H.I.T. Notebooks: A Different take on Interactive Notebooks

jill weberJill Weber, 2016 Gilder Lehrman Kansas History Teacher of the Year, has joined the Doing Social Studies writing team and will be posting throughout the year. The following is a cross-post from her excellent site A View of the Web.


I used Interactive Notebooks in my social studies class for eight years.  The majority of the students loved them.  But I had a serious love/hate relationship with them.  And after taking a long look at the pros and cons of the books and my current curriculum, I decided not to continue with the interactive notebooks last year.

While I found it a relief not having to keep up with the grading of 60+ notebooks, there was something missing from my class.  I had a number of kids ask me why we weren’t doing them anymore, and others who were disappointed that the “hands on” cutting, pasting, and creativity was replaced with more writing assignments.  I felt guilty that my answer was “because I just couldn’t keep up with all the grading.”

That got me thinking on ways that I could bring the interactive notebooks idea back without having all the copious grading that went with it.  I talked with our language arts teacher, who uses her interactive notebooks as a tool to help organize materials and doesn’t grade it at all.  I liked that idea.

But I wanted more.  I wanted a way to hold kids accountable.  I wanted them to take pride in the organization and appearance of the book.  And, most of all, I wanted it to be used as something more than a storage device.  I want it to be something they will reference throughout the year.

The Idea:
Then an idea started to take form.  An idea to use the notebook more like a detective’s note book when trying to solve a crime.

So this year, we have: the  Historian In Training Notebook or HIT books. (HIT is a cool name for a middle school activity, right? )

The HIT notebook will be designed as sort of a history detective notebook that we’ll use to identify historical thinking techniques, analyze primary sources, keep information over specific historical questions, and refer back to skills learned throughout the year.

A few examples of possible pages  . . . 

8th Grade book.  Review from last year on how to think like a historian.
8th Grade book.  Choosing between two sources as to which is more accurate.
7th Grade Book. An introduction into primary and secondary sources.
7th Grade book.  Application of primary or secondary sources.

The Grading
This was the difficult part but I will admit, it is the part I’m most looking forward to seeing how it turns out.  The grading will be all self-assessed by the student themselves.

The reason for this is really two-fold.

  • It adds in some of the evaluation piece for the students.  They MUST be familiar with the rubric and hopefully start to recognize what “quality” work looks like.
  • To make the grading process for me more simple.  The kids are still held responsible for the work, but I don’t have to collect and score 130 notebooks!

I created a standard rubric that can be used for each section of the HIT book. (And each grade . . ) This gets pasted at the start of each separate section of the book.

A very basic rubric that can be used for all grade levels and content units.

When it comes time for their self-evaluations students may reference my book as an example of what “3” scores should include.

Ready for the best part?  Students then briefly meet with me to discuss their self-assessment and explain their reasoning.  We’ll discuss what they did well in the book and what they could improve on in the next section.  At the very end, to earn the last point, students must tie something in their book to our school’s core values – P.R.I.D.E. (PRIDE stands for Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Dependability, and Empathy).

I believe this will be a way to give me the things I loved about using interactive notebooks as well as combat some of the issues I had with grading.  I am excited to see how the student-self-assessments will look and the skills that my kids will gain throughout the year.

About glennw

I work as a social studies specialist at ESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas. Before coming to ESSDACK, I taught middle school US History and higher ed social science classes.

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