Keeping Up with Interactive Student Notebooks

I’m always looking to be more efficient so I can be the most effective with my students, especially since I teach in a huge public high school where 165 students sit before me each day.  Streamlining things like taking attendance more quickly, getting students into cooperative groups faster, making activity transitions more smooth are just a few things I have figured out that has made my job easier.  However, there is one aspect of teaching that never seems to get easier and never goes away – grading student work.   To be more specific, grading Interactive Student Notebooks (ISNs). I teach three classes of History Alive! Pursuing American Ideals and two classes of Government Alive!  With 33 students in each class period, that’s a lot of ISNs to grade! Just like doing laundry at home, the job never seems to be finished and you have more work piling up even as you work.

Since I teach high school and the students create their own ISNs, I have my students use binders. Using binders versus notebooks makes it easier for students to sequence the notes and add handouts at any time without having to tape or paste things.  A downside is that notebook is bulky and takes up some extra real estate in their lockers and forces me to use a hand truck to take them home to grade on the weekends.  After getting them home through the use of large plastic bins and hard manual labor then procrastinating most of the weekend, I have the daunting task of actually going through the massive pile of bound papers to read and grade.  

To reduce the actual paper load I do two things: 1) I try not to go too long between binder checks and have come up with a regular cycle.  For my History Alive! Pursuing American Ideals classes, I collect them after every unit, which are usually about three chapters.  This allows me to collect them every other Friday.  For my Government Alive! classes, since those chapters are longer, I collect them after every chapter, which allows me to collect the binders on the Fridays I don’t collect Pursuing American Ideals.   2) I don’t grade every assignment.  I select a few assignments at random from each chapter to grade and I don’t select them until I start grading.  This method forces students to complete everything because they never know which ones will count.  To help facilitate the grading process, sometimes I enlist the help of my 8 year-old son who will go through the binders and open them up to the section I am grading.   Since the assignments are usually graded separately, I need to enter the grades in my computer as I grade each one, which does slow things down a bit.  Although I have gotten quicker over the years, it still takes about 4 to 6 hours to grade 66 to 99 binders.

I am curious to know what other teachers do to alleviate the workload of ISNs?  I would love to steal any idea you have that will change my weekends from being the black hole of grading and perhaps allow me to finish my laundry.


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