Understanding and Integrating Interactive Student Notebooks in the Secondary Classroom

"Many student notebooks are drab repositories of information filled with uninspired, unconnected, and poorly understood ideas." - The Teacher's Curriculum Institute



Before we begin, consider a classroom scenario. You are observing a classroom where everything seems to be going as usual. A teacher is in front of the class discussing topics relevant to the discipline. Perhaps students are learning about organisms in biology, quadratic equations in math, metaphors in English, or the Cold War in social studies. In this class, students listen to the teacher, take notes, and study these notes for upcoming quizzes. Perhaps students will even engage in cooperative learning to gain more information about an assigned topic. Students in this classroom appear to be learning what the teacher intends them to learn. But then, you question yourself: Are these students really engaged in the activities they complete in the classroom? What happens to the students who have trouble processing information in linguistic format? Are students building deep understandings of the topics discussed in class, or are they merely gaining the knowledge needed to pass the tests? Are students taking pride in their work, or merely completing it because it is assigned? We all hope for positive answers to these questions, but hoping will never replace acting to make it happen. This is where the Interactive Student Notebook comes in. When understood and used properly, these tools have the ability to encourage the building of deep understandings and to produce active, engaged learners.

Welcome to my online professional development course, Understanding and Integrating Interactive Student Notebooks in the Secondary Classroom! This course seeks to help secondary content area teachers understand what Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs) are, how they might be used in their classrooms, and what benefits they can offer student learning across the curriculum. Important topics to be addressed include: the theory behind ISNs, the main components of ISNs, how ISNs are used in daily classroom activities, how ISNs are assessed, how brain research connects back to the use of ISNs, how ISNs reach multiple intelligences, and how ISNs promote deeper, richer student understandings. By the end of this course, you should be familiar enough with ISNs to be able to create and implement them in your own classrooms.

This course will be of specific interest to those teachers who:

1. Are interested in and open to learning about learner-centered instructional strategies

2. Have an interest in experimenting with new instructional strategies in their classrooms

3. Wish to discover new ways to teach for deep understanding

4. Have an interest in Multiple Intelligences

5. Wish to change their classrooms from this Boring notes.jpg to this Active notes.jpg

To get started with the course, read the remainder of this page to understand the types of activities that will be required of you in the coming days. When you have gained an understanding of the organization and main goals of the course as a whole, proceed to the first unit by following the link at the bottom.

My Experience With ISNs

During student teaching in my senior year of college, I taught five sections of 10th grade Global History and Geography using ISNs. While students do not always understand complicated global connections and sometimes view global history as "boring" and irrelevant, I found that students who used ISNs with me in daily classroom activities were significantly more engaged in learning and understood difficult concepts more so than students I had encountered before who had never used them. Students enjoyed applying their knowledge from class lectures and discussions in their notebooks and increasingly showed pride in the work they created. Activities such as drawing pictures, writing poems, inventing song lyrics, and keeping journals kept students interested in the topics we covered. ISNs also helped students organize their work in a coherent fashion and decrease the amount of work lost. I also found that these activities encouraged me as a teacher to be more creative and involved in the instruction I created. ISNs helped me become enthusiastic about student work and even look forward to assessing it.


The course is divided into four units with one or more lessons in each unit. Each of these units is designed with the intent to help you see relevant applications in your own classrooms, as well as justify the use of ISNs in daily practice. Activities throughout the course will include independent reading of articles and viewing of videos, group asynchronous discussions, and independent application activities and written work. Each unit or lesson may require you to complete a combination of these activities.

Several thinking prompts will be used throughout the units to encourage deeper understanding and more personalized learning. Each thinking prompt will be signified by a unique symbol, as described below.

Lightbulb-idea.jpg PREDICT When you see this symbol, you will be asked to predict something about what you will learn by reading a lecture, watching a video, or engaging in a discussion. Use your previous teaching experience and knowledge of education as a guide for these activities.

Pen-explain.jpg EXPLAIN When you see this symbol, you will be asked to explain a certain concept or your stance on a topic presented in the units. Use these prompts to verbalize your learning.

Reflecting.jpg REFLECT When you see this symbol, you will be asked to reflect on what you have read or learned from lectures, videos, or discussions. Use these prompts to evaluate your predictions and tie ideas back to your teaching practice.

Mini-Course Units

Unit 1: What are Interactive Student Notebooks?

Unit 2: How are Interactive Student Notebooks Used in the Classroom?

Unit 3: Why Use Interactive Student Notebooks?

Unit 4: Personal Implementation: ISNs in Your Classroom


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