I’ve been playing with the idea of using print on demand for our own uses for a while, and on a small scale I’ve been creating and printing up custom teacher’s planners for my colleagues and me for a while; today marks the first foray into large scale deployment of this model in an effort to aid learning.

I have created custom notebooks for students studying OCR Computing A Level F451, F452 and F453 units to allow them to better take notes in a Cornell Style, Plan revision, identify weakness and reflect on their learning.

If you want to jump ahead and take a look at the finished products then click the image below to be taken to the online shop.


The Why.

Students in our Post 16 struggle to take notes. They can ‘do’ the note taking thing but this is not being developed and often devolves into writing down what’s on the slides… which are available online anyway.

I want my students to be able to use note taking as a learning resource, to reduce the cognitive load on their brains during revision and allow knowledge to being to settle into their neurons completely unconsciously.

I’m also finding that students do not use interim assessment points properly; they don’t revise adequately, don’t reflect on their achievement and once they’ve received their grade they rarely step back to examine how their mistakes can be used to refine their revision.

I want my students to plan, log and be accountable for their revision. I want them to be able to honestly reflect and evaluate how they’ve done and use the knowledge of where they are unsuccessful to plan targeted revision. I want students to have a complete written archive of all of this so I can see how they are doing and work with them to work smarter at revision rather than simply working harder.

The How.

We’ve already tried teaching these concepts, trying to enforce them in lesson time, etc. however with students all deciding to implement this in different ways there was simply no way forward for the concept if we wanted it to succeed other than giving them a standard way of working.

We could have simply photocopied a pile of note styles and revision guides, or done something fancy with the computers (we have before, I program bespoke systems all the time) but the reality is that the cost would be silly for what we want, it would look awful and lose student engagement and finally, students are hand writing the answers to their exams anyway so using the same medium to take the notes seemed like a prudent idea.

Pages LayoutI took to photoshop and began designing the ultimate layout for a cornell note style format, adapting this a little to include more relevant symbols for students at Y12 and Y13, and stitching it together in a nice little package.

This meant that I could add my own little flourishes, like a reminder to the student to take a photo of their finished note page (just incase they lose their books) and some special symbols for things like Past Paper questions and Definitions that need to be learned.

Each chapter has a specific content page to explain how to take notes (again) and describe the content of that particular section, giving hints and advice as to how to take the notes. Whilst this is not especially necessary I wanted to have each chapter as a standalone element so any student falling behind wouldn’t feel the pressure of leaving a gap themselves. This did mean I had to work out how many pages I think students would need to take notes on each topic, we’ll find out how that goes this time next year for revision two!

So, with a chapter opening page, how do you close a chapter? My thinking was along these lines:

  • A Chapter Summary cheat-sheet. This allows students to summarise and synthesize their knowledge into bite sized chunks.
  • Keywords and definitions. Easy marks are lost by students not being able to parrot back the exam definitions of key words like ‘key field’, this will force them to make a note of those they come across.
  • Revision Strategy. Making the students reflective means planning what they are going to revise, how, for how long and deciding how they can evidence this to me. This section allows the students to plan out their revision in a way that they can be held accountable for in the following section.
  • Revision log. A recording sheet for students to put down the times and topics they have revised, for how long and where it was evidenced. I have tried to collect as much data here as possible so if a student demonstrates a lot of revision and a poor mark we can go into detail and unpick their revision strategies.
  • Exam Result Reflection. Not only making the students write down their grade, target, etc. for their interim assessment, but then going on to make them think about, analyse and explain areas of strength and weakness in this exam. Going forward from there allows the student to write the Post Exam Strategy, this lets them plan ahead for what they need to do to improve their achievement in this particular section.

Pages from the guide

All of the above seem to me to be a nice way to get the students trained in a self aware process of refinement in these difficult exam subjects. At the very least it provides a framework for training the students to be reflective and effective practitioners at their own learning.

Danger ScaleThe last aspect of this is, at the end of a complete section of work, getting the student to rank the chapters in a ‘danger scale’, a page full of bars per chapter that let them visually identify the chapters they are not too keen on, then encouraged to develop their understanding of the most ‘dangerous’ more than those that are ‘safe’. This addresses a real concern that students feel they need to revise but don’t want to encounter things that they do not know, by making it obvious which topics they need to focus on.

More accountability then with a revision log for the final exam, which can be examined by teachers in a post-results analysis of the date. The last page is a simple academic year planner so that key dates can be highlighted and obvious to students to encourage them to actually do revision in a timely manner!

I finished up with an example note page and my Revision skills handout reformatted to give students some good advice and there you have it – a nice custom, print on demand notebook.

The Printing.

I decided to use lulu.com because they don’t fuss around and have some cracking prices for b&w interior printing. Selecting ‘Publish’ then ‘Books’ I went on to pick the paperback size and shape, add some meta data such as the title, etc. Get myself a barcode for the book so it can go onto amazon later on, then was prompted to upload the content.

I took each page and stuck it into a word document of the right size, I uploaded this and Lulu.com processed the pages to give me a PDF of the final version. Checking this to make sure it was brilliant was easy, the next step was to upload the cover images, an easy job for me but if you’re not too hot on that they have an automated cover designer you can use for just as good results.


All that was left was picking the pricing, I set it at the lowest point and then set the biggest special offer I could to ensure that I was paying as little as possible for something that is basically replacing notebooks that I get for £2 a piece. The extra pound or so premium seemed worth it for my custom notebook if it has even the slightest positive bearing on student outcome.

Finalising and downloading the proofs to check takes but a second, then you have some great print on demand notebooks that you can share with the world!

The Notebooks.

Having already ordered proof documents I have seen these in action, they are absolutely epic and will be perfect for my needs. If you give this a go tweet me, let me know, maybe we can share out the workload for others.

If you’d like to take advantage of my hours of toil over this please feel free to grab copies of the A Level Computing Notebooks by clicking the images below to be taken to the Lulu.com shop page, I have the pricing as low as I can make it so it should be relatively affordable.

F451 Computing F452 Computing F453 Computing