Brain Books have become the anchor within our learning environment, for our students as well as us personally. Ann and I have been excited to share this resource- a good idea that our students made great. But as we have tried to put the idea in print we have struggled a bit…. Then Ann reminded me again of the great words of Simon Sinek, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” So here is the story of the WHY behind our Brain Books:
Ann and I have truly believed in the power of interactive notebooks and reflective journaling. We have both been involved in purposeful notebook trainings to build our toolkit of instructional strategies in the areas of science, math, and literacy. In the spring of 2011, though, we began to ponder with our students a better way to manage our daily thinking and stacks of journals and folders. We were both notorious for organizing our students’ daily world around a math journal, a literacy journal, a science notebook, a gratitude journal, a portfolio, multiple folders, a planner, etc. (Sound familiar?) This system benefitted us personally in many ways, but we pondered the impact it had on our students, their learning, and communication with families.
In January of 2011, I had personally traded in my binder, multiple notebooks, and folders for one composition notebook with colorful, creative tabs (labeled Data, Books, ME, The Brain, Committees, etc.). I carried it to all my meetings, PD, day to day interactions, as well as home and back. I also had pages marked with ribbon and stickies to tab specific thinking. Nonetheless, it was colorful, playful, and totally fit my personality. My students, as well as Ann asked many questions about this personal resource. I explained many times that it was “my brain” and my way of organizing information so I could quickly reference the important stuff. I was tired of being overwhelmed by the surplus of hand-outs, lists, and information I was constantly acquiring on a daily basis. My “Brain Book” became my storage place to write, glue, tape, and sketch information and thinking.
Ann decided to also embrace this “less is more” attitude and began her own personalized notebook. She had tried tabs, but found that they did not fit her learning style in the same way they did mine. Instead she found that she needed page numbers and a Table of Contents. She also liked the use of a ribbon bookmark. This was a big AH-HA moment for us. We were both using our Brain Books in completely different ways, but essentially for the same purpose. We began to think more deeply about the classroom notebooks and journals and how we were in essence using our own personal style of organization and not necessarily one that truly worked for our students and their individual needs.
So then we arrived at the big question: WHAT IF we allowed our students to create a notebook that fit their own personal learning style? So, we began pondering the possibilities for the next school year. We discussed how they would look in my primary classroom compared to Ann’s intermediate classroom. We brainstormed all the possible ways students could come up with organizational methods. We ransacked our homes, classrooms, and the Dollar Store for materials students could use for their Brain Books. Our plan was forming…
Then a student mentioned one day how nice it would be just to have one place to put his thinking just like I did (again remember we had MULTIPLE resources for this purpose and at the moment the third grader was digging for a math journal buried deep in a desk of “stuff”). So, Ann and I decided to explore this endeavor with our students (her 5th graders at the time, and my 2nd and 3rd graders). Leave it to us to try something new in May! But to be honest we saw this as an opportunity to listen to the experts; who better to teach us about how Brain Books could work in our classroom than our students?
Oh, the lessons were endless (and our plan that was forming basically went out the window)! They proved to us that age did not matter; this was a resource for all learners. They showed us all the ways to organize their learning, ways that never had even occurred to us. They even ransacked their own art supplies at home to bring to life their resource. And in the end every single Brain Book looked differently and a variety of organizational systems had been used. Essentially no two Brain Books were the same, matching the diversity in our classrooms.
Our students came to the conclusion that every learner should carry a Brain Book with them. They explained that it allowed them to be their own person and do things that fit their learning style. They even wanted to create a resource that gave students ideas for ways to use their Brain Books connected to the Multiple Intelligences (as they knew that we would be using Brain Books in our new Multiage Classroom).
For us, Brain Books have replaced the plethora of resources we hand out to our students each fall. As our instructional philosophy has moved to about only 25% of our day in the whole group setting, 25% in small groups and individual conferencing, and 50% on PBL (which also involves one-on-one/small group interactions), we needed a resource that would provide cohesiveness to this style. We have found Brain Books to be a resource that supports whole group instruction, differentiation strategies, individualized goals, and personalized learning. It also goes home with the students, so parents don’t just see a list of the activities we did (as the previous planners we used displayed). Instead they get an in-depth look at their child’s learning, personal goals, self-assessments, reflective thoughts, as well as self-management/organizational skills almost daily.
Interactive Notebooking is a great instructional strategy that we will continue to use, as there are elements that allow us to model different strategies and concepts. A content based notebook, though, typically involves a more direct instruction method and is often more teacher controlled in terms of organization and content. The mindset behind the Brain Books, however, allows us to be very intentional about transfering ownership of the learning process to our students. We can ask them to recode and organize information in a way that works best for their brains. They can choose from a plethora of notebooking strategies to incorporate into their personalized learning processes each day. Learning becomes even less about sit-get-do, and more about explore-create-own.
Our Brain Books have dynamically changed the way we all approach learning in our classroom. Students have found having fewer materials to track decreases stress and their personalized notebooks allow them to celebrate who they individually are as learners. As teachers, we have found this resource to empower learners, increase engagement and responsibility, facilitate integration of the content areas, and provide more opportunities for authentic reflection.
And why are they named Brain Books? Well, again that’s one to credit the students for… As they all continued to joke with me about carrying around my brain every day, once they created their own notebooks they immediately commented, “These ARE like our brains!” One 2nd grader even said, “When I leave my book at home, it’s like I left my brain at home. We should call them our Brain Books!” And thus the name officially stuck.
Brain Books have become the ultimate student-centered tool for our student-centered classroom.
More to come involving how to incorporate Brain Books into your classroom with your students…