Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Using Academic Notebooks to Support Achievement and Promote Positive Classroom Environments

Academic journal article Middle School Journal

Using Academic Notebooks to Support Achievement and Promote Positive Classroom Environments

Article excerpt

Authors examine how the use of academic notebooks impacts collaborative learning experiences of young adolescents.

Picture the following: Actively engaged seventh graders, accessing resources that they created, using notebooks to prepare for their upcoming interviews with local community members who played a role in the Civil Rights Movement. Students work in small groups, leafing through their oft-used academic notebooks to find detailed information about people and events that relate to the people they will soon interview. Students take excellent care of their notebooks; they keep them organized and leave them in a designated location so that the notebooks are easily found when needed. No two notebooks look alike, though each has the same components; students' own styles shape their notebooks, though the teacher takes care to assure the quality of work contained within. If you ask one of these students about the value of their notebook, they speak emphatically about the wealth of information they contain, visibly showing pride in their creations. These notebooks connect students to the material, to the classroom, and to each other.

Middle grades teachers, faced with increasingly heterogeneous classrooms, need specific tools and resources that support learning for all students. As depicted in the opening vignette, in this article we examine how a specific type of notebook-an academic notebook-can help promote in-depth academic learning. We describe how academic notebooks were used with a diverse seventh grade social studies class engaged in a multi-month investigation of the Civil Rights Movement.

Notebooks are commonly used in middle school classrooms as a place for students to record information delivered via lecture, classroom discussion, or independent work. A primary reason teachers ask students to use notebooks is to capture and organize information. In many cases, students are expected to use these tools with little direction, follow-through, or support; they are solely responsible for deciding what to put in their notebook, managing and caring for it, and knowing when and how to use its contents (Klentschy, 2010). For students unsure of how to do this independently, conventional notebooks can actually create a barrier to learning. One question we tried to answer through our implementation of academic notebooks was How can middle school students be best supported in the efficient and organized use of notebooks in the specific context of an extended collaborative project, and as a crucial resource for learning, in general? We found that employing explicit, teacher-driven strategies and structures to help students organize and make sense of their learning was the answer.

What Are Academic Notebooks?

Although various words could be used to describe the type of notebooks we discuss in this article, we employ Marzano's (2004) term academic notebooks. In our case, which mirrors Marzano's use of academic notebooks as a tool for building background knowledge, student notebooks had the following characteristics. They were (1) teacher directed, though student created; (2) a consistent place for students to put ideas and information they gathered, creating a "warehouse" of easily retrieved learning; and (3) a tool for both teacher and student to track learning. Students' notebooks started out as blank composition-style notebooks-bound, with lined pages and no removable pages. Slowly, over the course of the project, notebooks became filled with handwritten notes; academic vocabulary; graphic organizers; glued-in, teacher-created rubrics; and formative and summative assessments related to specific learning targets and the overall goals of the unit. Students rarely took their notebooks out of the classroom. Each page was labeled so that information was easily retrievable.

Teacher-guided notebooks of many varieties have been shown to support different content areas at the middle level (e.g., Klentschy, 2010). …

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