Sunday, November 22, 2015

Good note keeping and notebook reflections

Keeping track of what we put in the interactive notebooks is tricky, as is tracking what goes on what page. I take the time at the beginning of every unit to plan it out, and I put the information on a re-usable notebook tracker (page protector + wet-erase marker). I found that having a visual for me to see the lay-out of the activities is very important. More important, however, is being able to tell the students what page to glue something on. But note: the visual aid is re-usable, so as we move through units I erase and re-use. So when a student misses a class and has to make it up, I need to know what goes on which page. For four classes. It's a lot to keep track of!

My first solution was to keep a notebook for each class. That seems reasonable, right? It turns out that it's not. I had to make extra copies of everything (wasting paper) and then take the time to a)write the class and page number on each piece of paper, and b) glue it in sometime when I had a chance (seriously poor use of time). Having my faster processing students do it for me didn't seem to help much. I still ended up with a bunch of papers and a stack of notebooks that weren't helping me or anyone else, and no time.
My solution this year is much more simple. And technological. I already use a notebook/ handwriting app all time and it's very easy to use. I simply set up an electronic notebook for each class. Now, while they are gluing in whatever it is, I take a photo of it from the app, or if it's easier, I just write/type what the activity is. So simple and since I have my iPad all the time during class, it's easy. Let's face it: I am much more likely to keep track of my device than I am of a half-sheet of paper.
Tracking notebook assignments has really helped me when it came to assessing them as well, because I could note things like "check 22 for accuracy" and "did not finish 32 don't dock points!" Maybe if I started this year being able to write myself sticky notes, this wouldn't be such a big deal, but not being able to write (or pass out papers, or carry things) has impacted so much of my teaching practice.
What isn't working as well
In our school, it's an expectation that assessments get sent home to be signed by parents and it's much easier for the kids if those are glued in as well. And it's very easy for me to see if parents actually did sign when I grade the notebooks. That is working out fine.
What isn't working out as well is when a student re-takes a test, and misses the gluing-it-in instructions (usually the day I hand it back in class), possibly because it's in my to-be-graded file. Is it their fault then that it isn't glued in? Can they reasonably be expected to remember to glue it in once I have graded it? How can I help them remember better?
My solution for this this trimester is to place it on their shoulders, but in keeping with my "almost anything can be made up if you do it in my time frame" policy, they have the opportunity to be reminded about what they missed via the notebook rubric and turn it in again to be re-graded with no penalty. The downside is that I have to take the time to re-grade, but I also truly believe that they need the opportunity to fail and try again. They are only 12. Interestingly (at least to me), my students that I taught last year generally have no problem keeping their notebooks organized and complete.
For next trimester, I am going to try to be more systematic about telling them what and when to glue assessments, perhaps have them write it in their index, and maybe making the electronic notebook visible.
One more thing that made life easier: I graded my 8th grade notebooks last week and my 7th grade this week, giving both grades enough time to do "work improvement" if need be before grades are due. Splitting it up did make it easier on me and I am still able to give them work time to improve their work.

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