Friday, February 17, 2012

Planners?! Who Needs'em?

Ok, let's have a show of hands... how many teachers out there make their students use daily planners to record assignments, notes to parents, etc.? Wow! That many?! You're probably thinking, "Now, Josh, don't you start bad-mouthing my planners!" Well, have no fear! I think planners are great tools to help students develop responsibility and to develop time management skills; HOWEVER, I would love to share with you an idea I stole ...err... borrowed (thanks, Mrs. Golmen!) that made me kick planners to the curb and has revolutionized the way we communicate our learning to ourselves, our parents, and teachers.

(with your best singing voice, please)
Da, da, da, da!! I give you the Brain Book! Here's a quick run down of how Brain Books work:

What is it?

Brain Books are spiral bound notebooks students use to record their reflections for each content area. After a learning opportunity, students write for 1-2 minutes about what they've learned. Here's an anchor chart I used with my students to teach them how to reflect and think about their learning. 
Students will also write in homework assignments if needed. Students record outside reading (our grade level assigns 20 minutes each night as homework) and will write a short reading response each night in their BB. Parents must sign their child's Brain Book each night as well.

Why use Brain Books?

There are several reasons why I chose Brain Books over planners. Here are a few reasons to consider:
  • It's a great formative assessment for you to see what students understand. After reading student entries, you can go back for a reteach or extend the lesson based on the needs of your students.
  • It forces students to think at much higher levels (metacognition) than planners do (depending on how you use them).
  • Students begin to appreciate and take ownership of their own learning. It takes the emphasis off the activities we do in class and helps students focus on the actual learning taking place.
  • It's a great opportunity to reinforce quality writing. I will often times do a quick reteach of a 6 Trait lesson while students are writing in their Brain Books.
How do you use and assess Brain Books?
Students follow a given format for their Brain Books. They copy into their books each morning when they come to class. At first, I take it as a weekly writing/language grade using a scoring guide. This helps me see if students are consistently capitalizing & punctuating, but the real emphasis is on reading their reflections. As students become more accustomed to writing in their BBs independently, I will spot check them every 3-4 weeks for an additional language grade.
I have linked a couple documents from my
Scribd account so you can download and modify as you see the need. Those are located at the bottom of this post, so you don't want to wade through the large embeddings to see the rest of my ramblings.
What do parents think of Brain Books?

In my experience, parents LOVE Brain Books. They really appreciate seeing the "proof" of their child's learning. A few parents have taken the opportunity to help me reteach a concept or even extend their thinking with some sort of activity at home. Isn't that amazing? My administration & staff has also taken an interest in our Brain Books. It's not a building-wide practice, but a few teachers have told me they are trying this in their own classes next year.

There really is a lot of power in teaching students to reflect on their own thinking and learning. Students begin to use reflection in problem solving and as they set, accomplish, and create new goals for themselves.

Allrightythen... I feel like I've written a novel. I am going to stop here. If you have any questions about Brain Books, feel free to post a comment. The Brain Book example and Parent Letter/Scoring Guide are embedded below. Go forth and reflect! :)
Brain Book Example

Brain Book Expectations


  1. I love this idea! But I do have a few questions:

    1) Are parents actually reading these and signing them or do they treat them like reading calendars and planners where they may or may not actually be reading/signing?
    2) How long did it take you to teach this concept to your students?
    3) From my understanding the student is summarizing the knowledge gained/lesson. Do you ever allow for reflection in the BB? Meaning - can they state they do not understand something, need further clarification, found it boring as they already knew it, etc... ?
    4) Are these kept confidential or do you have a student help you check them like with planners?

    I do not like planners for a variety of reasons but I think you are onto something here. I will need to play with this idea some more to fit my needs.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Think, Wonder, & Teach

    1. Hey, Misty! Great questions!

      1. I'd be naive to say that ALL parents are reading these ALL the time, but I can say with confidence MOST of the parents are reading the BBs. I encourage parents to write notes to me, notes to their kids, etc.

      2. Many students in my class have never done anything like a brain book before so it took a few weeks to get the students to get a handle on what I expected. Even today, I am repeating the verbage from our anchor chart, guiding the students in using the academic vocabulary from our lessons, and reminding them to produce quality writing.

      3. Yes and yes! One of the struggles I am having with the BBs is that students are not generating questions about what they don't understand. It may come down to telling my students I want them to write 1 thing they gleaned from the lesson and 1 thing they still don't understand. Maybe questioning needs more explicit instruction.

      4. This is a really good question I hadn't thought of. There's nothing in the BBs that needs to remain confidential, but if a student has a concern or if a parent has written in it, the kids are pretty good about showing me. I will have students help me check signatures and completeness of Brain Books as well.

      I hope this answers your questions! :) Thanks for the comment!!


    2. Yes that does! I am going to work on stealing er... borrowing =) your idea this weekend. I have a few tweeks I want to make and then I will post a blog and share with you.

      I found your revelation about questioning needing to be taught interesting... I think I will need to give this some more thought as well.

      Break is over - back to spring cleaning. I am making my husband a home gym this weekend which means cleaning everything out of the office. UGH!

      Think, Wonder, & Teach

  2. Hi there,
    I'm your newest bloggy friend follower. Glad I found you. I love how we can encourage one another through blogging. Pop on over to my blog and check it out when you get a chance.
    Traditions Laughter and Happily Ever After

    1. Vicky,

      I'm glad I found you too! Congrats on your 100 followers! I just became one and I look forward to reading more of your blog as well.

      Happy Friday!!

  3. I LOVE this idea!! I think that I might implement this in my classroom this year maybe in the form of an exit ticket and then next year attempt it with parents . . . I am already thinking about how I can modify this for my second graders! Thanks for passing this along, I am your newest follower!

    Second Grade Math Maniac

    1. Casey,

      I love the name of your blog - Math Maniac! :) So fun! I'm your newest follower and can't wait to read more posts. :)

      Happy Friday!!

  4. What a great idea! I have my kids write in their agenda each day and I sign it but I've been searching for some way to add in a reflection element. Got me think'...

    I just joined your blog via the linky party. Can't wait to read more.


  5. Definitely on to something, Mr. Bennett! Our PTA purchases the planners for every student so there's no way around using them in the classroom. I'm playing around with ideas on how to use the purchased planners as brain books since subjects are already labeled and spaces are provided for date/signatures/etc. Thanks for the inspiration!