Monday, April 21, 2014

Michael has won CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT!

Michael has won Orson Scott Card's CHARACTERS AND VIEWPOINT, chosen by Alex McCarron!  Michael, please just drop me an e-mail with your address to amy at amylv dot com, and this book will be on the way to you!

Thank you again to Alex McCarron for such a rich and fantastic notebooks post.

Readers - if you or one of your students or friends keeps a notebook and would like to share in this space, please send an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com.  I welcome your contributions and will send you the post specs for this blog.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Alex McCarron: Journals & Index Cards


Before I start, I have a confession to make: I used to hate notebooks. I’ve always loved writing, so I heard the advice to keep a journal or a notebook about a million times. I’d buy a pretty journal, and, after a few days, or, at the most, weeks, abandon it on my shelf. I couldn’t tell why—whether I was too lazy, or real life was too boring, or if I just didn’t know anything worth writing down. By the time I signed up for a writing class at my home school co-op, I’d sworn off journals.

At the first class, our teacher handed us each a composition notebook. As part of our homework, we had to write one entry—a page and a half or longer—every day. If we’d filled enough pages by the end of the week, our journal was stamped. 


I started journaling again with all the enthusiasm you’d have for a typical homework assignment. My first entries were mostly lists—favorite books and movies, things I loved and things I hated. After a while I began to write about whatever had been going on that day, and record my thoughts on my writing process. I was halfway through my first notebook before I realized how much I’d started to love it. 

Today, I keep two different kinds of notebooks: a journal and a notebook for everything else. Here’s my current journal:


I usually split my entries in half—one half is a writing log, where I record my daily progress and whine about how hard it all is. The other half is more of a typical journal entry, with anything interesting I did that day written down, plus any thoughts I want to remember. I’ve just started keeping a reading list at the back of my journal. It keeps track of what I’ve read, and each title works like a mini-journal entry—I remember thoughts and feelings I had while reading each book. I write in pen, so my journals are pretty messy!


I use a plain spiral-bound notebook for everything else; lists, homework assignments, and freewrites. Every day, before I write anything else, I sit down and write a page on whatever pops into my head first. There’s no editing, and rarely much punctuation or good grammar.


The photo below is of a freewrite from a couple weeks ago. As near as I can remember, it was inspired by a paper model of Paris. The first sentence is ‘The paper city came in a paper box.’ Not exactly a killer hook, but from there it morphed into a description of the girl who makes the paper cities. All day, she sits in her shop, surrounded by paper buildings, animals, and people. She never talks. So far, this description has stayed in my notebook, but who knows? One day it might become the beginning of a story. Freewriting helps keep my writing muscles limber, and it can be inspiring, so I encourage you to try it if you haven’t already. At the very least, it keeps me writing. 


Though my two notebooks are very different, I keep both of them for the same purpose--to collect things I don’t want to forget. Often, though, an idea strikes when I don’t have time to record it in my journal. For those times, I use index cards. I keep a pile of them on my desk, and more in my purse and backpack. I store used index cards in a shoebox.  



Anything that inspires me goes on an index card. The two cards in this photo have quotes written on them. The first is from Norton Juster: “I found out that nothing is easy—or should be.” I have to remember this constantly! The next quote, “To be one’s self is a rare thing and a great one.” is from The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin. These quotes might inspire a story or the solution to a problem in a story later. For now I can rest easy knowing they’re both stored where I can find them. 

Looking back, I know the main reason I wasn’t successful at journaling was because I didn’t want a real journal. I wanted a picture perfect notebook full of beautiful writing. I didn’t want to be myself (you can’t ne yourself if you want to be perfect) and I didn’t want to collect all my messy, imperfect memories. Now I have notebooks full of them—and I couldn’t be happier. 


Alex McCarron is a 17-year-old student living in West Virginia. She’s always on the lookout for a good story, and hopes to write her own someday.

In honor of Alex's journals, index cards, and generosity here, I will give away a copy of CHARACTERS & VIEWPOINT by Orson Scott Card.  This book has offered Alex a "crash-course in character development", and it will go to noe commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, April 20 to have your name entered into the drawing.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mary Poindexter McLaughlin: Even Just Breath

I recently met with my poetry professor, Myung Mi Kim, for a conference about my work.  When she asked to see my journal, I panicked.  “Here it is,” I said sheepishly, producing the small plain black book I carry around with me most everywhere.  “But I don’t have time— it’s not—I’m not—“

She wasn’t buying.  “Let’s see.”  I handed it over, and stopped breathing as she flipped through so many, so MANY blank pages.  I just had to explain.  “See, I’ve got three teenage kids and I barely have time to do all the coursework and I end up just writing down ideas in the notebook I use for class notes instead of a proper “journal” and…”  I trailed off.  Pathetic.

She stared at me, shook her head in sympathy, and talked to me as though speaking to a small, fragile, academically challenged child.  “It doesn’t matter where you write it down.  Slips of paper in your pocket will do.  All that matters is that you do it.”

So, here are my various “notebooks":


And here is a poem that was inspired by a dream I had, which, when I awoke from it, my husband insisted that I write down.  Which I did.  In my journal.  (This was before I started grad school.)   Thanks, Amy, for inviting me to share it as part of this conversation!


Mary Poindexter McLaughlin is a playwright, an Improvidancer, and a brand new poet (!?!) who lives in Western New York.  She’s also a mother of three with a soon-to-be-completed Masters Degree in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University at Buffalo.

In honor of Mary's notebook keeping, I will give away an Ultra Collection of Post it Notes to one commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, April 6 to have your name entered into the drawing.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Linda has won RIP THE PAGE!

Linda Baie has won a copy of RIP THE PAGE!  Please just drop me an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com, and I will send you instructions as to how to receive your book.  Thank you again to Jamie Palmer for sharing such a wonderful list of notebook books.

Next up will be Alex McCarron, a notebook keeper from West Virginia!

Readers - if you or one of your students or friends keeps a notebook and would like to share in this space, please send an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com.  I welcome your contributions and will send you the post specs for this blog.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Notebooks Resource Edition #1: With Teacher Jamie Palmer

For today's post, I invited fourth grade teacher extraordinaire, Jamie Palmer, to share some of her favorite books for teaching students about writers' notebooks as well as books that she uses as inspiration for her teaching with notebooks.  Thank you, Jamie, for this rich list of resources!
- Amy LV

Books to Inspire and Start Writers' Notebooks With Students

Picture Books











To Share With Parents




To Add a Little Creativity




Teacher Inspiration

Notebook Know-How

10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know

But...the Number One Thing...

...that gets kids to buy into keeping notebooks and cherishing them is to share my notebooks - from 5th grade through when I've been a teacher - and how I love them. Just yesterday, some high school seniors told me that they still have their notebooks and all the books we wrote together. 

The community is key and the teacher as a model is the number one resource!

 Jamie Palmer currently learns and teaches with fourth graders at Schlegel Road Elementary in the Webster Central School District north of Rochester, NY. She has also taught 3rd and 5th grades as well as being an Enrichment Specialist. Buying notebooks is something Jamie looks forward to each school year or really whenever she sees one that she can't pass up! Sparking the love of books and notebooks with her students remains at the forefront of building her classroom communities' reading and writing lives.

In honor of Jamie's generous sharing, I will give away one book from this list (yet to be determined) to one commenter on this post.  Please leave your comment by Sunday, March 16 to have your name entered into the drawing.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lee Ann Spillane: Living Life Twice

“We write to taste life twice in the moment and in retrospect.” – Anais Nin

I love to learn and think and draw and write. As I child I wanted to remember things. I used to sit on the floor of our living room flipping through photo albums: remembering. Later, I wrote stories about the images I remembered in my diaries and journals.  I’ve kept journals—or idea books or a writer’s notebook—since I was young.  I don’t have them all, thankfully as they are getting to be something of a storage issue.  Plus, I don’t think I want to see everything I wrote as teenager or child. The “Normal Rockwell Diary” from my teens is enough to cringe over. Like all teenagers who enjoy writing, I wrote poetry (badly),  I processed feelings. I wrote letters and kept lists. I laughed over this Christmas list from the early eighties—I was keeping track of gifts so that thank you note writing—required before the New Year—would be easier.


What I love seeing in that Christmas list though is the red writing in the left margin. Sometimes when I go back through my journals, I add notes. Those notes remind me how story and memory have layers. Notes help me refine and rethink, like this reminder to always carry a pencil sharpener from a 1998 summer literacy institute journal.


I write the years and sometimes conferences or events across the tops of my journals. I have a journal of the first year of my marriage, several sermon journals, even a camping journal. Mostly though I have lots of everyday, work-horse journals—sketchbooks. The edge labels help me find things later. Sometimes a friend will say, “remember the time we were listening to…. and you drew that picture of… can you find that? I want to cite that presentation.” I can usually visualize the page of notes and find it by year on the shelf at home (pictured below) or school. I write in composition notebooks with my students. A few of those are pictured on the left. I prefer to use sketchbooks myself. I like the unlined pages and size choice for my own notes and ideas.


As an adult I write to learn in my journals and I use them as writer’s or artist’s notebooks. I collect and experiment with ideas in my notebooks. 

I like to begin new journals with photographs and bits of things that inspire my thinking. I usually draw and color a piece of word art on the first page. 


I’ve always wanted to print these on fabric and make tote-bags: one day. My journals keep those one day dreams. 

They also track everyday things like meetings and conferences. I like to take illustrated notes. The drawings in my notes help me remember the information. As Marzano says in Building Academic Vocabulary:  logogens and imogens. Memory is made up of words and images. Mine sure is. I’ve written about my note taking on my teacher blog here and here

When I take notes I draw icons to represent ideas: connecting language, workshop or teaching ideas, book titles, questions, reflective thinking, memorable quotes, things to look up, and participants’ questions.  I like to see the big picture, the organization of speakers’ presentations as well as learn the content and reflect on the group’s reactions. The coding helps track ideas and organization. Because they are colorful, I can find them easily when I review my notes.  Here are my most common codes:  

a green B for book title
a green S for a story the speaker uses to make a point
a green double arrow for a connection 

If the arrow has a red L next to it, then I’m collecting connecting language and paying attention to how the speaker segues from one idea to the next.

a red question mark for questions
a blue H for reflective thinking 
        That’s me saying Hmmm… and recording my thinking. 
a yellow light bulb for an idea. 

If it has a red T next to it that is a teaching idea, a red W means workshop. 
an orange L.U. means look up later  
a red Q is a quote 
a black P is a comment or question made by a participant

You can see most of these codes in my notes from one of my favorite NCTE sessions: “Reports from Cyberspace” presented by Sara Kajder, Troy Hicks and Bud Hunt.


As I have time while note taking, I create an index in the back of the journal. I reserve a page (or two) for book titles, ideas, quotes, questions and things I want to look up and I note that code at the top of the page then review my notes and list them there. 


Creating the indices helped me to follow through on the ideas I get while listening to and learning from others at conferences or in meetings. I was tracking a book list in my journals long before GoodReads or Amazon wish lists—though I do collect books in those places now too.

Aside from notes, I draft poems, art and other writing in my journals too. Here’s a poem I drafted for one of my sons early birthdays.


And a draft of a mermaid piece I thought about painting...


This animal collage in my journal on the left led to the collages I create on library cards on the right. 


I’d be lost without a journal. I take them everywhere. They are play spaces. There is always something to learn, explore, draw or do.  My journals are memory keepers and idea generators. They feed my spirit. In these high-stakes times as a teacher, the second life I can live in my journals keeps me creative and keeps me growing. 

Lee Ann Spillane has worked as a llama wrangler, aerobics instructor, head sidewalk sweeper, freelance writer, lunch maker and backyard chicken farmer. Through it all, she teaches. A National Board Certified Teacher, find her learning with tenth and eleventh graders at Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Florida. Visit Lee Ann’s virtual classroom online here.


Lee Ann has generously offered a free copy of her e-book READING AMPLIFIED to a commenter on this post.  Please leave a way to contact you along with your comment, and we will announce a winner on Sunday, January 26.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mary Lee Hahn Has Won A Notebook!

Mary Lee has won the surprise notebook in honor of Betsy Hubbard's post!  And as I will see Mary Lee at NCTE, I will deliver her notebook to Boston.

Next up:  ???

Readers - if you or one of your students or friends keeps a notebook and would like to share in this space, please send an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com.  I welcome your contributions and will send you the post specs for this blog.

Please share a comment below if you wish.