Hi Nathan! Love the notebooks, love to talk about them, love to tweak them, so I'm happy to chime in and help out with your assignment as well.
I teach sixth grade social studes, so again, my students are much younger than yours, but I find the notebooks a wonderful organizational tool.
I do maintain the left is for learning, right is for reflection. Honestly, it helps me I think more than the children. I look at the notes page as dealing with the lower level of bloom's and the right side as addressing the higher levels, so it helps keep my planning "on track".
I use a composition notebook, and their notes are either handouts that we read and mark-up together, question strips that they answer and we review, or fill in the blank outlines from a mini-lecture. Since these are usually printed and then glued in, I don't have a major problem with keeping everyone on the "same page". If I have a student who writes really big, I teach them how to make "flippy pages" to extend the page.
I use my textbook as a resource only. Like Wig, at the beginning of a unit we do a picture walk and preview the content. Students then make a title page for the unit.
After the title page, I include a list of vocabulary for the unit on the left page. We do several activities with this throughout the unit, but on the right hand side next to it, students choose 1 of 9 "vocabulary options". I've included the use/recognition of SS vocabulary as part of the rubric I'm tweaking next year. I really like Wig's idea of making it part of a daily warm-up. As you can see, notebooks are always a work in progress
On a typical notebook day, my students complete a warm-up, the teacher side, and then the student response side. I try to give them options, at least a choice of two.
My students are given a rubric at the beginning of the year that is glued in to their notebooks. I grade individual assignments, the left-right spread. For the first three to five assignments, I put an image of an assignment up on my smartboard (your lcd would do fine) and we grade it together with the rubric. This seems to help my students get a better feel for what they are looking for.
I also let the students do a gallery walk every so often - once a week at first. I ask the students to open their notebooks to the assignment they are the most proud of and have them put a sticky note on it. The students then walk around and look at everyone else's best assignment, and if they are moved to, they write a comment on the note.
Anyway, that's what I do, and ask away if you have any questions.
Wig, Could you talk a little more about how you handle your vocabulary? Also, do you have the kids write a summary of the chapter or is that something you do orally?