Why Use Interactive Student Notebooks?



By completing the preceding units/lessons, you have learned the most crucial principles and strategies for using Interactive Student Notebooks in your classroom. However, you may be asking yourself "What is this strategy's real instructional promise?" As teachers, we constantly need to justify our practice by utilizing research-based strategies that increase student achievement and help learners build deep understandings of the content we teach. Although research specifically focused on ISNs is sparse, general teaching and learning research suggests that ISNs could be important tools in creating powerful learning. Thus, this unit will provide you with the rational to answer the question "why use ISNs?"

Throughout this lesson, it will do you well to recall and reflect upon the following information, as learned in the previous unit/lessons:

  • The use of input and output activities in the ISN
  • Effective means of assessing ISNs


At the end of this unit, you will be able to:

  • Identify and explain why ISNs are powerful learning tools
  • Generate a presentation intended to persuade parents/teachers/administrators to adopt the ISN strategy


The benefits that ISNs offer student learning and the classroom environment can be broken down into several different categories: general benefits of ISNs in the classroom, ISN as a form of brain-based teaching, and ISN as a means of reaching Multiple Intelligences. The lecture is accordingly broken down into these components for easy access and understanding.

General Benefits

Consider your day to day activities and "housekeeping" actions in your classroom. Now think back to what you have learned thus far about ISNs. How might they facilitate the following items?:

  • Organization
  • Student Ownership of work
  • Assessment
  • General "Housekeeping"

Social Studies Interactive Notebooks: Helping to Meet the Needs of Middle School Students Return to this article, also referenced in Unit 2, and read pages 134-137 to get a greater understanding of the general benefits ISN provide for teachers and students.

ISN as a Form of Brain-Based Teaching

Over the past thirty years, scientists and scholars in the field have education have studied the brain's optimal conditions for learning and building deep understandings that have the capacity to be stored in long-term memory. These researchers have found that several general principles are effective for encouraging meaningful learning that is "brain-friendly" or accommodating to the brain's natural functions. Consider the following three:

  • Active Processing The theory of active processing states that in order to learn and retain information in meaningful ways, learners must be actively involved in what they are learning. In essence the active processing theory rests on a principle of "use it or lose it" (Kaufeldt, 2010). To learn more about this principle, visit Begin with the Brain and read pgs 14-17. As you read, ask yourself the following questions: How do ISNs encourage active processing? What are the benefits of active processing?
  • Left-Brain vs. Right Brain Orientation Scientists have found that the left and right side of the brain have very different purposes in our everyday lives, especially considering the means in which we learn and retain new information. They posit that learners may be left-side or right side dominant, which means that teachers who only teach "to one side" can only reach students who are dominant in that side. To read more about left and right brains and their role in learning, visit Right vs. Left and Teaching the Whole Brain. As you read, ask yourself: How do ISNs encourage whole-brain teaching? What are the benefits to whole-brain teaching?
  • Meaningful Engagement Educational researchers hypothesize that students learn more when they are interested in the activities they participate in during classroom time. When engagement is fostered, retention of information is also encouraged and more likely to occur. To read more about this, visit Meaningful, Engaged Learning. As you read, ask yourself: How do ISNs encourage these types of activities?

ISN as a Means of Reaching Multiple Intelligences

When Howard Gardner introduced the idea of Multiple Intelligences in 1983, it revolutionized the way people thought about learning as well as students' strengths and weaknesses in the classroom. According to Armstrong (2000), "MI theory makes its greatest contribution to education by suggesting that teachers need to expand their repertoire of techniques, tools, and strategies beyond the typical linguistic and logical ones predominantly used in U.S. classrooms" (p.38). In essence, to encourage equity and learning for all students, we must appeal to their multiple intelligences. To learn more about Multiple Intelligences as they relate to fostering meaningful learning, visit Multiple Intelligences and read the explanation, demonstration, and exploration pages. You may also consider visiting Teaching to Multiple Intelligences on this wiki. As you read and explore, ask yourself: How will ISNs help me teach to Multiple Intelligences? Why is this important?


Visit Understanding and Integrating ISNs Discussion Space and in a 200-word discussion post, reflect on and answer the following questions. Read each of your classmates' posts and comment on at least two. Continue the discussion until the close of the lesson. Remember the goal of these discussions is to foster deeper understandings and personal meaning with the content. Your active participation is important in order to reach these goals.

1.Pen-explain.jpg Explain why ISNs are an effective method for encouraging meaningful learning, drawing off of at least three of the examples and your reflections above.

2.Reflecting.jpg Reflect. If you used ISNs in your classroom, what would be the most promising benefit for you and your students (more than one is acceptable as well)? Why?


Now that you have learned about the clear benefits ISNs offer both teachers and students in day-to-day activities and in the development of deep understandings, your task is to get the word out about ISNs. To fulfill this purpose, you are to create an article or PowerPoint presentation explaining why ISNs should be adopted in secondary classrooms. Your target audience for this article or presentation are people who are deeply vested in student success and learning: parents, administrators, and other teachers like yourself. For this to be effective, you should consider including the following components:

  • A brief explication of the main elements of ISNs
  • References and explanations of pertinent learning research
  • How you believe ISNs help fulfill best practices according to learning research
  • General benefits of ISNs in the classroom for teachers and students alike

When you have completed this task, post it on the discussion board for this unit, as found on the tab at the top of the page. You will all find it beneficial to view and learn from each others' work.


Continue to Unit 4: Personal Implementation: ISNs in Your Classroom

Return to Unit 2, Lesson 3: Assessing the ISN

Return to course homepage Understanding and Integrating Interactive Student Notebooks in the Secondary Classroom

Return to Laura Bartlett's Portfolio