Writers’ Notebooks Revisited

Struggling with teaching writing is nothing new for me. I myself struggle with writing – the process, the ideas, the whole of it I’m afraid. And here’s an admission (omission?) of guilt: I have never kept a writers’ notebook.

Our district is committed to implementing Units of Study by Lucy Calkins – whose ideas I do admire and respect. In my struggles to incorporate “Lucy” into “Amy” interpretations of what I’m doing and what to do next are frequently garbled. I need to make sense out of this in my own way.

One of the things I’ve struggled with the past few months is Writers’ Notebooks. Originally I tried to get kids to jot down ideas – observations or snippets of a storyline that might be turned into something more significant at a later time. Lately, I’ve been teaching students a the strategies that Lucy Calkins outlines for generating narrative writing ideas.

Being more direct in teaching strategies for ideas seemed to be working. Kids were recording ideas and then focusing the idea for later development. Everything seemed to be humming. Or was it really? The transfer from notebook to draft was not very seamless.

This past weekend I found a book by Aimee Buckner call Notebook Know How.  I’m sure I’m probably the last person on the planet to discover this gem, but on the off-chance that you haven’t read it, do it. Now.

In my rush to get a Writers’ Notebook into my students’ hands, I forgot something:

A notebook can become whatever the writer makes it to be.  As teachers, we can guide its use, present strategies,  and even mandate entries if we wish. If the notebook is to be useful, however, it must be useful to the writer first, and the reader (teacher) second.

Here’s exactly what I have lost sight of! In my rush to get kids to use a writers’ notebook I haven’t provided them with any background for why writers use notebooks, nor any strategies for developing the notebook into a personal tool for each developing author.

So for the first time, I am going to keep my own Writers’ Notebook in hopes that I, too,  can learn right along with my students. We will become authors together.

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