Jasper Roberts - Blog

My Beef with the ISN

Well...I've hit a crossroads. I LOVE my ISN, and it's been absolutely amazing for keeping students organized in the classroom, but lately I feel like we are just putting in worksheets...something that could be easily done in a binder, or in a workbook. I would love to be able to have all my materials copied and bound for each student in my class at the beginning of the year in one workbook for them, but that's just unreasonable. That is one of the things I love about the ISN...if I add something in at the last minute, we throw it in the notebook and glue it in.

I guess my guilt is coming from seeing all of the absolutely adorable foldables and things that people sell on TpT. They just look so cute, and my notebooks look so boring and serious. I tried the foldable thing two years ago with my 7th graders, and it turned into a nightmare. "Where do I cut this?" "I glued it all down on accident!", "I messed up, I need another copy!" The whole period turned into gluing in some complex foldable instead of doing the lesson. What's a crafty heart to do? This also begs the question, does it have to be cutesy and clever to be engaging?

The beginning of our notebooks are always the same:

Anchor Charts and Strategy Modeling. My 7th and 8th graders have guides for close reading, the fiction and non-fiction keys, and two model close reads that we did as a class. They also have the Notice and Note Signposts, along with Types of Questions.

Here's how my notebooks usually go for each unit:

New Knowledge Questions: these are a must. They come in and complete two each day for the bellringer, and a student walks around and stamps them in when they're done. It's great, and it gives students those key terms and vocabulary essential for the unit.

At least 4-5 passages to use with Close Reading, SOAPstone, or a TP-CASTT. We also use these passages for Shared Inquiry (socratic seminar), or for modeling for a writing lesson.

My latest issue is that since we were given a bazillion worksheets and graphic organizers with our text, I feel like I'll be reinventing the wheel if I don't use them. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't use half of them, and my 8th graders last year rebelled against me when they saw yet another: "Reading: Reread and Read Ahead" handout. Pearson is not especially awesome at differentiating their handouts. Each selection has the same exact types of handouts: Vocab Warm-Up, Model Selection, Reading: , Enrichment, Grammar, and Literary Analysis. I try to spice it up with the occasional plot chart, two column-notes, etc... but sometimes I feel like I'm in graphic organizer overload. 

I have a SIP day tomorrow, but when I get back to school on Wednesday, I'll post some pics of some of our notebooks for you to see.

I have so many strategies I want to try that I keep forgetting about, so I'm ditching my current 30-day challenge of "Tackling my To-Do List", in favor of a new one.

  • Organize all of the strategies I want to try out in my classroom that I have pinned on Pinterest, learned at an inservice day, or seen in workshops and books that I like.
  • Create a chart, listing what they might work best for.
  • Organize ALL of the files on my computer, and tag them (thank you Mac), so that I can find them.

Here's my starting list of strategies I want to try:

Incredible Shrinking Notes
Writing Long Off A Post-It 

My favorite strategies that I learned at the IAGC Gifted Conference!

From Jim Curry:


  1.  LB: What did you like best?
  2. □ Tell me what you liked best about your product.
     NT: What might you do next time?□ Tell me what you might do differently next time. How would you change your product. Would you add or subtract
    something? GB: How did you go beyond?
    • □  Did you go beyond... Add a border Add graphics or pictures Add intricate details Do further research Use creative skill to add something new
    • □  Create a poster to put in the room for self-reflection
    • □  Have them talk about quality work with each other, in partners or small groups, or the teacher
    • □  "I'm going to be walking around as you're working, and asking you questions". - Like Project Runway with Tim Gunn
All of the writing strategies that Jim Delisle talked about, which are available in his book: Building Strong Writers in Middle School: Classroom-ready activities that inspire creativity and support core standards, by Deb Delisle and Jim Delisle.

These include: Quotes from the Sages, Quotes from the Ages, Be the Philosopher, Poems to Ponder, 55 Word Short Stories, and So, Are You? These all require students to go deeper with their writing, which is great, especially for Narrative Non-Fiction writing!

Finally, everything I learned from Bob Iseminger. I mean everything. He was my second to last presentation for the day, and at the end of the session, we were only about halfway through his presentation. Lucky for us, the lady scheduled after him cancelled because she was ill, so we asked him if we could just continue with him. He obliged, and it was absolutely fantastic! He focused on using Creativity in Common Core lessons, and it was so refreshing!

Side Note: I was incredibly annoyed for most of the day at the amount of people just openly talking and chatting, even if they were sitting in the front row, literally two feet from the speaker. Is it just me, or does this just seem downright rude? Or others who were texting on their cell phones the whole time? I wouldn't stand for that in my classroom, and I can't imagine the speakers appreciated it. Our districts pay for us to attend these conferences, or in some cases we pay out of pocket. As someone who definitely has hyperacusis or auditory sensitivity, I would really prefer if the people around it didn't ruin it for me. This has been an issue for my entire life, and I apologize if you meet me and see me uncomfortably squirming in a crowded room or a movie theater because I can literally hear everything. I can hear you opening your skittles box...I can hear them falling all over the floor, I can hear you lean over and crinkle in your seat, I can also hear you sucking on your popcorn directly behind me, or smacking your gum. Believe me, if I could just "tune it out", as my husband suggests, I would be so much happier in my daily life, but I just can't. Tapping your foot on the other end of the row? Yep, I can hear that too. 

©2013-2015 SuperRenders

The positive? This also is a superpower for me in the classroom. I always know exactly who is talking without turning around, or chewing gum, or preparing to throw a wad of paper across the room. :) 


  1. I understand you're feelings on your ISNs. I use them in my high school classroom and ours certainly aren't that pretty. We skip the color 90% of the time. Its just too time-consumng. I told my students the beginning of the year that they are free to add color on their own, but we won't be spending class time doing it (and most don't). I am also super fortunate to have a teaching assistant in my room, and he does most of the cutting and set up for us, so all the students have to do is glue it into the notebook and copy down any written notes.

    I also know how you feel about graphic organizer overload. I 1000% agree and I'm actually very anti-graphic organizer. In my experience, my students are excellent at filling out graphic organizers and not-so-excellent at using the graphic organizer to then write, discuss, or do deeper thinking. I use them only sparingly. I try to move away from the graphic organizer and instead teach acronyms or process. For instance, instead of a graphic organizer for writing strong paragraphs, I taught my students the PEEL paragraph (using a foldable).

  2. Do you make foldables within the notebook? It can jazz it up!

  3. Do you make foldables within the notebook? It can jazz it up!

  4. I just found your blog and after reading this post, I knew I had to follow your blog. I am having the exact same problem with my ISN in my 8th grade geography classroom. I have looked at ideas on Pinterest as well as other people's blogs. My kiddos take forever to cut and glue things in their notebooks, and the amount of glue sticks I go through it unreal! Recently I have been having them draw more graphic organizers in their notebooks or putting sticky notes in - a faster and less messy solution. I will definitely be trying out some of your ideas as well!

  5. I just stumbled upon your blog and fell in love when I saw you were a Kelly Gallagher fan!!

    When I first started with my ISN, I felt the same! But, I persisted, and I took a lot of the ideas behind all our bazillion "worksheets" and turned them into more effective foldables! And in the beginning, the student confusion/errors are overwhelming, but they do get so much better over time!!

    Sticking with, and always improving, our ISNs has been one of the best things I've ever done for my classroom!! Like you, we put a lot of close reading into our ISNs, but it's nice to throw in the foldables, too, to change things up!

    If you have a minute, you can check out my blog where I write a ton about using our ISNs - www.musingsfromthemiddleschool.blogspot.com.

    Looking foward to binge-reading the rest of your blog :)

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Thanks for stopping by! JW