The shrill clang of the bell jolted me. My students still had scissors and glue in their hands. My lesson wasn’t finished, and my next class was about to walk through the door.
I knew there had to be a way to accomplish more during limited class time, keep my students engaged, and allow for more focused instruction on elementary language arts.
I wanted to work with small groups, but I also needed to introduce new reading concepts, help the student that’d been absent for a week, and deal with the fact that somehow Johnny glued his paper to Timmy’s head.
How Do You Handle Rabbits and Turtles?
When you need to introduce a new topic to your students, one hands-on strategy, in particular, gets kids buzzing with excitement, helps students better retain the new information, and gives them a handy reference tool: interactive notebooks.
But interactive notebooks have one major drawback. Pacing was a huge issue in my classroom, and interactive notebooks exacerbated that.
- Some students worked almost as fast as me— completing each section quickly.
- Other students needed a bit more time but could usually get it done.
- While a few kiddos seem to work at turtle speed and even managed to glue the entire thing (even the flaps) upside down on the wrong page.
I was constantly trying to help the stragglers while keeping the rest of the class focused on the lesson. I felt a bit like a circus clown juggling a dozen cats!
My Brilliant Idea that Created New Problems
What if I tried teaching interactive notebooks in small groups? I could pull kids based on their needs and give assistance easily.
But after going through four rotations of the same activity, I was pooped. It still took the whole class period and made a mess, plus we didn’t finish our other work.
Then a Silver Lining
What I really needed was someone to teach the interactive notebook activity while I taught small groups. But it was just me and 25 4th graders.
Then a lightbulb went off, and I realized I could actually do both!
I know what you’re thinking: Girl, you can’t do it all! You can’t clone yourself or make more minutes in a day.
But I cracked the space-time continuum and solved every teacher’s problem!
Ok, maybe not that exactly, but it felt just as awesome.
Lunch Breaks Aren’t for Eating
One day, I was at my wit’s end after finishing an interactive notebook lesson with my 3rd-graders. I knew I could scaffold it to use with my 4th-graders as well. But I had too much other material to cover with that class already.
So, instead of eating lunch that day, I plugged my document camera into my laptop and made a step-by-step video showing how to complete the interactive notebook activity while thoroughly teaching the new concept. I uploaded it to YouTube and posted it on our class website.
It wasn’t beautiful. It wasn’t perfect. But it worked.
How Ten Minutes Gave Me an Extra Hour
Five seconds after posting the video, my 4th-graders barged into the room, unpacked their supplies, and unknowingly joined an experimental test group.
In ten minutes, I explained how our class would work that day:
- The video was set up as a virtual station that one group would work on.
- Another group would complete a practice activity over a previously taught skill.
- The final group would work with me in a small-group lesson.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Usually, the interactive notebook lessons took nearly our whole class time because I’d repeat myself a zillion times, dash around the room to keep kids on task, and pray that Freddy didn’t pour out an entire bottle of glue on his desk.
But it was phenomenal. I couldn’t believe how smoothly it went! My students quietly sat with their iPads and completed the activity. They paused while they cut, glued, and wrote notes. If they missed some of the instructions, they simply backed up the video.
It was the stuff teachers’ dreams are made of.
The Icing on the Cake
My small-group time was more meaningful that day. I focused on helping the kids with specific struggles and providing individualized instruction without worrying about the rest of the class.
This was in stark contrast to previous days of wrangling everyone into completing the interactive notebook lesson as a whole group.
The Future Was Bright
My students flourished in the small groups, but the real surprise was how much the other students benefited. I always thought teaching live was the best way to keep them engaged.
However, I found the opposite was true. During whole group lessons, the kids were easily distracted and frustrated waiting on others. They weren’t always paying attention and often didn’t remember the material the following day.
But when I switched to using videos, my kids were totally engrossed, as if I were sitting right there, teaching it to them. It was amazing! After several weeks of using these videos, I surveyed my kids and found that they absolutely loved this new way of learning. That’s when I knew I had stumbled onto something profound.
Bonus: More Time Savers
As I continued to use these types of videos, I realized some additional benefits:
- Absent students could easily watch the video to catch up without me walking them through the activity.
- Students that didn’t finish during class could simply pick up the next day right where they left off. When class ended, they just put their cut-outs in the folder in front of their interactive notebook so they wouldn’t lose the pieces.
- When I was absent, my students could complete these lessons without missing a beat. I never had to leave “busy work” for a substitute, and my students never missed out on real instruction.
If you want to try your hand at creating your own videos, check out a sample of my videos on YouTube. To save you time, I also made my video lessons and activities available here. When you click that link, you’ll get exactly what you need to start using videos for interactive notebooks with your students.
And the next time the bell rings, instead of feeling frantic that you didn’t finish the day’s lesson, you’ll smile to yourself. Because not only will you have completed everything on your lesson plan—but you’ll have engaged your students more deeply too.