Getting started with notebooks in science

August 30, 2014 at 10:31 AM Leave a comment

IMG_0483And a quiet revolution begins in my classroom. Gone are the blizzards of fill-in activity sheets, replaced at least partly by old-fashioned composition books that kids pick up on their way in to class.

These notebooks are for kids to write their thinking in at the start of class or start of a unit – what do you think ‘science’ is? What is ‘truth’? etc. It re-activates their prior understanding, gives them a private rehearsal space for what they might say in a discussion or activity, and that has already upped the level of discussion and participation.

At the end of a section of instruction, they can write and/or sketch their understanding, also privately and without judgement, because these books will be looked at but NOT graded.

“Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” (Bill Wheeler) A genuinely cool idea that I could see students turning over in their minds, like a wet pebble picked up at the beach. They write so furiously in their books that I have to make them stop. This is genuinely weird for 7th graders, and yet I totally get it. It’s the not-graded, open-endedness of it that I think appeals to them. The privacy and quiet in the social hurly burly of a middle school day. IMG_2475

Yes, they will have graded assignments and assessments, but this time they will have rehearsed their ideas ahead of time. They get their first one on Tuesday and I think they are actually looking forward to the feedback, especially as the redo policy lets them try it and try again if they need to.

And yes, I will look at their writing about weekly, giving smiley faces for good thinking, a check for ‘yup’, and ‘see me’ so I can chat with individual students about extra cool stuff, interesting ideas and misunderstandings. The kid who writes almost nothing? A flag for me to talk with them, talk with parents and support staff. We’ll see. Don’t want to get into ‘participation grading’ but may need to.

Other than increased depth of thinking and engagement, benefits include meeting Common Core standards in writing, modeling what real scientists actually do, the real possibility of innovative thought, and a great reduction in the amount of photocopying. Although what will I do for the no-brainer, sing-song to the rhythm of the Xerox machine?

For more information, see the FOSS booklet on Notebooks. This, and staff developer Jessica Penchos were the inspiration for this change, 31 years into my career.

Entry filed under: Assessment and grading, Class Management, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Curiosity, Education Psychology, Inquiry and critical thinking, Professional Development, Reflections, Starting the School Year. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Improv All Kinds of Classrooms Back to the past in future…

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