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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cutting Corners with Interactive Notebooks

Teachers never stop working.  I know we hear it all the time, but now I have proof!  I posted a blog a little over a week ago, about The 5 Changes I made that Saved My Sanity, and that blog that I dreamt up in the middle of an early-morning shower is now the second most viewed post in the history of my blog.  In the middle of summer!  A teacher's job is never truly done!

Enough about my shock and awe and more about a simple, but incredibly useful, idea from one of my Facebook fans.  It was featured in my previous blog post, but it was hidden amongst all the other brilliant ideas from my Facebook fans.  This one in particular got a lot of attention on the post I put on Facebook, so I contacted the teacher who wrote the idea, and she was kind enough to give me a lot more information!  Denise Goshert is starting her 29th year teaching (!!).  She's taught in 2 states, 3 districts, and 6 schools teaching 4th and 5th grades as well as a gifted pull out program.  Here is her original Facebook Post, in response to me asking what saved their sanity this year:

Does it drive you crazy to see your students shuffling through the notebooks trying to find their next empty page?  Do they constantly leave empty pages between entries?  Do YOU hate having to spend time finding the page you are looking to assess?  Then, the cutting corners method will save your sanity, in just SECONDS!

In Denise's words, here is how she has used the "Cutting Corners" method with her students with great success.  Thanks again, Denise!

Cutting Corners
By Denise Goshert

I've used the "Cutting Corners" method (my students chuckle at the pun) for years with writing/journal spirals, workbooks. 

So this year since I decided to try Interactive Notebooks in Math with my 5th grade Honor Students & 5th grade Social Studies/Science I thought it would work just a great. I have students use spirals that are on their supply list. 

First, when students are labeling (or decorating) their cover, it's important that they do NOT write name (or anything important or want saved) in the upper right corner. I have students write name in lower right corner - having to grade so many, it's easier if I am able to locate name easily. Likewise, if anything is glued on the inside cover they don't write on the upper left corner. I also teach students to keep the top right margin cleared on every page. This is the corner that will get cut. Yes, the cover gets cut too. 

For my interactive notebooks for SS/Sci, students write what was Learned on the Left (ie vocab, questions, etc.) and Reflect on Right for each lesson. I collect spirals 1-2x a week. Since we give letter grades on report cards I grade each lesson. After the assignment is graded, I cut the upper right corner so it's ready for next lesson. 

For Math since we do standard based scoring, I collect the notebooks prior to unit test to give a rubric score for effort. Corner gets cut ready for next unit. 

I also cut corners in students Writing Rough Draft spirals at their last Informal Teacher Conference. 

The cutting corners makes it so easy for students to find the next available page to use. Just put thumb on the upper corner (which is the next available page) & flip. They love when I show this trick. They are in awe it's so cool to see their faces when I say ta da & flip. Then they all try it. 😊

It has even saved my most disorganized student. He/She may take moments to locate actual spiral (lol) but once found it's a cinch to get to the correct page. 

For me, it's a lifesaver. Grading all those spirals - half the battle was locating the current assignment to grade. Now I just place my thumb on upper right corner, flip & ta da. 

I do the cutting as it also reminds me whose I've graded in case I get distracted in the middle - yes that happens. Lol!

It works so well that quite a few of my students use this organizational method on their Assignment Books. Love it!

I set all this up with my beginning of the year routine & procedures. 

There are 2 Drawbacks:
1 - a great deal of little triangular scraps but I just make a pile & scoop in trash can. 
2- & this one is important. There are some students who are actually dramatized when their pages get cut. It's not all students but it's happened with students who tend to be perfectionists as well as those on the spectrum.  For this reason, I start with my own spiral capturing them with the ta da. Then I do spend time explaining the reason. For my perfectionist they usually get hooked on the organizational piece if it. For my students who I know have IEPs or 504s I approach respectfully, give them a chance to try my ta da. Then ask if they are ready to try theirs. These helps ease in to it. I learned this the hard way when I first started and just showed then began clipping. We went to PE & when I returned I found one of my students (just diagnosed that summer) in the trash can taking out "his" corner to tape it back. My heart sank for him. So I helped him replace it (he didn't want new spiral) & then talked to him. He smiled & went off to PE. A week later he came up to me & asked if I could cut his corner. 😊

When I contacted Denise, she was so gracious in sharing.  She says her motto is "Use, Adapt, Delete" and she encourages collaboration and sharing among teachers.  Denise, after our correspondence, I KNOW it would be an honor to be teammates with you.  Your students and colleagues are lucky to have you!


  1. What a great idea! Can't wait to implement this with my 3rd graders next year for their math interactive notebooks!
    The Fabulous Life of an Elementary Teacher

    1. Thank you! Good Luck and have a great SY 14-15.

  2. I think this is a FABULOUS idea!!!

    Hodges Herald

  3. dramatized? never heard that word before

  4. I think maybe she meant "traumatized" :) I am SO excited to try this idea in the fall!

  5. What a great idea! I am planning on learning about interactive notebooks this summer so I can implement them in math and science next year and I will absolutely be using this strategy! Thanks for sharing!

    Life As I Know It

  6. Yay, Yay, Yay! This is one of my biggest issues with INB! Hallellujah for easy answers and fun too! I am very thankful to both of you for sharing this!

  7. Mary, thank you for giving me this opportunity to share. This trick truly is a lifesaver. Thanks to your followers for their kind words, hope you find it useful and make it your own. :-)

    So sorry to you and your followers for the numerous spelling errors. I was using my iPhone with one hand when replying to the email as I just got back from vacation and vowed I wouldn't open laptop for another day! Didn't say anything about cell! :-) There are several typos, and I know dramatized is so wrong! I was thinking dramatic for my perfectionist and yes, of course traumatize for my lil. guy. Guess I just put the 2 words together! Thanks for catching it - maybe I need another vacation.

    Love Teaching with a Mountain View blog!
    Use, adapt, delete (& disclaimer for any typos LOL)

  8. Thanks for the idea! Do you think it's awkward, having to grab the scissors?
    I have ribbon glued to inside back cover as bookmark, so students can place at last page when using notebook.
    When I want to check particular pages, I have students place sticky note so it sticks out at page/s I want to see. When checked, it move sticky to inside back cover for next time.

    1. Ribbon is much prettier and I saw a post on it last summer but decided to continue to use "cutting corners" method as I began hearing how the ribbon sometimes got pulled off or not in proper place. I can see that happening with several of my students. But I do love color and had it all planned out plus bought ribbon of different colors figuring if I did try I would have 4-5 students per color so I could easily see whose spiral was missing.

      However, like I stated, I did stick with the method I knew the best.

      As for the scissors, I have a pair near the computer so I can easily enter grades/scores in gradebook and a pair at the Reading Table when I conference with students. Scissors are easily accessible. I usually flip to the correct page, assess work, record grade/score bottom of last page, then cut the corners of the 1-3 pages assessed. It works for me!

      Love your ribbon plus post it idea - maybe I can try it on the ELA INB I'm going to start doing this year. A colorful ribbon as a book mark just reminds me of curling up to a great book! Thnx and enjoy your summer! :-)

  9. This is a great tip I will share with the upper grades at my school. I teach K and I tried the ribbon, but they just had a hard time with it. I use small binder clips. I move the clip one or two times a week. They put their finger on the clip and open to that page. We then turn one page if I have not moved the clips. I model using the notebook with the clip and we discuss who moves the clip.

    1. Clever! I've used binder clips for those students who don't like the corners cut. ;-)

  10. Such a great idea!!! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

  11. Genius! Thanks for sharing a great idea. When kids skip a page, they sometimes get stuck with wanting to fix everything. Cutting the corner would eliminate that issue.

  12. I have always just had my kids number the pages of the notebook. Doing this allows me to simply tell them what page or pages we will be working on. It's always been fairly straightforward and simple that way.

    1. Good Point. On their INBs, I do have them number but for SS/Sci I also collect and score their work. Flipping through all those pages to locate the page to score gets difficult. So for me having the corners cut allows 1 easy flip.

  13. I also have them cut corners in their agenda. I don't like them folding the pages in to make opposing triangles, as the book gets really thick and difficult to write in.

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