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Interactive Notebooks


I once had a friend who drove an older model Suburban. Overall, it was a dependable vehicle with the exception of a faulty gas gauge. She would write down when she filled up with gas and would keep track of the miles driven. However, there was a flaw in her system because the two of us ended up stranded on the side of the road watching cars pass by. Thankfully, we had someone to pick us up and get us to a gas station, but it was a memorable event nonetheless.
Just like my friend’s gas gauge, sometimes things inside the heads of our students are a mystery. We can look into their eyes, hear words coming out of their mouths, and still not be certain whether the student truly understands the lesson. If only we could ask our students to put their brains on display for closer scrutiny.
My young friend Drew has a stuffed brain he’s named Cristian that he carries around and sometimes uses as a pillow. To be fair, he also has a heart and a lung, but wouldn’t it be cool if Drew and his teachers could set that brain on the table and look to see if the learning stuck? Drew would know if he was prepared for the upcoming test or if he needed to do more work when he got home. His teachers would know if he was ready for new content or needed a bit more time to process the lesson from the day before. And his mom would know he really did understand what he needed to do before he was allowed to play his video game.
We can’t ask our students to set their brains out for display, so what can we do to get a better glimpse into the minds of our young learners? An interactive notebook just might be the indicator you and your students have been looking for. Teachers have asked students to keep notebooks for as long as there’s been paper and pencils, but an interactive notebook is a notebook on steroids. It provides multiple opportunities for students to process information they are learning in a meaningful way. Here are some examples.
Do I Know What I Know?
The educational word is metacognition, but the concept is every educator’s dream. When students know what they know and what they don’t know, they become active learners, joining the teacher in making learning real and relevant. And thinking about their thinking is a skill that delivers benefits for years to come.
Personalized for Each Student
There just isn’t time to make a separate assignment for each student, but an interactive notebook allows students to process what they know and are learning in a way that makes sense to them. If you compare the individual notebooks of each student in the same classroom, no two notebooks will look exactly the same. Ask for a tour of their work and kids can explain what makes their notebooks special.
Creative Expression
A multiple-choice test or a fill-in-the-blank activity doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity, but interactive notebooks open all kinds of doors for students to put their thoughts on paper in ways that are as unique as they are.
So while a school full of students with gauges on their foreheads might make for easy diagnosis, I’m wishing you a school full of students who are eager to let you know what they have mastered and what needs more work, a school full of students who know if their learning gauge is high or if they need to fill up, and a school full of students who are collecting skills that will navigate them not only through this school year but also through life. A tool like an interactive notebook can be the difference between having a fantastic journey and being stranded on the side of the road. And believe me, being stranded is no fun.
Check out Region 4 Science’s new book, Gateways to Science Companion Guide: Interactive Notebooks, addressing the ins and outs of interactive notebooks and how to easily use them with students from all grade levels.

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