Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Top Five Pieces of Advice for ISN Beginners

Beginning anything new for the first time can always get overwhelming.  It seems like there are a lot of people starting Interactive Student Notebooks for the first time this year and I imagine it must be especially intimidating seeing all the amazing ideas people are sharing.  As with anything new, things are more manageable when you focus your energy on one thing at a time.  These are some bits of advice I have for anyone that has not used ISNs before, in an effort to help you decide where to focus your energy at the beginning and where not to.  These are based on the way that I use my ISN and what I think is important.
  1. Be sure that you understand WHY you are using an ISN and be sure that you are doing it for the right reasons.  I have seen people use them because other people are doing it and that's not a good enough reason.  There is no one right reason though.  Spend some time reading through the theory behind ISNs.  They are not just a cool way to take notes, there is a significant amount of meaning in the way that things are set up.  You need to understand this in order to get the best use out of them.  One reason I use an ISN is because I wanted students to be able to use their notes as a reference guide.  Using an ISN has done that for me.  I have started to present notes in a more clear fashion that addresses multiple learning styles.  The other reason I use it is because using the left-right model has encouraged me to come up with activities and questions that require a higher level of thinking than I was using before.  This allows me to better understand what students are thinking and their level of comprehension.
  2. Take the time before school starts to come up with a routine for HOW this is going to work in your classroom.  This is where you should spend your summer prep time.  An ISN is a very tactile way of taking notes which means that there is a lot of hands on stuff going on.  You need a way to make this run smoothly.  Kids will need access to supplies, papers will need to be cut/folded very often, trash will be created and it is up to you to figure out how to make all this happen as easily and effortlessly as possible.  You don't want to spend 15 minutes of your class time teaching students how to fold and cut paper because that is time that could be spent on something better.  Will this happen every now and then? Absolutely...especially in the beginning, and that's ok.  But just make sure that eventually it doesn't anymore.  You want the focus of your class to be on your content, and the foldables just a way of delivering it.  To do this, you just need a solid system in place.  I would suggest that you try to put as much of the responsibility on the kids as possible to make things run easily.
  3. Don't get overwhelmed trying to plan out every single foldable and page that you're going to do before school starts.  This is where you're going to drive yourself crazy when you could put your time to better use.  I tried last summer to make my ISN ahead of time and tape everything in and what ended up happening was that as soon school started a blank one because things ended up changing.  If you want to make some things early, I would suggest keeping them in file folders (according to unit) until you're ready for them. That way, when you reach a certain unit you can pull out that file and look at the ideas you came up with.  The problem planning too far (and taping them in) is really just that things will usually change and you need to be flexible.  You'd never sit and try to write all your lesson plans for the year so don't try to write an entire table of contents or make an entire ISN.
  4. Don't drive yourself crazy if you don't always come up with phenomenal pages.  If you stick a worksheet on a left page then so be it.  If you run out of time and don't get to the left side on a particular day, oh well..try to come back to it another time.  If one of your foldables doesn't work out at all, just make a note to fix that for next year.  Your ISN isn't going to be perfect but just try to do your best and keep your "why" in mind.  As long as you accomplish the goal you had in mind then consider it a success.  I had a lot of pages that I loved and plan to do again, but I also have a handful that I plan to improve for this year.  As I use the ISN with a new course this year I expect the same to happen.
  5. Teach your kids how to use their ISN.  Most kids are used to taking notes, but I have found that most kids are not used to ever looking at those notes again.  You will need to teach your kids how to do this.  After we take notes on a topic, I try not answer questions on that topic.  Instead I will help the kid to look it up in their own ISN.  This teaches them the value of their ISN.  Eventually they will begin to look things up on their own and in my opinion, that is the true value of the ISN.  Kids need to be taught everything and this is no exception.  You can't assume that they know how to properly use it as a reference guide unless you teach them.

Note: History Alive made the ISN as well known as it is today.  This is the company (TCI) explaining them a little bit and here are some videos discussing them.

16 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I am starting ISNs for the first time this year and this post is very helpful. I love your blog! I just found it a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed reading through it. Thank you!

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    1. Thanks for reading :) good luck ISNing!

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    1. Yep. I want them to feel like their ISNs are theirs to use as a reference, not just something that we work on in math class.

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  3. Thanks for your insight! I am trying them out for the first time this year and can already tell my kids are more organized with it than the binders I used last year. Definitely going to keep your thoughts in mind! Thank you!!

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  4. Great advice for all of us to keep in mind when doing anything new! I think sometimes we try to be too perfect, and this can keep us from getting started or sticking with things! I have really enjoyed reading your blog and am looking forward to adding the "left side/right side" to my math notebooks this year! Thanks again!

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  5. Every year I want to begin an ISN but every year I talk myself out of it. My main concern is the time it takes for kids to actually add things to their notebook and how to keep everyone on the same page in regards to notes. Any advice for time management when doing the ISN?

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    1. I would like to say...I am giving the ISN a shot this year. I didn't start the year off with it but we got to a point where all my classes could stop and set up their notebooks. I'm hoping it will work!

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  6. Thank you so much for explaining all of this! I have been deciding whether or not I will be implementing these next school year and am just trying to do all of my homework before I crash and burn :/. I'm a little apprehensive only because right now my students have a hard time wanting to take notes, stay engaged, or taking responsibility for their work. Have you had any of these issues? I love the foldables and am so grateful to you for posting some of your ideas. I teach high school at an urban school and really care about the kids and am looking for any way to get them more interested in math. Any thoughts you may have would be so helpful! Do you have problems with your tables staying organized? Do you check their notebooks or just expect they do it? If you do grade it, what kind of grade are you giving? Participation? I apologize for all of my questions, I am just a bit overwhelmed but know this will be good for my kiddos.

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  7. Thank you so much for all of the amazing information on ISNs! I teach in Brasil and my kids are just about to come back from summer break...and we are starting ISNs!! I have always loved foldables and colorful notes and I really believe ISNs are going to benefit the kids SO much! I've been reading a lot of blogs and sites and yours is the most helpful and fun to read :) Thank you!
    -Lexi

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  8. Thank you so much for your guides to the ISNs - I am planning on trying something very similar with my classes starting in September. I teach slightly older students (pre-university) but I think they're really going to like this structured way of organizing themselves. This has made very excited for next year!

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  9. Thank you for your post on ISNs. I am doing this for the first time this year and I was trying to plan out everything before the end of the year. I started about a month ago and even now as I review what I have done so far I am changing and revising even before school starts.

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  10. I am a theatre teacher and after using binders and hating the mess and the space they take up I have made the decision to switch to interactive notebooks. I have referred to your site for a bunch of basic questions and I feel like I understand the basics, but now I'm getting into the nitty gritty details.

    I have one big question... what happens if a student loses their notebook? One of the main reasons I like the idea of the interactive notebook is that everything is in one spot in the same spot(page) for everyone. I literally watched a kid look for a paper for 20 minutes today in his horribly messy binder. What do you do for the kid who loses his notebook? Do you even let them take them home?

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  11. Thank you for all your ISN advice. I teach writing in small groups and 121 - I've been struggling with the best way to record students' learning and give them something useful to take away all year. This is the answer! You're my introduction to ISNs and I'll certainly be finding out more.

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