I’m not sure there is anything worse for our kids than the dreaded notebook check. In case you’re not familiar with them, brace yourselves. They’re headed your way. Many teachers, starting in Middle School but especially in High School, require kids to keep all papers associated with their class in an organized notebook. There are usually sections for warm-ups (the work kids do as they enter class), homework, tests and quizzes, classroom notes, and classwork.
At an announced – or un-announced – time, the children are supposed to show their neat and orderly file of papers to the teacher. For a grade.
Here are are some of the notebook check items on one of Joe’s quizzes:
1. In chapter 8 notes, what is the definition of a deletion?
2. On prefix (quiz) 11, what is the answer to number 7?
3. In page 180 homework, what is the answer to number 12?
Joe made a 40.
Years later, Ron’s Geometry teacher tells me she has never seen a notebook like the one my oldest child presented. Actually, he gave her two floppy binders full of papers. All kinds of papers. She laughed about it, and graciously helped him to sort out his mess, but she’s an exceptional teacher. Most teachers, and some parents (like me, I must admit) cannot understand the difficulty involved in finishing a paper, and immediately filing it. After many years of nagging, I realize that it just isn’t that easy.
So what is the answer? There’s not a perfect one, but here are some suggestions to help your child not feel checkmated by a notebook check.
SET UP ~ First off, a notebook should be organized correctly, and you’ll probably have to do this for your child. Don’t use a cheap 77 cent binder, which tend to have fatal gaps in the rings. Invest in a more expensive model; we prefer the thin, floppy folders. If a spiral notebook is also used in the class, I make sure they are the same color. Gray for Biology (dead things.) Green for Algebra (money).
Clear plastic page protectors are great for some sections – like the syllabus or a homework guide. (Make a copy of the syllabus for yourself the first day of class. Trust me on this…)
DIVISION ~ Inside the notebook, I put heavy duty section binders, labeled as the teacher requires. I also add a pocket folder, which is useful for when I say “This is your homework for tomorrow that you’ve worked on for two hours. DON’T forget to turn it in!” It’s ideal for homework worksheets and notes to come home in this folder, but we have to be realistic. In my house it rarely happens.
PRE-LABELING ~ Sometimes it helps to pre-label the pages in your child’s notebook. In the warm-up section, for example, put in a stack of dated pages – one for each warm-up. Or, if the assignments are numbered, go ahead and put numbers on the pages. (If you can convince your teacher to let you use a different color paper in each section, you’re even better off.)
EXEMPTION ~ Quite frankly, I think the best solution is to exempt some children from the notebook check ordeal, whether through a teacher’s kindness, an IEP or a 504. Learning to file isn’t really that inherent to learning. Of course, thousands of teachers across America vehemently disagree with me.
DOING IT FOR THEM ~ Each day, go through your kid’s bookbag and notebooks (and schoolbooks and pants pockets) and file everything where it belongs. It takes about 10 minutes per day, but saves hours of frustration. I email teachers for a list of items they expect in the notebook. Some teachers post assignments on websites, others post them in the classroom. All of these can help your child to at least get a passing notebook check grade.
BUDDY SYSTEM ~ Drew’s mother told me of her son’s distress before a scheduled notebook check, and I encouraged her to contact the teacher. The teacher’s response was to allow the entire class time to work together to assemble their notebooks. Working with a partner saved Drew’s skin. If your child’s teacher doesn’t give this option, try to find another child in the class that will help your child.
GIVING NOTICE ~ If your child’s teacher is the random check kind, appeal to him to let you know a day or so before the check takes place.
Probably the most difficult thing about notebook checks is that ordinarily, the maintenance takes place at the beginning and the end of class. These are the noisiest, busiest, most distracting times of the class period. Add a double dose of inattentiveness and you have to understand Joe’s heartfelt lament. “Mom, you don’t understand, it just isn’t that easy.”
It’s not easy, and we’ve failed a few, passed a few, and (wonder of wonders) gotten A’s on a very few. But with a lot of assistance and even more patience, life will not end with the notebook check. But high school will, and when the kids get big, they can hire a secretary to do their filing!