So, I’ve been working on trying to help my students be more conscientious about taking neat and detailed notes in science.  I know some teachers will collect every student’s science notes and grade them.  To be honest though, I just have trouble finding the time.  As a general education classroom teacher, I find myself assessing a lot of work across the board:  reading notebooks, various other reading comprehension work, writing projects, writing test prep prompts, word study tests, not to mention quizzes, tests, and informal “check-ups” in math, social studies, and science.

What makes it even more difficult is that the curriculum for at least one subject gets revamped every year while still in the process of trying to refine everything from the implementation of the new curriculum in the subject from the previous year.  On top of parent emails, PDP’s, CST meetings, lesson plans, etc. – it can become inundating.

But you’re a teacher, so I don’t have to tell you this.  And just like you, I’m constantly trying to increase efficiency as demands continue to grow.

Last year we received a new science curriculum.  There are many good components to it, but just like any of these initiatives, you have to evaluate the new curriculum and figure out what works and what doesn’t.  Each unit is broken into a series of investigations and there is typically some type of record sheet with each investigation.  The teacher guide provides some background information to give the students, questions to ask them as a type of anticipatory set, as well as some reflection questions.  This is all good, but I naturally have students who are absent or leave for various reasons:  basic skills, instrumental, occupational therapy, etc.  So, if they miss the investigation (or if they’re even there for the lesson), they are left with nothing but a record sheet.

In order to help with this, I created lab sheets providing the background of each investigation, the materials, the procedure, and reflection questions to help guide the students to develop a conclusion.  This way students have something to physically refer back to, and I can just quickly run off copies of a completed lab sheet for the students who were missing.  Every three investigations I decided to put in a simple 1 to 4 rubric where students self-assess the quality of their notes.   Are they neat, detailed, and accurate?  Are drawings complete and labeled?  Things like this.

Despite the rubric, modeling what their notes should look like, and showcasing a student’s notes when observed to be exemplary, I’ve seen the majority of students still rushing through them, often times leaving them either incomplete, incoherent, illegible, or a combination of the three!  Now, I know these students are only 10/11 years old and science for me at that age was simply taking turns reading out of a textbook, but I really want to make sure that these children are prepared for middle school.

So just the other day, students needed to spend a few minutes to record their observations of a terrarium and aquarium they spent time constructing as part of our ecosystems unit.  As I was circulating, I felt a bit like a broken record reminding the students to take notes like a scientist.  I was still not getting the level of work I was looking for.  I decided to inform the students that I was going come around and give them a red, yellow, or green light (using Chronicle) depending on the quality of their notes.  Honestly, I was surprised just what an effect this had.  There suddenly was a marked difference in students’ focus on upping the level of their notes.  My first thought was, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?!”

Yes, maybe this is an extrinsic motivator, but we all need accountability at times.  We all know accountability is part of good teaching, but it can sometimes be frustrating finding the time needed to do so.  Since collecting and grading all of their science notes is not very feasible for me right now, I found this to be a nice alternative.  Anyway, I hope this helps someone in his or her efforts to boost student achievement… and makes life a tad bit easier in the process!