Publications & Resources

Looking Into Students’ Science Notebooks: What Do Teachers Do With Them?

Apr 2002

Maria Araceli Ruiz-Primo, Min Li, and Richard J. Shavelson

We propose the use of students’ science notebooks as one possible unobtrusive method for examining some aspects of teaching quality. We used students’ science notebooks to examine the nature of instructional activities they encountered in their science classes, the nature of their teachers’ feedback, and how these two aspects of teaching were correlated with students’ achievement. We examined the characteristics of students’ science notebooks from 10 fifth-grade classrooms. Six students’ notebooks in each classroom were randomly selected. Each entry of each student’s science notebook was analyzed according to the characteristics of the activity, quality of student’s performance as reflected by the notebook entry, and the teacher feedback in the notebook. Results indicated that (a) raters can consistently classify notebook entries despite the diversity of the forms of communication (written, schematic or pictorial). They can also consistently score the quality of a student’s communication, conceptual and procedural understanding, and the quality of a teacher’s feedback to the student. (b) The intellectual demands of the tasks required by the teachers were, in general, low. Teachers tended to ask students to record the results of an ,experiment or to copy definitions. (c) Low student performance scores across two curriculum units revealed that students’ communication skills and understanding were far from the maximum score and did not improve over the course of instruction during the school year. And (d) teachers provided little, if any, feedback. Only 4 of the 10 teachers provided any feedback to students’ notebook entries, and when feedback was provided, comments took the form of a grade, checkmark, or a code phrase. We concluded that the benefits of science notebooks as a learning tool for students and as a source of information for teachers were not exploited in the science classrooms studied.

Ruiz-Primo, M. A., Li, M., & Shavelson, R. J. (2002). Looking into students’ science notebooks: What do teachers do with them? (CSE Report 562). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).