8 Classroom Tips to Successfully Manage Students' Interactive Notebooks

Tips for setting up interactive notebooks in the classroom.
I began using interactive notebooks (INBs) as subject journals in my classroom before I knew they were a thing. I loved that kids could have pertinent information, notes, and practice all in one handy composition book. 

Through the years, I devised a list of tips to manage these INB journals. I discovered setup was key in creating a successful, useful interactive notebook experience. 

I've compiled a list of 8 tips for managing interactive notebooks in the classroom.

1. Use Composition Notebooks

I like Composition notebooks (also known as marble books) over spiral or the quick page tear-out kind of notebooks for a couple of reasons. 

  • For whatever crazy reason, kids love taking the wire out of spiral notebooks, thinking they can put it back in again. That, and the pages tear out easily. Also, if I collect their notebooks, the wires inevitably become a tangled mess. No one has time for that kind of nonsense.

  • The notebooks with the easy-tear notepad binding don't hold up. The pages fall out and end up scattered all over. That defeats our purpose.

TIP: To secure the binding and stitching in a Composition notebook, run a strip of heavy-duty packaging or book tape down the binding and another along the inside middle on the stitches. 

2. Stock up on Comp Notebooks when they're on sale.

Even though I put comp books on my supply list every year, kids still showed up with the other kinds of notebooks. I got to the point where I would buy several boxes of comp books for 50¢ each when stores had their Back to School sales.* 

Each student received one for their math journals, even if they brought the right kind. I'd put the rest of them in my classroom supply store. 

I let parents know these things were available at BTS prices. And when they were gone, I did not replenish them. 

 *NOTE: This works in a self-contained classroom. It would make a good Donor's Choose request.

TIP: Have learners use one of their extra notebooks as their creative, doodling journal. It helps keep it out of their academic journals. 

3. Create a master journal ahead of time.

If you're creating a unit's worth of lessons, it helps to see the layout before having your learners put their INBs together. I've found out the hard way (after pages were glued) that the pages needed to be reorganized. 

Place the pages where you want them, but don't permanently attach them to the journal pages yet. 

Think about what pages need more space for student writing or work. Those pages will only be attached at the top to flip the activity page up and use the journal page underneath for more space. 

TIP: When you have the pages in the order you want them, build your INB journal under a document camera while your students put theirs together.

4. Tape an envelope to the inside front cover to store small pieces.

Tape an envelope inside the front cover of INBs for storage.
This is a lifesaver if you have small, loose pieces that are used throughout the lessons. I use the envelope in my Personal Finance PBL Simulation to store their blank checks and check registers. The class data strips would be lost in a second if I didn't have my storage envelope in my Measurement - Graphing Data unit. 

TIP: Use packaging or book tape to secure an envelope at the inside bottom of the front cover. Use the top envelope flap to keep small items safely tucked inside. 

5. Create a Table of Contents & number the pages.

Allow the first 2 full pages for the Table of Contents. The top line of each page has the heading: Pages (in the left-hand margin) and Topic (in the body of the page). Topics are added as needed. 

Number the next 50 pages in the upper or lower outside edges of the pages. That gets them started with a solid example. Do it in pencil. I guarantee pages will get skipped, and pencil is a lot easier to erase.

TIP: Tell your learners not to worry about everyone having the same page numbers for a topic. Their Table of Contents (ToC) will tell them where to find topics in their journals. That's why it's important they keep up their ToCs. 

Use Double-Sided Adhesive Squares to attach INB pages.

6. Use double-sided adhesive squares to secure pages.

Let's be real. Glue and interactive notebooks are a bad idea. Even if you take the time to show them how to bunny hop dots of glue, it rarely works out. 

Glue sticks aren't much better. They leave the caps off, and the glue dries out. Also, the glue-stick glue doesn't hold up, and the pages eventually fall out.

Double-sided adhesive squares are the way to go. They come in an easy-to-use container that feeds one at a time. 

TIP: One side of the square has a cover on it, so the squares can be added to the pages but not attached to the journal until you're ready. 

7. Create tabs to find different sections quickly.

Even though you've added page numbers, tabs are a great way to jump to different sections of the INB. You can even color-code different sections in the ToC to match the sections.

TIP: Use colored 1" x 2 3/4" address labels folded over the first page of a section. Label the tab. 

Use mailing labels to separate different sections in the INB;

8. Permanently attach pages to the journal after they're completed.

Some pages might refer back to previously used materials. It's a lot easier to keep the new page free until it's finished. Then the adhesive covers on the backs of the sticky squares can be removed, and the page can be added to the INB journal.

TIP: Make sure each activity and page number is recorded on the Table of Contents page.

Bonus: Create a title page for each major unit.

Tape an envelope inside the cover to store extra pieces.
Sometimes, one journal may have more than one major unit included in it. Give the unit a fresh start by adding a title page. Learners will love personalizing their own cover as a unit kickoff. 

TIP: Get learners excited about the next unit by having them create a title page.

Organizing learners' information using interactive notebooks creates ownership that other methods of delivery can't match. I smile when kids visit and tell me they still have their math and Personal Finance journals! 

What tips do you have for managing interactive notebooks? Please share your ideas with us in the comments. 

Gifted Learners in the Regular Ed Classroom

The nice thing about a blog is that I can post my fondest desires for education, and it will either fly away like bubbles in the wind or hit home for anyone who reads it.  Today is one of those days I feel like sending bubbles out to the universe.  Here goes...

Gifted learners in the regular ed classroom deserve to be challenged at their level and not receive just more of the same.

During my time in the classroom, I had the opportunity to work with a wide range of ability levels.  I see you nodding your head. I know many of you have shared that same experience.  In the schools I was in, gifted students were sprinkled around like the sugar on the top of a donut.  Teachers were up in arms if they didn't get their fair share of the gifted learners.  They saw them as a group that would drive their test scores up with little or no effort on the teacher's part, thus, giving the teacher more time to work with the students who just didn't get it.

Often, the battle for who snagged the most gifted students didn't end with the teachers.  Parents would wonder why the gifted kids were pulled out of class for "special programs." Or worse yet.  Why were these kids grouped together in one classroom, and why couldn't their son/daughter be in that class?

Consider this fictitious letter to the editor:

Editor: I am writing to express my grave concerns with homogeneous grouping for gifted students in my child’s district. Our country was founded on the principle that all men (and, in this case, students) are created equally. I believe that all children are gifted in some way. By allowing homogeneous groups to occur, we teach our children that some kids are “better” than others are. I feel it’s important to have a balanced number of high, medium, and low students in a classroom, so there is a role model available for the students who don’t quite “get it.”

Having smart kids dispersed throughout all the classrooms gives teachers extra help that they need in a couple ways: (1) the high kids don’t need as much teacher supervision as some of the other learners, thus, freeing teacher time for those students who need more help and (2) the high kids can help their classmates, taking some of the load off the classroom teacher. Imagine how those high students will feel when they realize they’ve helped their classmates succeed. Finally, if those gifted kids get finished faster, they can do some extra credit or help out in another classroom. I just don’t think they need special treatment by being grouped together—a regular student's concerned parent.

Hmmm, seems to fit in our "everybody wins" philosophy, but I offer this response:

Dear Concerned Parent: I applaud your understanding of our founding fathers’ purpose in creating a new nation. Thinking further, one of our country's best features is that everyone has the opportunity to advance to his/her highest ability. While all children have talents, giftedness is an entirely different matter.

Homogeneous grouping for gifted students allows them to have a support system in the classroom, someone to bounce off their ideas.
A gifted student has special needs, not unlike a child who has difficulty with math or reading. I’m sure you wouldn’t expect a non-reader being placed in a regular reading group or a math student who doesn’t understand when it’s appropriate to add, subtract, multiply, or divide in an algebra class. Those students are grouped together for help in the areas in which they struggle. The difference is that gifted students can read and understand literature way beyond their grade level. Their math skills and ability to problem-solve place them in an advanced state of mathematical understanding.

 These students deserve the opportunity to have their academic needs met at the level they are functioning. It is much easier for one teacher per grade level to plan those advanced lessons for a group than for all the teachers at that grade level to plan for one or two advanced students in their classrooms. Just as you’d want your child to have peers he can relate to in his classroom, gifted students need academic peers that understand where they’re coming from. While gifted students can understand teacher instruction and work independently, they still need the coaching and feedback the rest of the class is afforded. It is not their responsibility to become additional teachers in the classroom. They are there to learn, just as the rest of the students are.

As far as “extra credit” is concerned, think of this: You are very good at your job and always finish your work quickly and accurately. Your reward for this is that your boss gives you more work (or extra credit, if you will). I’m guessing your response would be to slow down and get done what’s assigned for one workday. But what if your boss said he would offer you more training for advancement because of your diligence? More than likely, you would be eager or intrinsically motivated to continue the higher level of work for the appropriate reward. Gifted students operate the same way. They want to advance by learning beyond what is expected, not just do more of the same.

Homogeneous grouping for gifted students allows them to have a support system in the classroom, someone to bounce off their ideas. It helps cut down on teachers' planning time when gifted students are in one room instead of being scattered throughout all the classrooms in the grade level. It alleviates discipline problems from “bored” students, allowing teachers to spend time doing what they were hired to do: teach. 

Homogeneous grouping does not create an elite class of students; it merely meets the high-achieving group's educational needs, just as pull-out classes for special education meet the other end of the learning spectrum's needs. GT Liaison

I was a building liaison for gifted learners since the inception of the program in our district.  I was never able to convince the staffs I worked with the logic of grouping gifted learners together.  It's my hope for the future that we stop treating gifted learners in the regular classroom as a commodity and, instead, give them the same opportunities to excel at their own rates as everyone else has.

"A child is not a vase to be filled but a fire to be lit."  Caine & Caine