drawing the keywords for the unit. After that, all output pages are used to help students synthesize and create new material (output) from the instructional material on the adjacent page. You can use the many different foldables you find online for these pages, but I am not about that life. I normally have students spend their time creating vocabulary acrostic poetry, designing concept comics and t-shirts, filing a page with concept doodles, writing raps, making mind maps, creating awareness" posters", or just completing lab and worksheets on these pages instead of cutting and pasting. There are so many different fun ways you can enhance student understanding and content competency with a well designed creative output page. Oh and my students hate it, but I require that all output pages have creative and purposeful color just to drive home the creativity and "right" brain learning.

  • The right side even pages are my input pages. I use Cornell-ish notes for these pages. You can see what I am talking about in-depth in that post. Ultimately, I treat my input pages as the teacher-driven part of the lesson. I carefully plan out what I want my students to get from 1 page of notes and in 1 lesson. I never spend (well rarely due to differentiation or surprise fire drills) more than 1 class period on notes for a specific instructional goal. Within my notes, I stop for breaks, discussion, and passive review time. I have created my own "Doodle" style notes for my 6th-grade curriculum to use on these pages. You can find them in my TPT store, I hope to be finding time to add more soon.

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!

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