The Benefits of Using Digital and Traditional Interactive Notebooks
I taught upper elementary and middle school students for twenty years, and a common problem with this age group is difficulty with organizing their work. I would teach note-taking skills, and we would add them to binders right away – and still a lot of kids would not have notes at the end of the unit – or the notes the wrote were a hot mess, even with modeling.
This problem was even worse for middle school students, who needed their notes to prepare for midterms, final exams, and end of course exams.
When my daughter struggled to learn civics, I created an interactive notebook for her and her friend. After “Tutoring with Mrs. Mezni’ and creating an interactive notebook, both of them passed with flying colors.
I had similar results when I tested them with my fifth-grade students.
How Do Interactive Notebooks Help Students?
There were a few things about the interactive notebook that I think increased students’ success. (These are all anecdotal beliefs I derived from using them in the classroom.)
- Interactive notebooks provided structure as to what students needed to learn and what was interesting but not necessarily a key idea. A lot of students have difficulty reading a textbook, and the textbooks become denser as they get to high school. Having that scaffolding gave students the support and confidence that they were finding the correct information.
- Having a few minutes to cut, glue, or even just color helped the kids have more movement in their day. We didn’t cut and glue every day, because it wasn’t the most efficient use of class time. However, some kids need to have that little bit of movement – even if it is just coloring or highlighting.
- Not having loose papers in the desk, on the floor, jammed in the backpack helped students keep track of what they needed. If it was something they could needed for review, we glued it in the book. (Even formative assessments – which helped parents to see how students were doing.)
- Some students took a lot of pride in their notebook. It sounds strange, but some of the more disengaged kids were really proud of their big fat notebook. As the year goes on, they notebooks get really thick. I had kids measuring – and even weighing – them. (We usually ended up having two notebooks for a subject because of how much we put in them.)
- Students had to take notes. It wasn’t optional. There have been many studies that connect increased retention with writing notes by hand. (Some students retain more when they type, due to learning issues.) For more information, see this article on Medical Daily by Lizzette Borrelli.
- Visuals are integrated into the notebooks. I always included maps or diagrams that helped students process information. Even if we used mini-anchor charts, students glued them in their notebooks. Parents also appreciated having visuals in the notebooks, because they often helped parents to be able to support their student.
- Using both digital and traditional notes help to better reach all students. Let’s face it, learning isn’t one-size-fits-all. I have had students with fine motor skills problems or severe vision issues, and traditional cut-and-paste notes really did not work well for them without a lot of teacher intervention. Some IEPS required teacher provided notes, too, which is a lot of work for teachers to create multiple notebooks.
Also, as much as I love cut and paste interactive notebooks, you can’t use them every day, in every subject, for every lesson. Part of what makes them engaging is that they are a way to also change up the routine of read, take notes, practice, test, repeat. Students are taking notes, but they also get to activate visual and kinesthetic skills.
Utilizing both digital and traditional foldable organizers allowed me to select which style will best fit the needs of my lesson and students.
In the end, teachers have to find a note-taking method that fits both their style and their students needs. Interactive notebooks take some training at the beginning of the year – but so do other methods. In my classroom, I found the benefits outweighed the time needed to teach kids how to cut and glue in a reasonable amount of time. (Plus, honestly, I felt this was time well spent, as so many kids need to develop these fine motor skills. Teachers are no longer able to spend the time in primary grades doing the arts and crafts that helped students develop these skills. Not agreeing with it, but it is the reality of the classroom today.)
If you want to try interactive notebooks and have questions, please let me know. I am here to help!