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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.