Initial Publication Date: June 8, 2017
Self-Reflection »


Incorporating this into a class takes high effort but brings high rewards.

Many of the students entering our classroom are new to the higher educational academic environment and as such need scaffolds to know how to be successful in a class, particularly a science class. I find that using this notebook system helps to provide these scaffolds and allows my students to take more ownership over their learning. The notebooks also help students develop a catalog of what they've learned, compile strategies that have helped them to be successful, and provide a way for them to reflect back on everything they have learned throughout the course.

Students compile a classroom notebook that is used in every class, for every topic. All notes, reflections, and handouts are put into this notebook and should reflect the organization that is commonly associated with a lab science notebook. The instructions for setting up the notebook that I give the students on the 2nd day of class are provided here (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.7MB Aug25 15).

  1. Students start each new topic with an initial reflection (see description on previous page).
  2. Notes and activities are included in the notebook.
  3. Reflections in response to prompts about labs and activities are included (e.g., if Earth's rotation were to increase, how would that effect the number of rotation cells on Earth? Explain your thinking).
  4. Students include a final reflection about each topic (see previous page).
  5. Some special reflections are included in the notebook, such as a goal-setting letter to self on the first day of class e.g. "here's how I got an A", a mid-quarter reflection to revisit that letter, and a reflection after their first quiz e.g., exam wrappers.
  6. I collect notebooks four times a quarter, and use a check sheet that looks for completeness and primarily focuses on the reflections. Here is an example check sheet rubric (Microsoft Word 71kB Aug25 15).
  7. At the end of the quarter, I ask students to go back through their notebook and reflect on their learning experience through the quarter—what worked, what didn't work, and what do they need to work on for the future. Points are awarded for answering all the questions in an honest and meaningful manner. Assignment is attached (Microsoft Word 30kB Aug25 15).

Why is this effective:

  • The notebook system provides an organizational structure for students. This is particularly important for students who may lack the ability to know how to best organize their information and thoughts. Many students have commented that they were skeptical about the notebooks at first, but became big fans by the end of the course.
  • Collecting the notebooks provides accountability for the work students are doing in class and also allows me to gain meaningful feedback about what is working for each student, what they're learning, and what is challenging for them. In addition, I can provide feedback about how they can take more effective notes in a science class, particularly in one as graphic-rich as the geosciences.
  • Having students collect all of their reflections in one location allows students to have their growth captured on paper and the notebook becomes a critical repository for their learning in the course.
  • Asking students to reflect on their learning throughout the course gets students to examine their strengths and weaknesses in an explicit way. Asking students to make explicit connections between the skills they learn in one class to another makes it more likely that they will recognize how skills translate across domains.

Tips and alternative options:

  • Grading notebooks is a very time-consuming. The notebooks could be modified to have weekly reflections that students do outside of class in one location that allows them to go back to their previous reflections as a final activity. While such weekly reflections does not reap the same reward as the full organizational structure of the notebook system, it does allow students to make those explicit connections about their own learning.
  • I like to provide feedback in the form of questions—as though the student and I are having a conversation where they state something about their learning, and I ask a follow up question to indicate I want them to think more deeply about a particular topic.
  • In the 10+ years I've been using the notebooks, fewer than 1% of my students truly hate the notebook. Most students need to warm up to the idea, and I try to remind them why I'm using the notebook system and that it ultimately benefits them as learners and students. For that 1%, I try to work with them to find ways to make the notebook less onerous by trying to understand what it is about the notebook they really don't like.
  • In most of my courses, I give students online reading assignments rather than assigning a textbook. I tell students that in the notebook, and the online reading assignments, they are creating their own textbook. Some students relish taking ownership of their notebooks and embrace this concept. The image at the top of this page is from a particularly talented student in this approach.