In my class, our ISNs function almost like a kid-created textbook in that we will go back and reference pages in it ALL THE TIME! For that reason, on the first day of school, we number every, single page in our composition books (yes, ALWAYS use a composition book! Hard-backed, 200 pages… Spirals will make you lose your ever-loving mind by Thanksgiving… Trust me on this piece of advice… You’re welcome!)… prepare for some whining! The kids hate this part!! But, it really is essential.
We also keep a meticulous table of contents to make referencing easy as we move throughout the year (the table of contents is actually the first five page of the notebook… so the very first lesson doesn’t begin until page 6). Stay on top of this. If the kids can’t easily reference the information in the book, then all this hard work is for naught! One way to stay on top of this is to keep a notebook right along with your students so if they are absent, they can visit your “While You Were Out” board to get the notes they missed and then use your book to help them catch up.
Now, what you fill your notebook with depends on your curriculum. ISNs are not a curriculum in and of themselves… they are merely a supplement to what you are already teaching. For me, the content of my notebook is determined by my reading series, Holt Literature. The skills I teach and the order in which I teach them come from the scope and sequence my district uses when teaching from Holt.
I don’t necessarily have a solid format that I use when putting material into the book. Additionally, I rarely produce a notebook that looks exactly the same as the book from the year before. I am always looking for new and different approaches to the skills. I’ve been liking this, as well as my own stuff:
But my basic approach is as follows:
- I teach eight units in ELA. Each unit teaches a couple literary elements (although one unit teaches literary devices and one unit is nonfiction/argument writing).
- I have a page of notes for each skill that goes into the notebooks. I used to try to have the students copy these notes on their own from the board, but it was a disaster!! So, I created notes pages that have all the info they need to know and together we highlight or add details to them together.
- After we glue in the notes and read through/highlight them together, we read a short story together. I call this story our “touchstone” text because I will reference it again and again throughout the unit. Luckily, my lit series provides us with this text, but if your doesn’t, any meaty, short story will work. (My fav to use is “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury. The story can easily be found through Google, all the literary elements and devices are there and easy to identify, and it’s a good enough story that the kids won’t mind referencing it again and again.)
- For me, the next two parts are crucial: first, using the touchstone text, I create a completely correct interactive graphic organizer with my students. ALL of the information in this organizer is correct and I expect students to copy down exactly what I have down. Now… I will say that we talk about what belongs in the folding page together, but I completely guide them into coming up with all the exact answers that I want! This interactive organizer will serve as their MODEL when they need to complete the same activity with all the other stories that we read in the unit. I need everything to be right so the students have a great model to help them.
- Next comes the second most crucial part: the constructed response. In this day of standardized testing, constructed responses is where it’s at! Seriously, no test will ask students to identify the plot and then organize it into a cute, little folding graphic organizer with a roller coaster graphic! Rather, they will be asked to identify it, and then be given some intense question that asks them to “analyze,” or “evaluate,” or “explain” some aspect of it. So, with each interactive graphic organizer, there a constructed response question that goes along with it. The goal is to get the kids to complete the organizer, and then use all the information that they put into it when answering the question. Just like I have students put a perfect model of the organizer into their notebook, we also put a perfect answer to a constructed response question (I call them a mentor answer) using our touchstone text. Over the next several weeks, the kids will answer this same question for all the different stories we read, using the mentor answer to help them.
So, that is basically the gist of how I use ISNs. Nothing else goes in them… just notes (or anchor charts if there aren’t real notes for the lesson), interactive graphic organizers, and constructed response questions. By the end of the year, the kids have an awesome, organized, and most importantly, useful, reference book of everything we learned in ELA over the year.
Are you using ISNs? How are they working for you? Any useful tips?