This is a companion piece to: The $1 Textbook and More on The $1 Textbook

See Also: Sarah Hagan's Make Note Taking Fun and Interactive

Prior pieces dive into the theory of what makes notebooks such a successful tool in my classroom. In this year's (shorter) iteration, I'll go through a few questions that I get asked frequently whenever I present on the subject.

How are they structured?

I impose a few items that are not negotiable. SBG tracking charts in the front, old tests in a special pocket in the back, and formal classwork permanently attached with the associated work somewhere nearby. I use duct tape along the spine to distinguish class periods. In the INB world I'm known as the "no frills" guy. I don't do foldables. I don't do structured notes. I don't do a table of contents. I set a few ground rules but leave a bulk of the organization to the student. You are free to dictate different terms here.

How do you grade them?

I check SBG sheets every three weeks. I will check classwork at random. I try to take 4-5 classwork checks in a six weeks. I do this all in class, usually making a stop at each table and asking for the books one at a time. I plan around the notebook checks, so usually the students have something to do while I'm walking around. Sometimes I'll hand out an assignment with a "I'm checking in 20 minutes" qualification. SBG sheets are worth 10% and classwork is worth 20%. I often call these "health inspections" where the notebook has to pass the shake test, meaning there are no loose papers and everything stays inside.

Here's an acceptable example of classwork:

The handout is attached with tape and the associated work is right next to it. There is not always a formal handout. Sometimes I scribble problems on the board and have them copy. Work is graded on a completion basis: 100/80/70/50/0. Students who get poor marks on classwork are free to show me a better version later on. It's on them though, I write down the 50 and keep it that way unless they prompt me.

Do you take them home?

Some people may want more time to examine a notebook. It's not always possible in a few seconds to see if a student completed all 12 problems or just 8. Maybe the student is trying to trick you by pointing to work that looks similar to what you're checking but is not really what you want. If you're dealing with younger students or if you're trying to establish protocol early, you may want to do more extensive checks. I don't recommend doing it often (or at all) because the mountain of notebooks will be REALLY intimidating. I've tried this routine a few times and hated it. Don't even think about lugging 100+ notebooks home. Just don't. If your assessments are doing the job, they are what will really help you determine who isn't getting it.

Do the students take them home?

If they want to. My classes are structured to let students work a majority of the time, so I have not found homework necessary. Some students like having their stuff with them, and most could care less. To ensure maximum participation, I keep the notebooks in tubs.

I go with 30 qt. tubs and the aforementioned duct tape system. This size tub handles a class of 30 without a problem. The duct tape kept us at a 0% loss rate.

What if a student doesn't have it one day?

This will happen sometimes. Because of the tubs it is super rare. Since I set the expectation that notebooks are a mandatory part of the class day, a student without one will borrow paper and make a mental note to put it in the proper place later. I'm not sure how well they remember, but this situation is so infrequent it doesn't matter.

What needs to change to support these?

You have two logistics problems. First, EVERYTHING you intend to handout should be considered for notebook size. Full sheets of paper are not ideal. Students will usually fold them in half dutifully, but this should be an exception. You can make anything notebook size if you think hard enough. Second, you'll need lots of adhesive contraptions. Glue sticks are ideal. Clear tape second (the dispensers tend to lose vital pieces). Staplers dead last (kids are SO GOOD at breaking staplers). Poke around Bulk Office Supply to stock up on scissors and glue. A 100 pack of 0.75 oz glue sticks lasts a LONG time.

What about absences?

If a student is absent for a notebook check I will go to the tub and grab the absent notebook if it's in the tub. Sometimes it's sitting at the empty seat because a kind table mate got it before realizing the student was absent. If a student misses a bit of formal classwork often they'll get it the next day because they'll notice everyone has flipped to a paper they don't have. I really don't micromanage missing work though. I don't have time and every time I've tried it doesn't go well.

They can't all be this good, where are the bad ones?

At the end of the year I solicit notebooks from students to take on my road show. Naturally I do tend to show off the really exceptional ones, but in general all my students do a really good job with these. A few are kind of messy. At the absolute maximum I might have 2 or 3 kids (out of 130) who just don't get with the program. Their inability to manage this valuable resource is usually reflected by their assessment scores. You as the instructor just have to send the message that notebooks are important to you, and that the students don't have a choice. Frequent notebook checks help establish this really early. It'll help you make the practice routine as well. If you're new to this game and worried about failing, force yourself to do a weekly check. Write it into your lesson plans, or write it up on the board, whatever it takes. Notebook culture is possible in any classroom.

AuthorJonathan Claydon