I’m sure that some of you remember my post from last year: Print on demand for better Learning, where I explained the thinking behind my efforts to produce custom exercise books for my post-16 Computing students. Well, after a year of use and some very interesting impacts on teaching and learning we decided that it would be worth rolling a tweaked version of this out to the rest of our groups.

As such I have created a custom exercise book that both allows students to take notes in the Cornell style, as well as summarise and mark the notes; all this and target setting, planning, recording and analysis assessment have been incorporated into the exercise book. In short what we’ve got here is a generic, any-subject, any-level exercise book that focuses students and improves teaching and learning.

Please feel free to buy a copy from amazon (only £3.99) or download the PDF versions of all the files to construct your own, remembering that you must credit this site if you are using any of my materials, and then only non-commercially. Anyway, on with the blog post.

Lesson Learned from Version 1

There were a number of things we learned as a result of last year’s trial of the custom exercise books:

  1. Students needed more pages and flexibility for keeping notes
  2. Students needed simpler summaries of assessments
  3. Students needed more structure to planning and evidencing revision
  4. The self reflection and analysis contained too many similar questions
  5. A specific book per unit of work was a little too much faff
  6. We needed room to add marking comments
  7. Students needed a checklist of some kind before hand in
  8. Quality of the books needed to improve whilst cost needed to be reduced
  9. Use fewer explanatory or pre-printed pages as students just didn’t read them
  10. It needed to include the deeper questioning grid to allow use each and every lesson


This year rather than do all that work in Photoshop, illustrator and Word (as I had done last year) I decided to just bite the bullet and use InDesign, I’d been teaching myself how to use it in order to write my tl;dr books so felt pretty adept at this. Using InDesign meant that much of my hard work from last year seemed a bit pointless and crazy as industry standard software is just so much more refined at doing this layout malarky.

I started with going for the biggest size that was still affordable to have printed, selecting the US Paper size which allows more room for content. Working on the cover first and following the style of before, but with more generic content: such as the blank box for lesson, name, etc. on the cover. I then added the deeper questioning grid to the back, reasoning that this on a glossy cardboard surface would allow us to use whiteboard markers on them when using the grids.

ExerciseBookGenericCover  deeperQuestioning Download the PDF

The next step was the front page, because this would be an odd page on its own I decided to use it to hold targets and summaries of assessments. This made the design choices easier and cheaper as I wasn’t wasting resources including an enormous copyright page, the page here holds potential summaries for 8 units which is more than we usually cover in one particular unit of work but allows it to be used by many different groups.

 Download the PDF

The next stage was to get into the nitty-gritty of what I wanted the note pages to look like, in using a larger size this meant that I could keep all the aspects of the previous notes pages that worked so successfully: the lines pages, the Cornell sidebars, the summary areas, date and title sections. In going that extra mile to improve this the new size actually gives us more written space than before. I added a RAG rating to each page for difficulty means that students can, at a glance, see which pages need revising more than others. The top also contains a ‘type of learning’ box so we can identify classwork, project work and homework for work scrutiny purposes. Finally there’s an area to identify if this is self, peer or teacher assessment to engage students with assessment in different ways.

At the bottom of the page we now have a finished-page checklist, so students can check they’ve done everything before they hand in a book for marking, a key for our Literacy and numeracy marking policy and areas for What-Went-Wells, Even-Better-Ifs and a response from the student. Making these a double page spread means that the space can be used more effectively.

NotePages NotePages2 Download the PDF

Rather than doing what I did last year, and trying to estimate how many pages students need per topic, I made it more generic and ‘classic exercise book’ style by sticking in 100 pages worth of this layout, plenty for any student to write notes on most subjects.

The next step was to produce the Revision planning, logging and assessment reflection pages. Again, 8 of these were added at the back in order to ensure that students could go through a complete revision exercise to practice this skill and evidence what they have done. The revision plan was split into a more specific table layout that asks the students to describe the type of revision methodology being used from our standard taxonomy, this was joined by a more generic week planner so students can demonstrate thought as to when and what they’ll revise.

Of course, once they’ve planned revision they’ll presumably go and do it. To check this a page of revision logging is presented, in a new more specific table format that once again uses the revision taxonomy to push the students to revise in an effective manner. At the end we ask the student to summarise and WWW, EBI the actual revision they’ve done so that we can review it after the exam.

Assessment reflection follows a very similar pattern to before, with fewer, more differentiated leading questions and opportunities to force students to reflect upon their achievement and produce a plan of action. Student would then be asked to fill out the overview summary at the start of the book.

AssessmentPrepLogReview AssessmentPrepLogReview2 AssessmentPrepLogReview3 Download PDF

So, one more page to go. Last year the calendar was extremely useful, but if this is to be as generic as possible and be less work to create next year then I can’t have year specific pages. In thinking this through I realised that what students really want is to be able to write down key dates rather than having an actual calendar, thus I went for a much more generic, box based design so that they can be reused year-to-year.

KeydateCalendar Download PDF


If you’ve read my previous article then you’ll know that I’ve previously used Lulu.com to print this stuff, which is great because they allow you to create projects that don’t necessarily have to be for sale everywhere and meet a load of guidelines. However, the quality of their paper is not quite as nice as that from amazon’s createspace and me being a bit of a stationery snob decided that it would be nice to have better paper for the student’s notes. This has benefits and drawbacks: the benefits being that the cost was reduced slightly, now coming in at £2.99 rather than over £3 as before, but because createspace is designed for publicly available books sold through Amazon you need to adhere to a number of guidelines in producing the document. This is the reason the phrase ‘Exercise Book’ exists on the cover as the title of the book being on the cover is a requirement of the createspace process.

However, after all that and getting the samples ordered I ended up with a beautiful exercise book that does all I wanted it to do, then we got the full order in.

IMG_3105.JPG IMG_3106.JPG IMG_3107.JPG IMG_3109.JPG IMG_3110.JPG

Is it worth it?

Well, I’d say so. The difference we saw in the quality of both notes and revision last year was astonishing; and that was with a first attempt at streamlining the process of students making notes and reflecting on assessments.

It’s got to be better than buying 50 books of lined paper and expecting the students to organise themselves. It’s got to be better than expecting students to make their own plans with no guidance. It’s got to be better than giving papers back and asking them to think about what they needed to do better.

Yes, it’s much more expensive than bog standard exercise books but the beauty of this is that with a small investment of time and a little more money you can have books that are personal and specific to the way you teach, mark and reflect.

If the time investment’s too much for you then please just buy a few copies of mine and give that a go – at £3.99 a go it’s probably not there for the hundreds of people in your KS3 classes but it’s certainly affordable for KS4/KS5. Give it a go!

If you make your own let me know how you got on, I’d love to publish other examples here.

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