14 June 2016

Try It! Interactive Notebooks for World Languages

Interactive Notebooks were a disaster my first year. It was mostly because I jumped in feet first and just made it up as I went.

And that's okay.

As Thomas Sauer is fond of saying, no one ever died of bad language instruction.

But with more anticipation, planning, and having a reason for each choice that goes into each entry, my approach has come a long way in three semesters. Do I still make some stuff up as I go? Oh yeah. But I don't randomly decide "Hey, maybe this should go in the notebook!" anymore...hardly.

But after three semesters honing and refining what goes into my students' interactive notebooks, this is what I can tell you.

What is an interactive notebook anyway?

I don't use textbooks anymore. It's more work for me trying to figure out how to make them work,
and the kids can't take them with them when the class is over anyway. If they're going to have a reference, I want it to be A) something they can actually use and B) something they can keep using when they're out of my class.

So for me, an interactive notebook is a personalized reference source. It's something students can use to refresh and that I can use to scaffold increasing proficiency. Can't remember how to use that verb? Check page 11. How do you say "run" again? Check page 4.

Is it a place for practice with the language? Yes. That's another way that maintaining an interactive notebook is superior to a textbook--the students build their reference, so they are actively processing the information instead of passively "absorbing." However, if it's not something that will make a handy resource in completing other activities later--in my class or beyond--it generally doesn't go in. (That's what Classroom and Seesaw are for, right?)

What DO you put in them?

It's important to decide what's important for your class and what types of pages you will include--before you start the notebook. You don't necessarily have to divide the notebook into separate sections for each category; in fact, I prefer a chronological order so students can use their connections to when we learned something to find what they're looking for. Side note: I did try a divided "Índice" this semester, but it was a bit of a mess, so I'll probably just try color coding the chronological list and pages.

The point of having categories of what types of pages you'll have is actually to help YOU decide what students truly need for YOUR class. Me, I've got it narrowed down to seven categories (or eight, if I split the coro starter lyrics off from other texts), but categories like Calendars are mostly because of my PBL setup and including the "Escribe en Cinco" quick writes is a personal decision so students will have a physical record of where they started and how much they've grown.

A few categories I would recommend for anyone, though, would be Vocabulary and Texts

I absolutely FORBID translation (not English) in the notebooks, so having vocabulary with visual references and meaningful groupings of words allow students to refresh connections in their brains, as opposed to look-it-up-and-forget-it.

As for texts, they can be song lyrics, TPRS stories, topical authentic resources, or even QR codes and cloze readings to go with videos. The important thing is having a reference with the language in context. All the vocabulary lists in the world are useless if you don't know how to put those words together, and to understand that, you need examples, input.

How do you plan what goes in?

There are so many cute things you can do with interactive notebooks--especially on Pinterest. It's fun to collect those cute ideas, I admit, but in the end, the power of interactive notebooks is not in the bells and whistles, but in the function of each page. Believe it or not, I'm not one for gimmicks, because the gimmicks are not what make the learning happen. You must always start with your purpose, the absolute essentials of what you want students to be able to find later (remember, Less is More).

I like to plan my pages as I do my weekly lesson plans. I figure out what I'm doing day by day, and then I figure out what I want them retain and come back to. I usually only have about 3 or 4 pages a week, because whatever goes into the notebook has to be worth returning to. It has to fit into one of my categories, and it has to help students process the information in a meaningful way.

Here are some questions you could ask yourself as you're contemplating a page:
  • If students only remember 5 things on the page, what should they be?
  • How can you draw attention to those 5 things visually?
  • How can students manipulate that information in a meaningful way?
  • What information should be provided for context or to save time? 

For drawing attention, I mostly rely on clip art, but you could also use large fonts, bright colored paper, or organization elements like boxes. In fact, deciding what to provide ahead of time plays a part in highlighting the essential parts--what they manipulate is what gets the most brain space (followed closely by visuals).  These are some of the most effective ways I've found to have students manipulate information:
  • Simply fill in the blanks--leave the most important words out of a sentence or set of words and have them copy it in their own handwriting.
  • Color coding--with just one or two highlighter colors, students can create their own categories or emphasize what they know and what they need to look up in a text.
  • Scramble for sorting--have students arrange words or phrases or even sentences into categories to help them form semantic connections.
  • Vocabulary flaps--if students have to cue their recall with a visual and THEN they get to check the word, they have a better resource than a glossary style list. These work for questions and answers too: context instead of translation!
  • Accordion folds--these allow more information to fit on the page, but they also allow for increasing complexity, say, moving from a visual to a word to a phrase to a sentence.
  • Sliders--I like these for things like verb endings so students can see how the roots interact with suffixes, but they're also good for randomizing questions with different vocabulary.

So if you want to try interactive notebooks, remember...

  1. Start with the essentials--what are the most basic things you want student to remember?
  2. Plan categories for the kind of information you want--for your own organization.
  3. Use Pinterest to inspire you, but use only what your students will need.
  4. Incorporate context and memory cues that do not involve translation.
  5. Make information easy to find and easy to use.
  6. Focus students' attention to what's most important with visuals.
  7. Provide ways for students to verify the accuracy of their work.
  8. Design ways for students to interact with and use new information
  9. Build in opportunities to refer back to and apply learning from each page.
  10. Jump in and try! No one ever died from bad language instruction!

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