October 1st, 2014
My Innovation Project this school year is my LA/SS Interactive Student Notebooks (ISN). I used them to a limited degree in the area of science years ago when they were all the rage and a “new and innovative” idea. When I left the classroom and became an administrator for six years, I watched and admired my talented teachers use them, also in science. I’ve been to PD and workshops about them – all years ago. Well this year, they are happening in my LA/SS classroom in a big way. Why, you ask? My answer is simple – Focus. Actually, the whole title is Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning. This is the book that my small group of colleagues was assigned to read over the summer.
After 25 years of teaching and learning, this book gave me simple ways to focus my attention and the attention of my students on what is most important. One of the author’s recommendations was to use journaling across the content areas. Mike Schmoker repeats throughout his book that the most important elements are “what we teach, how we teach it, and authentic literacy.” His premise is that we need to get back to the simplicity of direct teaching using excellent literature, implement consistent check for understanding, and have students apply and explain what they know in meaningful writing assignments daily. Schmoker summarizes his book in a Power Point PDF that is available on-line, https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=mike%20schmoker%20Focus%20powerpoint. I also shared a few highlights of this text with colleagues at UTES in the following Prezi, http://prezi.com/atqvwnn60d8n/copy-of-back-to-basics-with-authentic-literacy-in-content-areas/.
Three to four days each week, my large group language arts and social studies lessons include journal entries of vocabulary words, graphic organizers, reading, writing, or social studies writing. We enter the topic and page numbers in the Table of Contents and then go to the next even numbered page to record vocabulary, skills, and strategies. Students then are given an assignment to write or create a graphic organizer on the odd numbered page facing their journal entries. Even-numbered pages are input from me. Odd-numbered pages are output from students. I use these output pages for exit tickets, writing assignments, assessments, and reading analysis. I collect journals each week to review, assess, and respond to student responses. They love getting their journals back and reading my responses to their writing. They truly take pride in their work and use their journals as a reference when they need information. My language arts and social studies instruction is highly integrated so my LA/SS Journals (ISNs) are integrated as well. When I give a social studies test, I give open-journal tests. It is exciting to see my students mature and take on more responsibility for their own learning. Our Interactive Student Notebooks (we just call them Journals) are one way I’ve simplified and improved instruction so far this school year.