This past school year, I committed to trying a brand new strategy for my Anatomy & Physiology and AP Biology classes — the Interactive Notebook (INB)! This is something that I have wanted to try for some time, but I could not wrap my brain around how to put it all together in my classroom. The summer of 2013, I had the opportunity to attend an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Summer Institute in Dallas, TX where I was extensively trained in how to implement the INB for science teachers. Let me begin by saying the INB is not an original AVID strategy, but it is a wonderful strategy to use to help students stay organized, but I am getting ahead of myself!
What is an INB?
Other than being a life-saver in my classroom, an INB is a method to help students (1) stay organized, and (2) process the information you are giving them in the classroom. There are two components that are non-negotiable, in my opinion, when developing an INB. First off, students need a table of contents to help them stay organized. Some teachers choose to have one long table of contents for the entire notebook that is positioned at the beginning and filled in as you progress throughout the year. I chose to put a new table of contents with each unit (see Figure 1, left). I wanted my students to be able to organize information according to the unit. I also used the table of contents as their grading criteria. I assessed them on writing their warm up questions and answers, having all of their assignments present, and completing student developed questions and summaries for the Cornell Notes they took for the unit. There are many ways to assess an INB, but that needs to be saved for another blog!
The second non-negotiable of an INB is determining what goes on the right and left side of the notebook. The right side is reserved for what students should know, and the left side is reserved for how students process the information that you want them to know. I discuss this at the very beginning of the year with my students and provide them with the two pages shown in Figure 2 (left). I will often use the “clock examples” (shown on the left side of the figure) as a way for letting students choose how they will process the information. For example, after giving notes that the students have written on the right side, I will ask the students to choose from clock example number 1, 3, 5, or 7 to complete on the left side to process the information they just wrote on the right side. This allows for differentiation of instruction because students choose how they are processing information based on how they learn. Sometimes the information that is put on the left side is very deliberate and all students do the same thing, such as completing a mind map as shown in Figure 3 (below). Other times, information that is placed on the left side is a homework assignment, as shown in Figure 4 (below).
Figure 5 and 6 (below) demonstrate how to incorporate laboratory investigations into an INB. Figure 5 shows that the students completed their pre-laboratory questions on the right side, and their data tables, graphs and questions on the left side. Notice that the students taped their graph over the top of their data table. In Figure 6, students were to design their own experiment based on the results they obtained in Figure 5. They wrote their hypothesis, materials, and procedures on the right side, and the left side was for data collection, graphs, and conclusion.
Why use an INB?
Not only is the INB a great organization tool for students, it is also a valuable organization tool for educators, as supported by Eagleton and Muller. “This organizational tool works most effectively where the teacher plans lessons as part of a unit in which student-centered activities are structured to build learning over time. These activities focus on the student’s processing information in order to build strong mental connections.” The key is to focus on how the students are processing the information. Are you going to let students choose from various clock examples based on the students’ learning style? Are you going to push them to try something new and outside of their comfort zone? Eagleton and Muller developed a model for whole brain learning of physiology. Their research “alerted to the importance of incorporating learning strategies that make provision for the personality, information processing, and environment and instructional needs of different students.” I feel it is important that students know their learning style and how their personality fits into their learning. It is up to the teacher to provide an environment and instructional needs to reach all learning styles of his/her students. In my opinion, the INB is the perfect tool to reach all students, if the teacher uses it correctly.
How to start an INB?
As you may know, when incorporating a major new system into your classroom, it’s sometimes like taking off a band-aid – you just have to rip it off and go for it! Once I decided I would transform my classroom using an INB, I began by looking up examples online and talking with other educators that had been using this method. Using an INB forced me to think about my instruction in a new and different way. First off, I had to determine how to give my students information that could fit on one page. This really allowed me to pare down content and get rid of some of the “fluff.” Sometimes I would give my students multiple pages of notes that they glued on top of each other on the right side. I also had to determine how I was going to have my students process the information. Was I going to use a clock example, or would they complete an assignment or activity that is the same for all students? I added extra items such as unit calendars that they put opposite of the table of contents, and unit exam reviews which they placed on the right hand side and then completed a study guide on the left hand side.
After having used the INB for a year, there are a few changes I am going to make for the next school year, but that is what we do as teachers – reflect and revise! I am still going to assess my students’ INB on completion of their warm up questions/answers, completing their student developed questions and summaries for their notes, but now I am going to incorporate giving students’ stamps for completing certain assignments, rather than collecting each assignment. In addition, I am adding a parent feedback page at the end of the notebook. Students will be required to show their parents their notebook, discuss what they learned during the unit, and then the parents will be required to write a feedback sentence and sign the paper. I will also have a reference section at the beginning of the notebook, which I did not do last year.
If you decide to take the plunge and use an INB in your classroom, it is important that you understand to make it your own! I can give some suggestions that worked for me, but it might not work for you. You must design it in such a way that helps support your instruction.
Jennifer Giannou-Moore is an educator, department chair, and instructional coach for the science department at Austin High School, Austin Independent School District, TX. Jennifer lhas taught a variety of science courses over the past 13 years including Anatomy & Physiology, AP Biology, and Integrated Physics and Chemistry.