Revisiting Notebooks

Having read Notebook Know-How (Aimee Buckner) this spring; I’ve moved on the another of her books, Notebook Connections. Know-How is to writing as the Connections book is to Reading. What I am discovering though is that they both are interconnected – as they should be.

At this time of year, many of us start thinking about what we need in place on Day 1 of the next school year.  Last year, by this time, I had a very elaborate, custom-designed Readers’ Notebook all mapped out and in the copier. That Notebook had many of the elements of the fancy Fountas Pinnell Readers’ Notebooks and some of the elements that Beth Newingham uses with her Third Grade Class.

What I’ve come to through reading Notebook Connections and seeing what was tedious, is that much of what I have in the current notebook needs to be revised or maybe even removed.  My students are fairly consistent in completing the daily book log that is part of their current notebook. We both refer to the Color Conference (book level) page and the Goals page. Each week we write back and forth to each other about reading.  But there seems to be lots that is not in use and some places where the Readers’ Notebook is not effective.

I think I still need something more structured than Ms. Buckner’s notebooks so I will keep the basic structure of a separate dedicated notebook for reading. But as I read more of Aimee’s book, I want to create something that is going to be more authentic and clearly connects what my students read to what they will write. I want to move my students past retellings to deeper thinkings about texts, so I will make the shift from a Dear Mrs. Bisson response to students actually recording their reaction to parts of texts or strategic reading.

While I am savoring each day with my current students, I am looking forward to a new year with new faces and new challenges. And getting excited about trying new strategies for learners.

A (Non)-Writer Discovers Notebooks

A while ago, our Literacy Coach began talking to us about revisiting notebooks as a means to developing writers and authors.  I’m possibly the last person in education to discover Aimee Buckner and Notebook Know-How, but I am so glad I have made that connection.

Not being a writer myself or at least not a disciplined one, I found notebooks and their use just one more thing to do with kids. Our school-wide writing calendars, focused on responses and one new genre of writing every two months was quite time-consuming. I couldn’t imagine when we would fit in using notebooks.

And then I read this

— we shouldn’t write for significance, but rather that we should write as a habit. Sometimes we’ll write something significant and sometimes we won’t. It’s the act of writing — the practice of generating text and building fluency–that leads writers to significance.

Wow! Did those words speak to me! What I had been doing “wrong” all this time, both as a non-writer and a teacher of writing, was expecting each morsel to be significant. The notebook is a place to practice, to try out, to experiment. Not only in writing, but in any endeavor, a learner needs a safe place to practice without worry as to the significance of the outcome.

This is a discovery that I can relate to. As an amateur photographer, I’ve been reticent to take my camera with me because I would not have anything worthwhile to show for it.

My students are starting to use notebooks now. And while they are not yet a habit, we are learning together to find a safe place to experiment with some of the strategies that professional writers and authors use.

We are learning to be learners through our experimentation.

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.

The Places We Write

When we returned to school this week, I knew I would need to revisit some of our routines. The first week in January always seems like a good time to do such things. One thing I knew I wanted to clarify was where to put writing.

In my third grade classroom, there seem to be 4 categories of writing activities – Reading Responses, Writers’ Notebook captures, Genre/project based writing, and Free Writing.  So this week I set out to redefine these 4 with my students through the creation of anchor charts and practice. As we work to refine the kinds of writing we do in  the four places, we created an anchor chart for each.

Our Writers’ Notebooks in particular had become a mash of full-blown stories – not simply observations, ideas, snippets of conversation that might later turn in to something more substantial. We’ve started with a new notebook this week, a notebook that students are expected to keep on their desks during the day just in case a new writing idea comes to mind. While that spontaneity has not yet been achieved, I hope my message is clear: writers need to be ready to jot down ideas at any time.

Organization, as any teacher can tell you, is where we succeed or stumble. If the structure for keeping track of materials and tasks doesn’t make sense to me personally, it probably won’t be helpful for the students. For me, and hopefully for my students, this past week’s activities has helped us to clarify and to organize tasks more logically.