Tag Archives: Writer’s Notebooks

5 Non-Negotiables When Designing Writing Instruction

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First draft of a unit plan in my notebook

I plan my units of instruction in three-week chunks, alternating between a reading-focused unit and a writing-focused unit.  In every unit, and in every class period, I keep some routines the same, much like Amy describes here.  While I do most of the big thinking about a unit up front, I do leave some holes in the plans to make space for mini-lessons that are responsive to what I discover students need during our conferences.  And every year, I design brand new units.

While each unit is unique, I was reminded while at the NCTE Annual Convention of five non-negotiables to keep in mind when designing writing instruction.

Writing should be low-stakes.  Students need to write a lot, and a lot of that writing should be ungraded, unread, or worth very few points.  I have felt liberated in terms of grading writing since I read Kelly Gallagher’s research-based statement that students should be reading and writing four times as much as a teacher could ever grade.

I think, since I embraced that philosophy, that my students also feel liberated.  Their notebooks are a “safe place for regular, ungraded practice,” as Penny Kittle described in her Ignite session.  While we write in our notebooks every day, and outside of class in one-pagers, I only collect notebooks every two weeks, and only carefully read and respond to one or two pieces my students have marked.  Indeed, 80% of the writing we do stays in our notebooks and never makes it to ‘published’ form.  This takes the pressure off writers to produce something perfect or error-free, because “our classrooms need to be a safe place to fail,” in the words of Taylor Mali.

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The first two weeks of Kelly Gallagher’s unit plan–week three is filled with revision and getting to best draft #3 at the ‘deep end’

Teaching writing is complex, layered, and nuanced.  In her session on revision, Georgia Heard shared the five things all students need in order to make authentic revision happen:  “opportunities for students to write, mini-lessons on craft and revision, choice in topics, mentor texts, one-on-one conferences with both teachers and students.”  Kelly Gallagher’s unit plan he walked us through adhered to those rules remarkably well.  “Assigning writing and teaching writing are two different things.  Grading writing and assessing writing are two different things,” he reminded us.  It is impossible for students to produce great writing if it is merely assigned.  Thus, when I plan a unit of writing instruction, I leave ample time for craft mini-lessons, modeling my own writing, and talk amongst students and myself.

When teachers are writers ourselves, and experience the process of topic choice, revision, and studying craft moves beside our students, we can become the most effective teachers of writing.  We have to walk the talk.  “Great, effective teachers must be informed AND inspired,” Kwame Alexander asserted.  To be a truly informed teacher of writing, a teacher must be a writer herself. I learned more about writing a strong narrative while participating in NaNoWriMo alongside my students than I ever did just trying to teach fiction before I wrote fiction.  I loved the experience six years ago during my first attempt, and I’ve continued to complete all assignments beside my students ever since.  When we write with our students, inspiration will spread through “the contagion of passion,” in Penny Kittle’s words.

Writing should be personal.  While I love to write about reading, and find it valuable for students to do so often, most of the writing in my classroom is personalized, choice-driven, and often remains private.  When we do a nonfiction writing unit, like the rhetorical analysis we’re in the midst of right now, our written products are focused on the students’ relationships to the texts they’re analyzing–in this case, the misleading rhetoric often found in American politics.  Mostly we write narratives, even in the midst of nonfiction, telling the stories of our connections to the topics we discuss in informative or argumentative genres.

“You can write yourself out of dark places. How much of the writing we do in school nurtures that?” Gary Anderson wondered in his session on reflection.  We have to honor the fact that students are not inherently motivated to write for their futures–for college, job applications, or resumes–but rather they are motivated to write for the here and now, and for themselves.  This is why choice is, and will remain, at the center of my writing instruction.

How do you design writing instruction?  Share your process in the comments!

#3TT Workshop: Assessing Writer’s Notebooks and Sparking Engagement

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.

Make sure to visit the first installment of our conversation, and please join the conversation in the comments!

As the year progresses, how do you keep students engaged in their writer’s notebooks?  How do you help students to recognize their inherent value?

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 3.34.55 PMAmy:  Well, we do use our notebooks every day. Of course, this helps with keeping students invested in their use. This year I wish I had taken more time to have students decorate their notebooks, really take ownership of them. I love how Jackie setup collage stations and took the time for this with her students. Students care more about their notebooks when they have taken the time to personalize them.

My students also come to value their notebooks more during our conferences. For example, today I met with a student to talk about her reading life. I asked her how she felt she was progressing. She told me that she was stumped because “I keep abandoning books. I’ve started 10 this year, but I’ve only completed four.” I asked to see her Currently Reading List in her writer’s notebook. She did not have it updated. First, we took some time to write all her titles down, and then we marked ‘finished’ or ‘abandoned’ like I’d hoped she would do all along (my fault for not checking notebooks with more fidelity.) Once we had a complete list of the books this students had tried, I was able to talk her through why she might have needed to let them go. We zeroed in on the narrators. The books she has finished have unique narrators:  a dog, a voice in verse, an 11 year old boy, an autistic 16-year-old. We then talked about the narrators of the other books — all third person omniscient, which she did not know, so I taught her the term in a mini mini-lesson. Together we learned that when the narrator “goes off into some other character’s part of the story, I get confused.” This was a powerful learning experience for my student, and a great reminder to me. There is power in the IMG_0163writer’s notebook. It can be our primary teaching resource.

Jackie: Sustaining interest in writer’s notebooks throughout the year can be a difficult task; students must be invested in and committed to their notebooks to understand their full value.  I believe sustained investment comes with consistent use.  As Amy mentioned, the collages at the beginning of the year helped students connect to their notebooks.  Even now I have students adding to their collages or entirely recovering their notebooks.  

Using notebooks everyday also reinforces the value of these tools.  I talk about them constantly, conduct notebook checks throughout the year, and ask to see them during reading conferences.  I display example pages in a giant writer’s notebook, and I typically ask students to write their drafts by hand.

How (and how often) do you assess writer’s notebooks?

Jackie: Writer’s Notebooks provide a safe space for play within the writing process.  To become confident and secure writers, students must have a low stakes area to both visualize and enjoy the process of putting pencil to paper.  That being said, notebooks are also valuable because they provide me with insight into a student’s thought process, progress, and personal exploration.  

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Students’ notebook pages are displayed in a giant writer’s notebook.

My grading process is relatively simple.  I keep a list of notebook contents on a board in my classroom, adding to the board every day.  Notebook checks take place every two-to-three weeks depend on the class content and units.  A week before we have a notebook check, I provide students with a checklist, with which they self-grade and return upon notebook submission.  On notebook check day, students use mini-sticky notes to mark two pages, one page they want me to respond to, and another page they want to display for their peers in our class’ giant writer’s notebook.  This process reinforces that students are writing for a wider audience than myself, while also embracing the messiness and imperfection that comes with writing.  I value the scribbled drafts full of doodles for the sole reason that they model the realness of writing, the fact that these pieces, while fun and entertaining still require molding and modeling to become a polished final piece.

While my grading is low stakes, I file writer’s notebooks under summative assessments for a few different reasons: it helps me assess student’s executive functioning skills, which is particularly important for my freshmen and struggling learners.  In my school, it allows students to “retake” the assessment, requiring them to revisit, revise, and refashion.  The more they return to the contents of their notebook and develop its structure, the more invested they become in the final product.  Finally, notebooks align with the common core, which is essential in my competency-based grading school.  They help “students develop and strengthen writing” (W.9-10.5), “write routinely over extended…and shorter time frames” (W.9-10.10), and “determine the meaning of words and phrases [in their dictionary section]” (RL.9-10.4).

Amy:  I’ve tried scoring the whole of the notebook. I even have a glue in for how I would if I did. I am not disciplined enough. I find short chunks much easier to manage, and I can zip around the room and look at everyone’s personal dictionary to see if it is up-to-date in the first 15 minutes of class while students are reading. Or I can collect notebooks and look at just the skill we practiced that day. These always equate to completion grades. Sometimes I’ll pass out sticky notes and ask students to mark whatever writing they’d like me to read. I learn important information about my students this way. When students share their hearts with me, I value it in a way that is so much more important than a grade. How would I ever grade that anyway?

How do you keep your students excited about their writer’s notebooks throughout the year?  How do you assess notebooks without stifling creativity?

 

#3TT Workshop: The Ins and Outs of Writer’s Notebooks

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?

IMG_1485Jackie: 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.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 3.33.19 PM (1)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?  

Mini-Lesson Monday: Connecting to Poetry with Heart Books

Today is my first day back with my students, since my excellent student teacher departed on Friday.  Having observed their learning and their needs for the past six weeks, I have lots of goals for them in mind.  But, most urgently, I am struck by how much I want readers to connect more authentically to literature–to nurture their investment in, and passion about, literacy.  I want to begin helping them do that by creating and curating Heart Books, which I heard the excellent Linda Rief present about at NCTE in 2013.  Thank you to the very thorough Vicki for this excellent description of Heart Books.

Objectives — Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels:  Identify a topic/theme to explore in heart books; Collect and display a variety of poems about this topic/theme over time; Connect your poems to your topic and yourself.

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My heart map

Lesson — We’ll begin the lesson by returning to the Heart Maps (here’s a great handout on those) we created early on in the school year.  “Choose one topic on your heart map that you’d like to explore further.  On my heart map, I think I’m going to choose my students–this kind of includes themes of learning, growth, and teaching, too,” I’ll explain.

Once students choose topics from their heart maps and expand on what themes they might include, we’ll create a new section in our writer’s notebooks called HEART BOOKS.  Then, we’ll browse various poetry anthologies and collections (check Amy’s selection out if you seek inspiration for building your poetry shelf!), searching for poetry that matches their selected theme.  I’ll ask students to copy the poem into their notebooks once they’ve made a selection.

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My poetry shelf, unshelved

From there, Linda Rief suggests having heart-bookers illustrate the poem, write a response about why it was chosen, and research the poet to find out what he or she might have to say about reading and writing.  I’ll encourage my students to do the same, but also will ask them to make a note of their favorite bits of language from the poem–words, phrases, or even punctuation.  The craft moves poets make are valuable teachers of writing.

Follow-Up — Next class, I’ll ask students to share in groups their Heart Books.  Perhaps we’ll have a notebook pass in which we write in one another’s notebooks, responding to each other’s poems.

For the remainder of the year, once per month, I’ll set class time aside for curating Heart Books.  By the end of the year students will have created a personal anthology of ten poems that help them explore a key theme in their Heart Maps.

What routines do you have in place that help your students connect to literature and explore personal themes?

Weekly One-Pagers to Develop Writing Fluency

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Janelle, now in college, appreciates the one-pagers belatedly

This summer, Amy and I talked a lot about what we wanted for our students.  While there were lots of complex ideas tossed around, we knew that our goals boiled down to two simple ones:  for our students to become real writers and real readers.

We had lots of structures in place to help our students become authentic, fluent readers–weekly reading homework, daily booktalks, reading conferences, reading workshops, and more.  But writing was a bit different.  Daily quickwrites and longer compositions were already in place, but I wanted to add something more to get students writing more regularly outside of class on topics of their choice.  I wanted them to gain the same fluency with writing that they did through their weekly reading homework.

So, I was reminded of something I used to require my AP and Honors English students to do–a weekly one-pager.  Every Monday, a one page, single-spaced, typed paper was due.  I offered topic suggestions, but ultimately, students could choose what to write about.  I decided to revive this routine, inspired by Kelly Gallagher’s powerful claim that students should be writing four times as much as teachers could ever assess.  Why shouldn’t all students–not just the AP and Honors level students–write this much?

This year, I only have one Honors class, but all four of my English classes write weekly one-pagers.  We have a section in our notebooks called “Weekly Writing,” which is rapidly filling up with writing on a variety of topics.  During bi-weekly notebook collections, I check to see that these weekly one-pagers are being completed, but I don’t “grade” them–that’s not the point.  The point is to build writing fluency.

These one-pagers are low stakes–ten points apiece, so on a particularly busy week, if students just don’t have time to write, it’s no big deal.  But the frequent follow-up and sharing activities we do in class with these writings, combined with the autonomy students have in their topics, make the missed one-pager a rare occurrence.

I was initially inspired to create this routine by some of my greatest college professors, for whose classes a written response was due each day.  Alan Frager’s “study guides,” Tom Romano’s “one-pagers,” and Don Daiker’s “reading responses” were handed in at the start of each class period.  By writing a short paper every single day for most of my college years, I developed incredible writing fluency.  I knew I wanted my students to develop this written fluency as well, partially in preparation for their own college experiences, but also to bridge the gap between a writer’s thoughts and his words on the page.

As evidenced by Janelle’s testimony above, building this writing fluency pays off.  Already this year, students are remarking that it’s becoming much easier to write a full page, after only writing eight of them thus far.  I’m enthused by the growth I see in all my students’ writing fluency, and looking forward to seeing how much they can develop as writers by the end of this school year thanks to the weekly one-pager.

What routines are in place in your classes to help build students’ writing fluency?

Studying Vocabulary Through Choice Reading

IMG_2886“Reading increases one’s vocabulary,” I tell incoming freshmen every fall. But up until now, I have had little evidence to support this claim. It is true that reading exposes students to new words, but I never went out of my way to help students sort through these new words.

Instead, as a junior English teacher, I regularly taught SAT vocabulary as part of my Advanced Composition curriculum. Students completed chapters from the Sadlier-Oxford Vocabulary Workshop books and took quizzes every other week. While some students relished the challenge, many saw little relevance to their own lives, retaining few words by the end of the year.

In turn, this year I have turned from my well-worn Sadlier Oxford books and have instead had students reference their independent reading books for new words. Students develop their own lists of eight words every other week. My goal in doing this is not only to have students slow down their reading, but to also expose them to diction and complexity within their independent books. Once again, like many of the mini-lessons within the workshop classroom, this practice also turns into a lesson on craft and intention within a writer’s work.

Too often students skim over large words, failing to activate context clues and prior knowledge to help them draw out meaning. By creating vocabulary lists, students must practice these skills while also recording definitions, synonyms, passages, and parts of speech.

The benefit is twofold: students have a say in their vocabulary and immediately see both the relevance and payoff of understanding a new word. At the same time, having independent vocabulary lists eliminates cheating and encourages independence. Instead of worrying about students’ wandering eyes during quizzes, I spend time helping students understand the words they have picked. In addition, independent vocabulary lists provide insight into students’ reading levels and comprehension. I have learned more about my students’ reading lives simply by becoming aware of the words they find challenging.

Every other week, students complete a summative assessment that helps gauge their understanding of their eight vocabulary words. Two weeks ago I had students complete “Rock and Roll Vocabulary,” an activity that requires students to roll dice and answer questions about their vocabulary corresponding to specific numbers. This week students will complete a grid about various words.

While I am still new to this vocabulary approach, I feel confident in my students’ choices. Oftentimes I have seen the typical “SAT words” pop up in multiple lists, reinforcing that students will indeed choose challenging vocabulary. The process is far from perfect, and my students and I are still ironing out some of the flaws. Some students intentionally pick easy words, but the next assessment will require them to rank the difficulty of their words. In addition, I allow retakes of vocabulary summative assessments considering students made a “good faith effort” according to our school’s retake policy. Finally, not all independent books offer complex language, which can be a struggle for students who love the content yet can’t seem to find their eight or so words. In those instances, students may pull from in-class readings, articles, and textbooks. If they still struggle, I have books of SAT vocabulary they may choose from instead.

While this method of teaching is somewhat nontraditional, it provides students with continued say in their education. Not only are they empowered by their newfound words, but also by the end, I hope my students will see that reading truly does increase one’s vocabulary.

Window Shopping and Writer’s Notebooks

IMG_2848While thumbing through a Pottery Barn catalog, I paused to appreciate a navy gallery wall. Inky prints, gold frames, and brass hardware framed an assortment of images, below them designer Ken Fulk wrote, “When creating a gallery wall, I like layering different objects…paintings and photographs together; it tells a wonderful story.” I looked at the images, trying to decipher the story these antlers, ivory boats, dogs, and pencil sketches communicated. To be honest, I have no idea what he was going for, but I ripped out the page anyway, taped it into my writer’s notebook and started writing around it: “What story would our own gallery walls tell?” “What is your story?”

These are the questions I want my students to answer, and bit-by-bit their stories unravel. But all too often the process of answering these questions through writing intimidates them. In turn, one of the first activities we did this year to establish classroom culture involved designing and decorating our writer’s notebook covers. In the past I had students create inspiration page collages on the inside of their notebooks, but these were hidden and personal. They didn’t distinguish one’s self or serve as a conversational piece between peers. These images, which could serve as gallery walls for my students, were tucked away.

Student notebooks ready for writing.

Student notebooks ready for writing.

In turn, this year I stocked my classroom with scrapbook paper, patterned tape, and stickers. I lined tables with butcher paper and allowed for the messy process of gluing and cutting and painting. Together, my class sat listening to music and chatting about TV shows, cars, sports, summer vacations, and the scary transition between middle and high school. While this artistry and expression is typically celebrated at the elementary level, I encounter few secondary teachers who value setting aside class time for these collages. Some of my colleagues use it as a homework assignment, but I love how blocking out one class period and allowing for exploration becomes an icebreaker in and of itself. After all, these interactions mirror the same writing process students will engage in as they begin filling their notebooks and sharing the stories of their images.

Today we’ll circle around the classroom, sharing our notebooks with each other and highlighting one meaningful aspect of our covers. This activity is low stakes and comfortable; they have a choice in how much or how little information they provide. Hopefully they’ll find that these collages are snapshots in time of who

we are, reminders of what we value, and visual hopes for who we’ll become. I know this because as we sit in a circle, I will share, for the first time, the cover I created in 8th grade when I was caught between childhood and adulthood, the cover from 11th grade when I thought I wanted to be a journalist, and the cover from my junior year of college when I left on a great adventure to study abroad in Ireland. In the end, we’ll take a great leap forward in beginning our process of sharing who we are through words and images.

My notebook covers through the ages: 8th grade (far left), 11th grade (middle), junior year of college (far right).

My notebook covers through the ages. 8th grade (far left), 11th grade (middle), junior year of college (far right).

Simplify, Simplify: An Invitation

We’re six days deep into the school year here in West Virginia, and I am so happy, fulfilled, and content.  The start of this year has been the smoothest of my seven years, and our readers and writers workshop is coming together more quickly than it ever has.  I think it’s because of all of the invitations and welcomes that have been flying around our classroom, rather than the commands and directives of years past.

Amy’s post on inviting students to just talk helped me simplify the structure of my first week of lessons.  I strove to make our first days together as inviting as possible–as laid back, relaxed, and caring as I could.  Students were drawn to our classroom library with an invitation to check out whatever book they’d likethoreau-simplify.  They were intrigued by an invitation to write daily–nulla dia sine linea, in the words of the inimitable Donald Murray–as we set up our writer’s notebooks.  I invited students to just read for pleasure, to just listen to a poem to enjoy it, and to just write for fun.

My invitations all centered around simplicity.

I want to slow down my thinking this year.  It seems my brain is always flying at a hundred miles a minute, and I bet my students’ minds are too.  I will invite my students to simplify their thinking–to streamline their thought processes, open their minds, and just write.  Just read.  Just talk.

This year, I’m inviting everyone in our classroom–adults and students–to put away their phones.  We read this article to understand why that may be necessary, as our devices can distract us without our consent.  Part of this conviction came after I read M.T. Anderson’s Feed, an award-winning YA novel about the mindlessness technology can fill our lives with.

I’m inviting learners to resist letting their lives be frittered away by detail, to simplify, simplify.  We will do more with less, and we will do all of our reading, writing, and thinking more deliberately.  These first six days have been marked by that simplicity, and I hope to continue that trend all school year long.

What are your goals this school year?  What do you hope to achieve with your learners?

3 Ways Notebooks Top Digital Writing

IMG_9111Has it already been two weeks since the last day of #UNHLit15?  Unbelievable.  Time is flying by, as it always does in the sweet summertime.  As I get older, I find myself wanting time to slow down…and that’s one of the perks of a writer’s notebook–it slows down a writer’s thinking.  At right is a note I jotted to myself during Tom Newkirk’s class two short weeks ago.  I’d been pondering the notion of length in my instruction–reading longer texts, writing longer pieces, sustaining an idea or a reflection for a longer period.  While brainstorming ways to do that, I realized notebooks were one way to add length to the thinking process.  They slow down a writer’s thinking, making it keep pace with the measured movement of a hand across a page, which is slower than the tapping of keys across a keyboard.  As Tom Newkirk writes in his credo, “I believe that slow reading runs counter to a media culture that stresses speed, distraction, and a loss of history.”  I believe the same thing of slow writing, in notebook form–it draws out thought in a way digital writing just can’t.

IMG_9110Notebooks also make thinking visual.  There is something about switching colors when revising, drawing lines to connect a tangled web of thoughts, or adding ideas to a pre-existing idea to show tangible growth that just can’t be done with a computer, voice recording, or video.  As I’ve pondered the theme of power–the overarching theme of my English 12 curriculum for this upcoming year–I’ve returned again and again to this page at my right, adding ideas, jotting inspirations, and connecting them to one another.  I’ve loved watching the page become more and more crowded, my thoughts finally spilling over onto the facing page before making it into my typed syllabus and curriculum map.  This visual map of my thinking is the most important part of my writing process, and without it, the typed pages I hand my students would lack coherence, focus, and quality.

Finally, notebooks illustrate volume in a way typed papers or blog posts just can’t.  Revisiting my old notebooks provides me a tangible location to mine ideas from–I can flip back to the summer of 2013 and find wild scrawls from my first class with Penny Kittle, or the fall of 2006 to see a plethora of hearts marking my budding courtship with my husband, or the spring of 2009 when I was frantically finishing my Masters thesis, evidenced by frantic scribbling and much crossing-out of ideas.  All of this evidence of my thinking takes up an entire bookshelf in my office, showing me proof that my thinking has evolved over time.  I want my students to feel that same sense of wonder and growth when they fill their second notebook by the end of our school year together.

Notebooks are a map, a timeline, a guide–to our lives, our minds, and our hearts.  They create a space for creative contagious concentration that is tangible and necessary, and which transcends the nebulous nature of digital writing.

3 Creative Resources to Ignite a Writer’s Notebook

As I mentioned in Contagious Creative Concentration: A Week in Reflection on Tuesday, there is so much to gain when we infuse creative outlets and ample time for students to stretch their minds during the learning process.  Amy’s posted comment, “I imagine I am guilty like many others of thinking: “If I only had the time.” Seems time is the enemy of creativity, or at least it is if we let her rule our lives. Thank you for this reminder about inviting creativity into the classroom. Coloring on the edges. I like that,” relates the learnings from the week at UNH’s Literacy Institute to the significance of infusing the Readers Writers Workshop model into our learning communities.

Jackie’s post from yesterday 3 Ways to Jump-Start Reluctant Writers also provides three concrete ways to joggle ideas for our student learners.  And to conclude our weeklong focus on the Writer’s Notebook, tomorrow Shana will be discussing more ideas on how to make them a (creative) staple in all of our classrooms.

So, as the four of us here at Three Teachers Talk continue to write and think and process through the importance of the Writer’s Notebook and our excitement towards implementing them on Day 1 of our new school year…we invite you to do the same.  Here are some resources to spark and intrigue learners of all ages and to support them in embracing their inner originality and individuality:

Lynda Barry’s works are phenomenal.  I suggest you hop onto her website to take a look at her thinking, pedagogy, and resources…and to also enjoy an interactive look inside her books. (Some pictured here.)

Syllabus

What it isPicture This

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindful Coloring

 

The Mindfulness Coloring Book is a coloring book that provides page after page of innovative visuals to be colored however the user so wishes.IMG_20150727_211908 While doing so, one’s stress decreases and focus increases.  Here’s a peek at how I utilized it while taking a graduate course this summer – in an attempt to balance the workload with an element of zen.

 

 


Art-of-Zentangle

 

The Art of Zentangle explores the artistry and creativity for those looking for a bit of a challenge – as so many of our students are, yet it is incredibly accessible for doodlers of all levels.  There are a plethora of tutorials on youtube.com for you to start your hand at zentangling while also sharing the process with students.

 

 

 

I hope these resources have inspired you to think about lessening stress levels; providing students an outlet that ultimately drives their focus and concentration; and how to organically and authentically let students explore their inner-most thinking through the art of creating.  And, if you happen to find (or already know of) resources that students are thoroughly enjoying, please leave the titles and anecdotes in the comment section below.  The list of creative resources truly does go on and on!

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