The notebook my students have is one of the most important resources for them and for myself. They will use this notebook through out the entire year. It's more than just a place for them to take notes. They will practice their writing and keep track of their reading. Both of these will help them to grown as readers and writers and also help me to assess their ability in doing so. In an age where there is so much emphasis on using technology, I find that giving students a break from that can be helpful. It allows them to really focus on their own ideas and explore their thinking in ways where they do not have to worry so much about the right or wrong answer, although this may take a few months of practicing.
Before we spend time set up the notebook, I review the requirements of the notebook itself by passing out the Notebook Guidelines Handout to the class. I explain each part of the handout so students understand what the notebook is about and what they need to do. I find students understand the notebook more when we review each part before we start setting up the entire notebook.
The first section discuss what they need to maintain. This includes the reading inventory, someday list, and ideas for writing list. These three aspects help students to grow as readers and writers so it forces them to begin making a plan. The next section is the response section, or writing section, which they will need to write 2-4 full pages per week. Throughout the year I will assign specific topics for them to write about and other times they will choose what they would like to write about. I also hand out the Ideas for Notebook Writing for the times when students have troubling thinking of an idea. Many of the ideas are in the form of questions, which help them to begin writing throughout the year. Following that section, they will have a notes section in which they keep track of the notes taking in class throughout the entire.
The last part that we review is the reading log. They need to read for 30 minutes each night, 5 times per week and keep track of this by including the date, title of book (underlined), time spent reading, and pages read. If I want my students to become better readers, they need to read and this forces them to do that.
Before students start to use their notebook, and it is used quite often throughout the year, we need to set it up properly. I am strict how I want the notebook to be set up on purpose. I want my students to be organized and after doing this for a few years, I've learned this organization is key to helping them with their writing and keeping track of all the reading they will be doing throughout the year. There have been some years, depending on the class, where they have been able to set up the notebook completely on their own based on the guidelines discuss earlier. That does not always happen so I break down each step of the process. Sure it may seem like it takes a while but when students are able to set-up their notebooks in an organized manner, they are more likely to be organized during the rest of the year.
For the rest of the lesson, and some times this may take a few class periods, I guide students throughout each step and tell them what exactly to do for each section in their notebook.
The sections we review are:
This video shows the set-up of the notebook along with some student visuals: Notebook Setup
One aspect to keep in mind is the cover. I have student decorate the cover with print out, pictures, and anything they'd like. One student covered his in hockey tickets. If you do have students cover it, make sure they are thin. The contact paper will not hold if they are not.
The first writing students will do in their notebooks is their opportunity to tell me about themselves as readers and writers. Since my class very much emphasizes those two aspects, I want to know their thoughts and their experiences regarding reading and writing. Not only do I get to know them more, but I also begin to see some of their abilities as a writer.
Towards the end of class, I pass out the Writing Reading Survey and instruct the class of the directions. They will need to read through the survey and find the questions that stick out to them. There are many different questions about reading and writing. I want to give students freedom in what they can write about so I can really get to know the better. They are also more engaged in the writing process if they have some freedom. After they choose some of the questions, they are then to write a letter to me introducing themselves as a reader and writer. I love doing this because many of them surprise me in what they write.
Here are three student examples of the letter:
For students who struggle with how to start the letter or what to focus on, I can show them these examples so they can get ideas from them.
I usually begin this work in class since the covering of the notebook can take a few days for some students. Students answer the questions in their notebooks during class time since I want to make sure students are focusing on their work. The letter itself becomes homework and is handed in the following day.