Three educators. Three states. Three demographics. All practicing Readers and Writers Workshop in our Secondary Classrooms. Read more about us here.
We are the Modern PLC, and every Wednesday, we share our behind-the-scenes collaboration as we talk about the most urgent moving parts of our classroom pedagogy.
Recently Three Teachers Talk received an inquiry regarding our use of Writer’s Notebooks. Naturally, this question got us talking–what do notebooks look like between New Hampshire and Texas, Freshman English and AP Language and Composition?
We all agree that writer’s notebooks are one of the essential tools to a successful classroom, but integrating and sustaining them can prove challenging. This week’s conversation between Jackie and Amy seeks to explore some of the ins and outs of writer’s notebooks by discussing what we, as teachers, consciously choose to include in our students’ notebooks and what we decide to leave out.
Please join the conversation in the comments and check back for the second installment tomorrow!
Why are writer’s notebooks important in your classroom? What value do they hold?
Jackie: Notebooks are the lifeblood of my writing curriculum. My students need a safe space to practice low stakes writing. Too often they’ve been forced to write formally, slogging through rough and final drafts of disconnected, five-paragraph essays. The formality of it all removes the artistry, pleasure, and process of writing.
I enjoy the controlled messiness of notebooks and the voices I rarely heard as a first year teacher. Honestly, writing brings me closer to my students. It connects my classes, makes students recognize their peers are indeed human, and at the end of the day, gives many of my kids, as Ralph Fletcher says, “A room of [their] own.”
Amy: I am all about organization. Often, my students have a difficult time keeping up with everything they need to practice, track, monitor, and evaluate their reading and writing lives. Our writer’s notebooks make all of this easier. The value of a daily writer’s notebook rises with each use of it.
How do you integrate writer’s notebooks into your classroom? How are they set up?
Jackie: We start using our Writer’s Notebooks the second day of school, when I help students establish the various sections in their composition books.
My sections, which are all pulled from Linda Rief’s Inside the Writer’s-Reader’s Notebook, include the following: 1. Books Read (a log of the books they read throughout the year), 2. Inspiration Page (where students keep story ideas, photos, images, etc), 3. Graffiti Wall (For beautifully crafted sentences from their independent reading or inspiring quotes), 4. Notes and Entries (the bulk of the notebook), 5. Wondrous Words Dictionary (where they keep their vocabulary from their independent reading), and 6. Books to Read (a list of books they want to read).
Our notebooks are our single most important tool within the classroom, which means that this is where we store all of our quick writes, writing, rough drafts, notes, minilessons, mentor texts, and thinking.
When we aren’t writing in class, students independently write three pages outside of class per week. This independent writing allows them to develop quick writes, explore various writing prompts, or jot down potential ideas. As author Janet Burroway says, “The best place for permission is a private place, and for that reason a writer’s journal is an essential, likely to be the source of originality, ideas, experimentation, and growth.” The act of writing helps students not only develop their voice, but it also serves as a safe space to explore various writing styles.
Amy: My students and I set up notebooks with similarities to Jackie’s. Ours look like this: We’ve got our main reading goal written right smack dab on the front page. Then we’ve got the “currently reading list” on the next. We’ve got a “to read next list” on the very back page, so as I do book talks — or students talk about books with each other, they are able to keep a running list of titles that sound interesting. (This is a time saver in helping students who just finished a book find another one to read relatively quickly.) In the very middle of our notebooks, we’ve got our “personal dictionaries.” These are the words students find and define from their independent reading (five words a week). We also have a poetry section where we respond to poetry, or glue in poems and write around them. There’s a “write my life” section where students write an entry a week about anything they please. And we have a “reader’s response” section that we write our thinking about our books, articles, etc — pretty much any other kind of text other than poems.
I did something new this year and created notebook glue-ins. I thought this would be helpful to remind students of what went where and the expectations for learning and growth I have for each section. Honestly, I do a poor job of checking notebooks with any kind of regularity — although I do check parts of them at least every other week — so I don’t know if the glue-ins are valuable yet or not.
Jackie: I agree about the glue-ins, Amy. While I haven’t gone that far, I have students trim down mentor examples, checklists, and typed rough drafts and tape them into their notebooks. It keeps them better organized and makes it easy to return to previous craft lessons.
Why do you value writer’s notebooks, and how do you integrate them into your classrooms? What successes have you had with your notebooks this year? What challenges might you still face?