Yesterday a teacher asked for advice about easy and quick ways to grade notebooks. I’ll pass along the information I gave in case you are staring at a stack of notebooks you have to grade over the holidays. My method is so simple and practical that I am embarrassed it took me over a decade to figure it out.
The best aspect of my notebook grading is that I do NOT take home any notebooks, nor do I have stacks of notebooks on my classroom floor for days and days as I grade them.
Before revealing my grading suggestion, however, I’ll review why I have students keep notebooks in some classes. I want students to keep all handouts, assignments, notes, and graded work in an organized fashion. I want them to be able to find everything they need to study for tests and to study for the final exam. I hope during the process that they will also improve their organizational skills. I’m not particularly interested in whether or not their notebooks are pretty so long as they can find what they need and read it.
At the beginning of the semester, I tell students how I will grade their notebooks and I make suggestions for how they should organize their notebooks (how many dividers they need, sections they need to establish, etc). I also insist that they have a notebook just for my class since I may take it up during the semester. I emphasize the importance of bringing the notebook to class each day and, particularly at the beginning of the semester, I remind them to place their work in their notebooks.
Instead of collecting notebooks to grade, this is my process.
- I tell students to place their notebook on their desk and prepare for a notebook check.
- I distribute a one-page notebook check (See example below.)
- I tell the students that the notebook is timed and that they must finish it within 30 minutes (adjusted for individual classes). Students must write answers on the notebook sheet. They may not use their textbooks, hunt for papers in their book bags, or ask me for help. They can only use their notebooks to find the answers.
- The notebook check includes abbreviations that I have to explain to students before they begin. For example. The first question may state: Night 3.12. I explain to students that this means they have to go to their questions on Night. Look at the questions on chapter 3 and provide the answer to #12. All answers should be 2-3 words. (I don’t ask essay type questions on notebook checks.)
- Depending on the class, I ask from 20 to 50 questions.
- I walk around the room to ensure that kids don’t pass papers from their notebooks to other students and to ensure that they can’t copy other students’ work. I collect papers as students finish.
- If I have multiple classes of the same subject, I collect the notebooks at the end of the notebook check and keep them overnight so students in one class cannot give their notebook to a student in another class.
- Instead of taking home stacks of notebooks to grade, I only have a stack of short answer questions to grade. Since I make students write answers in little blocks, I am able to grade the papers much faster.
Some teachers wonder about students who are able to answer questions on a notebook check even when they haven’t written down the answer. For example, what if a student did not write down the answer to question number 12 in chapter 3 of Night? As long as the student knows the answer, I don’t care. Students tell us all of the time that they don’t need to write down the answers because they know the answers. If that’s the case and they can indeed remember the answer all semester, I am happy to give them credit for that question. (As we all know, however, most students cannot remember the answers.)
By utilizing a notebook check of this type, I test whether or not students have maintained the papers that I requested and whether or not they have them in a reasonable order that THEY can retrieve easily.
If you still feel the need to check notebooks to see if they are pretty or tidy, you can always add a category to the notebook check and flip through notebooks quickly to add that score after grading the notebook check.
For years and years I plodded through notebooks for hours until I reached the point that I really didn’t care what grade I gave them! Then I went through a period when I didn’t require notebooks because I didn’t want to mess with grading even though I knew it would help students if I required notebooks. When I finally figured out how to grade notebooks through checks of this type, I was delighted because I could emphasize the organizational skills I wanted to instill in students and grade their notebooks quickly and painlessly.
I’m attaching a sample notebook check and answer sheet below.