Note taking, no textbooks & ISN’s, how does it all fit together?

*WARNING* This is a longer than planned post and involved…I am asking for ideas and help…proceed with caution! 🙂

At the end of each quarter since I started teaching 14 years ago, I have had my students complete a survey/reflection on the quarter. It’s evolved and improved over the years, but the idea was the same…I wanted to know what they thought about my teaching, our classroom, the activities we did and anything else they wanted to share.  I used to just read them and reflect on my own; I would come in the next quarter with ideas, some changes based upon the survey and some that I already knew I wanted to do. I would clarify misconceptions and provide more reasons and examples as to why certain things were done.  I always found them valuable, sometimes in a kick in my backside type of way and sometimes reassurance that what I was doing was working.  I found students to be honest, sometimes more than I expected, but I grew as a teacher from it.  In the last handful of years after I have given the survey, I crunch the data, toss some in graphical format and share it WITH the students.  I have asked them to review the graphs, the information shared and to tell me what it means. I share the comments they write and we talk about it together as a class.  I want them to know that I value their opinions, that I take them seriously and I am always striving to make our classroom better.  It has been within this type of situation that students have mentioned they feel heard, valued and that they have a say in the classroom.  Do I change everything? No, but we have honest discussions about it; I consider it and I might even poll them again on a specific topic to help make a decision.  I still toss in a few changes that I knew I wanted to make, but overall it comes from them.

It is in this situation where I am stuck currently.  I gave the quarter 1 survey (google doc this time around), I knew they completed it because I had looked at a few of the responses.  Today’s class was the day we were going to talk about the results, so last night I finally opened them up and read through them.  I will skip over the love they have for the class and the way we do things, their love for SBG and their love/hate relationship with cooperative learning for this post and yet focus on another aspect dear to my heart, the Interactive Notebook.

I had a section about the notebook asking questions about it, but it was in the very last box titled “Anything else you want to share?” where some *unprompted* shared their extreme love and/or hate of the interactive notebook.  The dislike for it took me by surprise, not one peep from my lovelies about them in a bad way since day 1, NOT ONE. Yet here they were (to clarify THEY = the 15 students who dislike the ISN or parts of it out of the 114 students that I use them with), sharing without any fear or filter, which is what I was looking for.

Here are the negative comments: (only sharing these because I want to focus on how to make this better)

  • I would rather work in a class where some students teach others than tape things into our notebook.
  • isn is really bad. its a waste of time. parents will agree
  • I really think we shouldn’t grade ISNs because nobody really graded our notes in past grades. Previous teachers have graded what comes out of our notes and understanding such as tests and quizzes. At first, I was really enthusiastic about having everything organized in the ISN… but as I thought about it, i realized that I wasn’t learning much from the foldables and coloring. I’m just a type of person that really likes to take my own notes in my own method. I don’t think we should have to worry about decorating our notebooks and having things taped in and secured on top of so much other work that we have to do. This has nothing to do with your teaching because I feel like I’m able to understand what you teach me better than I have with other teachers in the past but I just feel like we shouldn’t have our ISNs graded. Again, this is just my opinion and you don’t have to listen to this by any means, but I just wanted to let you know! Thank you, and I can’t wait for a great rest of the year!
  • I really dont prefer the ISN and really like using my own notebook that is not so strictly scheduled and my own notebook helps me alot more for studying
  • I find it completely ridiculous that the ISN requires you to color the left hand side pages.
  • I really don’t think the ISN is helping me.
  • I enjoy class, but sometimes the ISN can be a lot to keep track of.
  • I like working with groups but also on my own. I am not a huge fan over the ISN-when notes are not my own, I find them more difficult to understand. It also takes away time that we could use to practice concepts and understand them well. I like the traditional way of taking notes.
  • I think that to learn material well, the ISN isnt totally helping bc it is very easy to slack off. a better way would be to use a textbook and do worksheets.
  • I would like to bring up the topic that the ISN wastes valuable time where we could be learning but instead we are taping I know many who agree and I don’t know how many were willing to say it on the survey but I would prefer to use an actual textbook to help me with practice problems, and I do know I can get practice problems in other places but i prefer to get them in a textbook.
  • I like taking my own notes instead of taping in notes in the ISN because I understand the lesson more if i write my own notes. I don’t like the ISN at all. The ISN doesn’t help me with anything because everybody’s notes are the same. I study better with the notes I write and I think the ISN is useless. I would rather have my own notebook than the ISN.
  • I don’t really like the ISN because its a lot of gluing and cutting. Also, I have to pay more attention to the ISN then learning material because I know its a grade.
  • I don’t enjoy using the ISN. It is not really my style.
  • I don’t think the ISN is very helpful
  • I enjoy math class a lot, but I wish to use the textbook more.  the ISN is a helpful study tool, but sometimes feels as if the ISN is like a scrapbook! 🙂 but overall, I am very happy as to how math class is going and I am looking forward to the rest of a wonderful school year!

I do find it cute that they share their dislike for the ISN and their excitement over the rest of the year within two sentences…I love middle school!

Before I went crazy with things spinning in my own mind, I turned to twitter to share it with other minds to help me:

My mind was racing and I knew that I wanted to use the student comments to clarify a few things, but that more importantly I had students that wanted a different way to take notes.  What was I going to do? And my online PLN responded with ideas and questions of their own.  It was Megan (@mgolding) who suggested a blog post and discussion, so blame her for this long post! 🙂

Things to note:

  • This is a small amount of students who do not like the interactive notebook, the rest love it and have said so in the survey, in person and even after today’s in class discussion.
  • We DO NOT have textbooks, so learning from a textbook and just doing worksheets, isn’t going to happen.  We have an online version and a handful of books in the classroom, but our curriculum jumps around the “book” anyways.  It is not a useful resource for the students or myself. This is a HUGE change from last year for the students.
  • These students really do prefer “traditional” teaching and learning. This is what they have known, this might be all they have known and I have hit them with cooperative grouping, open ended tasks, SBG and Interactive notebooks.
  • These students are good students, many have their own way of organizing and taking notes already, which is different from any of my previous classes of students.
  • These students are used to learning FROM a textbook, like “read this, look at the examples and figure out the 20 homework problems”. Not much in regards to shared notes or class discussion. They are used to creating their own notes from going through the material on their own.
  • The cutting & taping (which seems to be a big issue) takes 5 minutes, maybe 10 on a long day…BUT it happens while they are doing their warm-up or something else.
  • Every parent that I have spoken with or heard from loves the class and the notebooks. The parent reflections on the notebooks for quarter 1 back this up.
  • This year my goal was to improve the left side of the ISN, which has happened, but that is where the “coloring” comes in…working on the creative side of the brain.
  • I have told them the ISN is their textbook, their reference.  It contains notes, examples and practice problems.  And it contains their reflection on their notes.
  • I have dabbled in the flipped classroom where they take notes at home while watching a short video and we practice all day the next day in class.

The issues

  • I am dealing with “traditional” learning students. The ISN might not be the whole issue, I think some of it is the way I am asking them to learn and how it is so different from what they know. How do I make it easier?  Example: they told me today they want me to create powerpoints with screen shots of the book and go through the examples in the book with them. 🙂 Ummm….no that sounds awful, there has to be a better way.
  • Some students want to take their own notes (which again I find interesting because they currently take their own notes, just happens to be in foldable format provided by me). How do I incorporate this desire into the classroom?

What I am considering:

  • Giving up on the coloring.  All classes asked for this, easy to give up…no big deal. But I can still ask them to reflect.
  • Allowing students who want to take their own notes to do so, but I might ask them to conference with me about it first so we can be on the same page with our expectations.  Rather than let them jump into a whole new format, I think I am going to ask that they take them in the ISN, but can do so however they want.
  • Teaching students how to use notes to study, this seems to be an issue this year, not knowing HOW to prepare for math tests and how to use their notes. Is it different because it is Geometry? Last year my students loved their ISN’s  in Algebra and 8th CCSS and used them all of the time. The students above claim it isn’t useful, is that because they don’t know how to use it, how to find things within their notes? This discussion also came up during our Twitter conversation.

I need your help, your suggestions, your ideas.  I want to improve my classroom for second quarter and I want to help my students understand the importance of notes in any format.  Is the current trend to change  classroom dynamics to being student centered removing the aspect of notetaking? How do you disseminate important information to your students?  Do your students keep a notebook? binder? etc? As we move to classrooms without hard copy textbooks, what does that mean for notetaking? How do you help the “traditional” students become comfortable in a student centered classroom?

If you made it this far, WAY TO GO! Thanks for hanging with me!


9 thoughts on “Note taking, no textbooks & ISN’s, how does it all fit together?

  1. As I read this post, I made notes, which helped me to get the picture myself and ultimately to form my thoughts. There you go – I like notes and I find them useful. When I got to the part titled “Things to note” every single one of your bullets was already in my notes! Great minds think alike. I’m struggling with this myself, and I so appreciate this post.
    I always love reading the kids’ actual words, because of their different approaches and styles. Some kids you tend to listen to more than others, like if it’s someone you know works hard and is careful to be polite and respectful. I had some kids come to me this week about concerns with geogebra, and another complaining about not enough notes, and the former had my ear much more because of how they made their case. The third bullet of your students’ is as example of that.
    It sure seems like you have a solid majority liking it, but all it takes is one well-worded argument to turn our heads, and some of their bullets do make what sound like good points:
    • Grading the isn’s
    • Skepticism of the value of the left side – ie colouring
    • Student autonomy over how they take notes
    • Students finding security in the old-fashioned textbooks

    • Variety & choice – We’ll never find something that every kid is happy with, and even when we do, they probably won’t stay that way for long anyway. I think they key is variety, like giving the option of the flipped version as you did. How did that go by the way? I wonder if giving them the choice of making their own notes would help them to appreciate the value of the ones you give out and/or make the whole process more customizable and hence enjoyable. I still give my kids the old-fashioned text examples to do, as well as the high-tech stuff, more to cover my backside
    • Modeling and scaffolding: You’ve mentioned this already – I had some students concerned with using ggb and I think it may have been because I am just starting to get them to use it and haven’t scaffolded it enough for them – like how should they be using it in their learning. In your case, you’re the experienced one but they aren’t.
    • Visual note-taking – I just attended a session by Wes Fryer on this, and there is a lot of evidence that it’s a great way to learn, colouring included. Fascinating session, had tons of fun, and having tried it during the talk, I can honestly say I remember it all one month later. And as it turns out, I can draw like a boss, although you don’t have to in order for it to be beneficial. Here’s a tedtalk and here’s Wes Fryer’s page which includes tons of other links

    Thanks for writing this, I’m very encouraged, and I’m going to get a ton of feedback from my whole class.

  2. I think this a wonderfully thoughtful post! Kudos to you!
    I too collect student reflections about what works, what doesn’t, etc…and sometimes it’s a punch in the gut and sometimes the things that they really liked are surprising. That’s why this process is so important.

    Your kids obviously really trust in you as their teacher because they had really well articulated things to say to you about the ISN! I think that says a lot about who you are as a person and teacher!!! =)

    As far as the “traditional” method of teaching goes…it will be YEARS before we can change the minds of some parents and kids. It is so ingrained in society how math should be taught…everyone sitting in front of a textbook, etc. I believe that there is a time and place for ALL methods…an eclectic mix of designing instruction. But not a one way fits all…

    My one thought to add now…is maybe teaching them the use of different graphic organizers/concept maps and when one notetaking strategy is better than another. (I believe they do this in ELA). That way you are teaching them the skill of “how does this information connect with things I already know–and–what’s the best way to record this information for future use.”

    Then, you could have an area…where they can choose the graphic organizer that makes the most sense of the input they are recording.

    You are so creative in what you do and what you offer to this community!!! Will love to hear how this influences what you do!!!

  3. I need to do a better job with students taking notes. They take them, but I really don’t have them do anything with them. In class I’ll entertain their questions rather than saying, “How can your notes help you?” I imagine when they’re at home they don’t consult them either because I haven’t reinforced it at school. I’m sorry I haven’t helped you, but you’ve certainly helped me. Thanks for writing about this.

  4. To avoid making this reply eternally long, let me pick a couple things to respond to:

    It seems like the ones who react negatively are getting bogged down by the structure. I have found in my use of notebooks that not being strict on structure is working out ok. I set a minimum level of requirements and let them be in control of the rest. The restrictions being: all classwork goes in the notebook, SBG chart must be maintained, and old tests must be kept in a pocket in the back.

    I don’t do left hand/right hand pages and I don’t force a column for reflection.

    I would also agree with the comments on foldables. I know lots of people like them, but I don’t find them to be an authentic resource. I think they are a great way to summarize learning and would look good out in the hallway for everyone to see, but as material that is intended for study, I don’t like it. There’s something about them that just feels too scripted. I would think of a way to focus the notebook on a container for classwork and the rare matching activity and save presentation grade material like foldables for summary projects when you’ve finished an extensive unit.

    For example, after a couple weeks worth of triangles, have them design a foldable that shows off all the types they’ve covered. Letting them have some input on how the foldable looks could help there.

    The kids complaining about all the cutting and pasting should get over themselves. I’ve had notebooks for enough years (and gone through an unholy pile of gluesticks) to know that that opinion is very much minority.

  5. Geometry – don’t know about yours, but mine is hugely touchy-feely. With mountains of patty paper (at the end of the day my room looks like a snowstorm). Compasses, rulers, protractors, tape, colored paper, folding paper plates, origami, spaghetti, marshmallows. If yours looks like mine, then I can see that the notebooks with glue and colors might be lipstick on the pig. Geometry is not like algebra, with its relentless writing, which needs a cocktail every day just to make it bearable. Geometry has its own well drinks.
    So I love that your INB gave the kids all that folding, cutting and coloring in Algebra.
    Oh, proofs? Don’t be silly. My kids were excited to find they could transfer a tracing using pencil. Embrace Geometry, there’s something for everyone. Especially the custodians 🙂

  6. So, this post terrifies me.

    As you and I have talked about before, I want to do ISN, or something like it. My students are terrible at taking notes. I can’t even model this well because I’M terrible at taking notes.

    I want to do ISN because it’s an organized way to do notes with lots of resources. My students are resistant to any change, even if it’s colorful and fun.

    I don’t have any suggestions or ideas. Just telling you that if you give up on ISN, I won’t have the constitution to even start them.

    You inspire me!

  7. Tried to comment earlier…this is take 2. Might mean it’s shorter… 🙂

    My first thought when reading through the student comments was that many of them expressed their lack of comfort with the learning style as a dislike if the ISN. I think it is just a conversation to have with students that you know it is hard to transition, but that research also suggests it is best for them. I had to have this conversation with my students as well.

    I think the other concerns that were brought up could be helped by giving them choice with their left side. Perhaps “organize the notes in a new way” is one choice they have with what to do on the left side. Others may choose something else. I know there are several lists out there of good left side options.

    Anyway good luck and hope that you are finding a solution that works in your classroom!

  8. My initial reaction is that the main problem for those students is the lack of choice. While having colorful, fun notes for most students would be fun/helpful, the more type-A and/or serious students may be resentful that you are forcing them to change their method. I bet if you allowed for some freedom, they would even get on board with your method. BUT, I like how you presented the freedom-giving process…they must earn it by conferencing with you about what/how/why they want to change the process. That way it will help limit the individuality to students who truly have a plan in place that will allow them to learn. I really suspect that some of the “haters” would get on board if given the choice.

  9. I love all of your thoughts, comments, and reflections through this post! I am a newer teacher (just completed my first year) that attempted to get my kids to keep a notebook – with a few ISN pages that were put in. Many of our “basic” algebra lessons were done in Cornell notes format, but some of the more difficult topics we used the ISN type of notes. The “basic” days, I present information and we work through examples on a TV, using my iPad and AppleTV connection. There are many options for apps to use, my favorite is Penultimate. The ISN days, we make the foldable and then tape it to a 3-hole punched paper so they can keep track of it. This means I don’t have the left/right info/example task for the students. Once we are done with the foldable, they use it to help them with the practice/activity/task.

    I’ve also done a lot of reflecting about notebooks…my biggest problem is that the kids don’t know how to study with them, or help them do their minimally assigned practice. I am in a district that is also standards based, so I can’t really “grade” the notebook. The FACS teacher in our building does an awesome ISN, and her policy is that in order to reassess, (really to even approach her about reassessing) you must have your notebook completely filled out for that Unit/Standard. I LOVE this idea, I’m not sure if you already have this policy in place.

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