Thursday, August 15, 2013

                              The Writer's Notebook

       I always tell kids that the most important book I've written is one that will never be published: my writer's notebook. As the old American Express commercials used to say, I don't leave home without one! But the notebook has relevance for students, too. It provides conditions that are necessary for them to grow into strong, confident writers.

     A Place To Live The Writing Life

       When we teach the language arts, we aren't satisfied with reading and writing as mere frills or adornments. We want them to become an integral part of our kids' writing lives. It's great when kids read during reading time, but it's not enough. We want them to be reading all the time.

         The same thing is true for writing. It's not enough for kids to be writing once a day. We want them to see themselves as writers, and the writer's notebook can help make this happen. A student who keeps a notebook can begin to live like a writer--noticing, paying attention, listening, collecting, musing, wondering, playing with language, taking pleasure in her own words. And because the notebook is portable, it encourages kids to write not just during the workshop but at all hours of the day.

        A Place To React

        "Writer's react," Don Murray wrote in his article "The Writer's Habits." This is important. Many students adopt a passive stance toward their learning. No wonder they do--to our students curriculum often feels like a one-way conversation. The writer's notebook nudges students to become more active learners. It gives them a place to react to their world, to make that all-important personal connection. And the notebook provides a place that is safe: no grades, no one correcting their grammar or commenting on their penmanship.

        A Place To Experiment

        Our writers will grow by writing for specific purposes. But they will also grow by fooling around with ideas, words, images, phrases. In today's educational climate, the prevailing winds blow against his kind of language play but I believe it is crucial. (See my Stenhouse book, Pyrotechnics on the Page)  Unfortunately it is being squeezed out of school by testing, curriculum mandates (including the CCSS). That's an ominous trend. As writing-just-for-the-fun-of-it becomes an endangered species, the writer's notebook becomes that much more valuable.

       The writer's notebook gives kids a place where they can enjoy language for its own sake. One student I know used his notebook to list his favorite words: hanky panky, gobbledygook, nincompoop... Another child was shocked to discover that no word exists for the space between your thumb and forefinger, so she invented a new word! After that she created a list in her notebook for other words she invented.

       My notebook has a poem by Adrienne Rich; the poem itself is shaped like a swan reflected in water. This breathtaking poem inspired me.

       The writer's notebook is not a new idea. Writers have been scribbling notes and sketching in day books for hundreds of years. And it's important to remember that the writer's notebook is nothing more than blank pages bound together. But with your guidance, and through your own modeling, these blank pages have enormous potential to spark young writers. "A notebook is a place where I can store little pieces of strength," wrote one 5th grade boy. Amen, brother. Long live the writer’s notebook!

PS My resources on this topic include:
      A Writer’s Notebook (HarperCollins)
      Breathing In, Breathing Out (Heinemann)
      Lessons for the Writer’s Notebook (Heinemann)
      Also check out Notebook Know-How by Aimee Buckner (Stenhouse)