Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
Many of you liked my ideas for using Interactive Notebooks last year. I did give them a shot this year, and learned a lot about implementation, especially about WHEN they're appropriate. Unfortunately, they didn't work out as I'd hoped for one main reason: my class is more handout-heavy than it is note-heavy. Let me elaborate.
In my class, we don't do a lot of note taking. For the most part, some key vocabulary is introduced and students write down that vocabulary and anything I point out that might help them. I don't emphasize grammar. If I did, there would be a lot more notes to take and the Interactive Notebooks would have worked better. Indeed, when we did take notes, it worked like a charm. However, we do a lot of learning through discussion and songs. Discussion doesn't lend itself to notes (obviously), while it's just not efficient for students to copy down lyrics to songs and translate them. Instead, I provide handouts with the lyrics, a CLOZE activity, etc. The trouble with all these handouts is that they have to go somewhere. When using an Interactive Notebook, especially when utilizing a composition book, the only way to get the handouts in there is with tape or glue, which resulted in a number of problems. Tape is the best since it's least likely for the papers to fall out - that is, of course, assuming that students realize that the tape needs to be positioned in such a way that about half of it is on each paper (some students would tape with 99% of the tap on the handout out and the tiniest sliver of tape actually connecting it to the notebook. Moreover, students didn't have tape, didn't take the time to actually tape things in, and things fell out. Not good in a handout-heavy class.
My last complaint is that, while IN's offer so many cool opportunities with foldable, foldable frankly eat up time in a secondary classroom. Often, there's so much time spent creating the foldable that could be better spent simply instructing and moving on. Thus, foldables in my classroom were more or less eliminated in order to make sure I had enough teaching time. At this age, I could very easily provide the information online and ask students to make the foldables at home if I felt they were necessary (I don't - students often find equal or better ways of studying). I'd like to revisit foldable at another time (and possibly their application in another subject as I can see how it would better organize certain information, but I don't have anything that calls for that just now), but they just weren't efficient in this class.
I also ran into issues with students who never created their notebook for one reason or another. This is likely a first-year teacher symptom, but a small number of students either joined the class late or simply didn't have their notebook on the days we put them together, so they ended up just taking notes on random pages of their notebook or didn't take notes in a notebook at all. This was a bit frustrating, especially since these were the students that may have benefitted the most from the structure of an IN.
I guess the moral of the story is that, while IN's can work well in some situations, they're aren't necessarily the best option in others. If I had a note-taking heavy class where I could title pages and have students take relevant notes (my high school economics class comes to mind), this would be a wonderful tool that would fit the job well. On the other extreme, if you have a class where note taking is minimum and your class calls for more organization of handouts, IN's are not the answer (this is where I fall). If you fall somewhere in the middle where you have a lot of note taking, but you also have handouts, I might suggest (and am considering, given some changes to my curriculum) having students combine a folder/binder with an IN - have students put their handouts in the folder/binder and keep the IN for notes in the pocket. I'm still toying around with what I want to do for next year. I think I have too many handouts for a folder to suffice (if you do go the handout route, I would suggest using one with the brackets in the middle to keep things more secure), but a small binder with a limited number of tabs to organize the handouts may just be the trick and I've already checked that a composition book will fit nicely in the pockets of said binder. Plus, binders are more sturdy than folders anyway.
As a final note, here are some things to specify to students about getting their composition book that I didn't anticipate: I didn't realize different composition books had different numbers of pages. Thus, when I told students to put things on page 95, but they only had 80 pages, we ran into some troubles. Also, somehow students assumed that all IN's were equal and showed up with these itty bitty notebooks (wha...?). Moreover, some assumed a spiral notebook would work just as well (they don't). So, be VERY specific about what notebook students should be getting.
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