How I Use Teaching Notebooks for Inspiration & Organization

I realized that for all the years I have had this blog I am pretty sure I have never shared my teaching notebook with you. And that’s just crazy because it’s a fundamental part of who I am. My teaching notebook is nothing fancy, and there’ not right way to use one. I hope you find a little inspiration in learning about my approach!

What’s It For?

I buy a notebook for every class I teach. They can be as plain or as fancy as you want them to be. I generally buy a traditional. Mine come from Target and look like this:

I pick whatever color speaks to me. On the inside cover, I write the name of the class and semester to tell them apart. I told you – I keep it very simple.

But back to the point. What is it for? My teaching notebook allows me to do several things:

  • it’s a place for me to jot down ideas before I start planning the class and as I’m planning it
  • it’s a way for me to sketch out what a session will look like
  • it allows me to document ideas I have for future iterations of the course.

Basically, it keeps all my ideas about my class organized in one place. Sure, I could do this electronically (and I also have Pinterest boards for my classes as well), but I find that I like being able to have a physical collection of it all. Plus, I can carry it around with me and easily add ideas to it whenever and wherever.

The Advantages

I just told you my three main reasons for why and how I use the notebooks. Last week, when I was talking about chunking and microlearning, I explained I used my notebooks to sketch out classes that met F2F. On our class website, I always provided students with an overview of what we would be doing that day. And while the session was always broken up into chunks, time frames were not always visible to students. I don’t want them getting overly hung up on time.

But in my notebook I have the chunks with the time written out next to them. For example, a class I taught last year met from 5:00-7:50. Here is an example of what chunking looked liked in my notebook:

5:00-5:05: Overview of the day

5:05-6:00: Discussion: Defining Digital Literacies and Digital Competence

6:00-6:10: Break

6:10-6:30: Inside Maddie’s Classroom

6:30-6:50: The Digital Challenge

6:50-7:45: Explore Projects

Now, when you look at that you may not see a whole lot of chunking. But keep in mind that I have a website running alongside this where my students have more details. For example, the first main activity (discussion on digital literacies and competence) is broken down for the students like this:

  • we will first break up into small groups. your groups will be tasked with defining the terms digital competence and digital literacies. Each definition should be 1-2 paragraphs. Put your definition here. You will have 20 minutes to complete this task.
  • we will then review the definitions and briefly discuss them.
  • with your group, each person will have up to five minutes to share what they have discovered about themselves in terms of creating instruction that supports digital literacies and the development of digital competence. you can share anything you wish which could include concerns or questions you have about your instruction (problems are encouraged).
  • your group should identify 1-2 issues to bring forward for further discussion by everyone.

I don’t need to hand write all that out in a notebook. What I need, to keep me in check, is a basic time frame to make sure I am on top of where we need to be. I need a page I can glance down at during the class and orient myself quickly. I may even note start and stop times in my notebook so I don’t forget. You can see here though how one task that lasted almost an hour is broken down into chunks in the class overview of the website.

Great Ideas I Have Yet to Implement

The back part of my notebook is reserved for great ideas I want to implement in the future. These ideas typically come to me during or right after teaching a class. I realize that the experience could have been better if I had done X differently. Usually, there is no time to go back and make the change (the time has passed). However, I know from experience that I will not remember my brilliant idea in the future.

So I flip to the last few pages of my notebook and jot down whatever I need to jot down to preserve the memory. When I am planning to teach the class again, I can review these notes and make the appropriate modifications if I want. It’s a simple and efficient approach.


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