Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stefanie Cole: Notebooks are Important, Spotty or Not

Notebook usage in my Grade 7 language class is framed in spottiness.

Don’t get me wrong.  Notebooks are an important tool in my class, but we never end up using them the way I want to.

Please click any image to enlarge.


I dream of my students keeping notebooks like the ones Linda Rief describes in Read Write Teach.  I’ve read Aimee Buckner’s Notebook Know-How and collected her strategies to help us develop our writing.  I’ve poured over Lynda Barry’s drawings and reflection activities in Syllabus because I know that words might be my friends, but they aren’t necessarily the friends of my students.

Some of my students, especially ones who find writing more difficult, have greater success and enjoyment when they draw out their ideas, and I have to give them space and time to do this, but in the busy-ness of school life that dream of regular reflection often falls away.

When Amy asked me to write a Sharing Our Notebooks post, I didn't think I was qualified to write it.  One of my goals as a language teacher is to have students develop the habits of readers and writers.  Using a notebook is one of those habits.

My students know I have a notebook as I often respond to the videos, poems, ideas, stories & questions with them.  I've helped them recognize that a notebook doesn't have to be neat, as they can barely read mine.  They see the cross outs, angled writing, bubbles and boxes I use to frame my ideas.


When authors Ted Staunton and Richard Scrimger, joined us to take us through their process of story writing, they generously shared their very different notebooks with us, reinforcing this idea. But I still didn’t think our use of notebooks was overly impressive.

The process of story writing made us turn to our notebooks...  

Students listed character traits, habits and personality quirks 
of their antagonists and protagonists 
so they would have them in mind while they were writing. 



They pictured their settings and wrote details to use in their stories.


They wrote various opening lines to see which ones would draw in their reader.


They experimented with the problems their stories would encompass.


They drew pictures to show rising action in their plot lines.


And sometimes they simply let the arrows tell the story. 



 They were creative, engaged and funny.  

I wondered if they appreciated the time and planning we put into the notebooks before getting down to the writing or if they were just following instructions.  I asked them to complete a Quick Write answering the question, "Did the planning activities in your notebook help you with your story?" so I could see their thinking.

Interestingly, responses fell into two distinct categories.


They found their notebooks kept ideas safe and accessible:

Raine: It helped me remember what I wanted to add to my book and ideas we could add.

Dakota: It keeps your ideas organized so that you can look back and get more ideas.

Carter: Writing in our notebook helps a lot.  We could write down ideas and remember them.

Tyler: We could just look in our notebooks and write our ideas in the story.


They also found their notebooks allowed them to generate more ideas:

Connor: It helped me visualize the characters and setting by jotting down different ideas and pictures.

Sarah: The more I read all my ideas more and more came to my head!

Ashlyn: It also keeps your ideas flowing.

Raine: It helped me plan out my characters and how they will relate to the story.


I was amazed that the collection of minds which make up my classroom, male, female, various learning disabilities, differing socio-economic backgrounds and varying degrees of academic success came to the same consensus.  

I didn’t fully appreciate how insightful my students were until I came across Sunni Brown's reflections in her book, The Doodle Revolution, on something she calls The Extended Mind.  If we think about it, our notebooks are extensions of our brains and repositories of our often fleeting ideas.  

Brown states that “Creating a physical place in which to pour our thoughts and images permits our minds to release that information from short-term memory, thus letting us see it externalized and releasing us to organize, examine, and reflect on its deeper implications,” (p.24) and that, “extending the mind…is often what makes the emergence of creativity and deeper analysis possible.”  (p. 25)  My students knew that.  They might not have written it as eloquently, but given the chance to reflect, they recognized the power of the notebook. 

Spotty or not, we will continue to use our notebooks to allow that generation of creativity and analysis.  Even if our notebooks aren’t pretty, they have an important place in our classroom, and I’ll just have to work harder to find ways to allow them to experiment with and recognize what a notebook can do!

Stefanie and Her Son William

Stefanie Cole has been an avid reader and collector of quotes in multiple notebooks from her hometown, Uxbridge, Ontario, for over thirty years.  Yes, that's thirty years of notebooks stashed away in her house.  This habit eventually led to her becoming a teacher-librarian.  For the last five years of her teaching career, she has had the honour of balancing library with Grade 7 Language and now she fills her notebooks with her own writing, as well as the inspirational words of others.  She works to pass her passion for the written word on to her students. 
 


Stefanie has generously offered to give one copy of Lynda Barry's SYLLABUS: NOTES FROM AN ACCIDENTAL PROFESSOR to someone who comments on this post.  Please leave a comment, including a way of contacting you should you win, by Saturday, April 30, to be entered into the drawing.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, April 4, 2016

BIRD BY BIRD - Giveaway Winner!


Congratulations to Jennifer Laffin., winner of BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott.  Jennifer - please drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail address, and I will get your book out to you.

Thank you to Stacey Dallas Johnston for her wonderful post which inspired this giveaway.  If you did not have a chance to read her post yet, you can do so HERE.

Please know that this site is full of blog posts and writing ideas....have fun poking around and inspiring yourself!

If you keep a notebook or know someone who does, I am always interested in featuring all kinds of notebook keepers.  Just let me know...

Later today, I welcome Canadian librarian and grade 7 teacher Stefanie Cole along with some of her students, joining us from Uxbridge, Ontario.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Stacey Dallas Johnston: A Fresh Perspective

Notebooks, like people, come in all shapes and sizes. Much like people, notebooks exist all around us ambiguously, yet many people never take the time to look below the surface. Students have been directed to “get a notebook” usually from the start of 1st grade until they graduate from high school. A notebook becomes an obligatory thing. A school supply. A requirement. However, if I, as a teacher, strive to give my students more to take away from my class than a supply list and obligations, I need to give them the opportunities and the tools to see things from a new perspective.

As a high school English teacher I strive for my students to see notebooks, literature, people, even themselves with a fresh perspective by looking below the surface as we journey through our year together.


I will preface this discussion about notebooks and learning and people by saying I am not the same teacher now that I was when I started 15 years ago. As a new teacher I had pedagogical skills and writing skills, but I lacked philosophy. 

Many new teachers or even pre-service teachers are asked to outline their “philosophy of teaching.” I remember writing my “philosophy of education” paper in graduate school, but for one billion dollars I couldn’t tell you what I wrote. Today, however, I can tell you what my philosophy is. My teaching philosophy is all about relevance, empathy, purpose, and growth. 

I need my students to learn with intent and to learn to use reflection about their learning to better understand not only my lessons but themselves. My students' notebooks have evolved into tools; they are not just school supplies.


I have always been a notebooker. I have also always been a writer. It is easy for me to understand the organic need to grasp a pen and write or doodle or brainstorm. For me, this is a natural process.




For some of my students, however, it doesn’t come as naturally. So, what’s a teacher to do when trying to introduce students to the world of notebooking? That’s a very good question. It is a question I am still trying to to fully answer, but for now I have a few ideas to share:


Use notebooks for reflection, not for high stakes assignments.
  • The notebook is more welcoming when the writers focus more on what they are writing instead of how many points it is worth. 
  • I have begun calling my notebooks “Meta Journals”. These tools for meta-cognition allow my students to think and reflect without the burden of strict due dates and grades.

Don’t dictate the product.
  • I have started to allow my students the opportunity to use the medium they see fit when responding in their notebooks, the caveat being that their notebooks must contain variety. 
  • Some students mind map, some doodle, some list, some write poetry, some launch into the great American novel. Regardless of the product, all students are going through the process of reflection, the most important part.

Set expectations, but allow for some autonomy and flexibility.
  • I have plenty of assignments queued up for each semester, the notebook doesn’t need to be in that category. We do a class inventory of the responses each quarter, and at the end of the semester, students look back on their responses as a way to reflect on their learning. I award points for participation but not for content. The notebook is a tool, and students needs to learn for themselves the power of meta-cognition and self-reflection.

This year, my students’ “Meta Journals” have allowed them to own their thinking and learning. The process of notebooking after we read, after we have class discussions, even after we take a test, allows them to take that next step beyond finishing a task or producing a product and reflect on the why of the process. I have enjoyed reading their responses. Once they got over the hurdle of being so concerned with directions and grades, they let go and started using their notebooks as tools.  The outcome has been great to observe.

Eve - Creative Writing Student: 
“I tend to work in layers. I write, then edit, then edit again, 
all on the same page in order to show my thoughts.”


Shelby-AP Literature & Composition/ Creative Writing Student: 
“To someone else, my notebook would look like 
a scribbled mess of smushed words and heavy sketches. 
To me, my notebook allows me to portray my thoughts in my own style. 
It holds everything from one-liners, random drawings and single words 
to finished piece, rejected lines and the sketches that inspired my work.”


Leslie - AP Literature & Composition Student: 
“Writing in my Meta-cognitive journal allows me to
 organize my thoughts, develop an opinion, and effectively analyze 
not only what we’ve read in class, but how I feel about it.”


Paige - AP Literature & Composition Student: 
“I use my notebook to collect my thoughts 
on what we’re focusing on in class 
and to make sure I keep all my ideas in one place.”

Try This!  Draw even if you can’t draw, write a poem even if you’re not a poet, write from the third person point of view. Do anything in your notebook that you wouldn’t normally do. This will allow you to use a new process and push you creatively. 

As a writer, I have found that drawing, even though I am terrible, always ends with me writing a piece I am happy with. For students, this breaks the rigidity of the standard paragraphing that they so often have to use when responding to class assignments.


Stacey Dallas Johnston is a full-time teacher, full-time mother, and part-time writer currently residing in Las Vegas, NV. Fifteen years teaching means over 2,500 students have passed through her classroom door. Together with her students and peers she reads, writes, and discusses literature, composition and creative writing while continuing to develop her own craft. As a fellow of the Southern Nevada Writing Project, she has worked at the state and national level to enhance the teaching of writing in public education. 


Sharing Our Notebooks will give away one copy of one of Stacey's favorite books about writing, Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE.  Please leave a comment, including a way of contacting you should you win, by Sunday, April 3, to be entered into the drawing.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Friday, March 11, 2016

BIRD BY BIRD - Giveaway Winner!


Congratulations to Krista S., winner of BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott.  Krista - please drop me a line at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail address, and I will get your book out to you.

Thank you to Jenna Kersten for her wonderful post last month which inspired this giveaway.  If you did not have a chance to read her post yet, you can do so HERE.

Please know that this site is full of blog posts and writing ideas....have fun poking around and inspiring yourself!

If you keep a notebook or know someone who does, I am always interested in featuring all kinds of notebook keepers.  Just let me know...

Next week, I welcome Stacey Dallas Johnston, a writing instructor from the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts!

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Jenna Kersten: I Am Left Wondering

I firmly believe that we can find the most beautiful moments of wisdom and insight in the minute of the everyday. This sense is something that, ideally, I look for while writing in my notebooks. It is through the process of writing down my thoughts, the beginning snippets of later poems, and quotes that inspire me that I am able to find meaning and significance in the small events that have come to make up my life.


I keep two main notebooks, as shown above. One is my daily notebook. A decidedly solid, hardcover journal, it functions as a brain-dump of sorts, as the site of lists, notes from lectures, reflections from retreats and silly, largely irrelevant couplets. The other notebook acts as my travel notebook because it has a softcover, a pocket in the back to store things I want to save, and is a bit more flexible. I use it to chronicle the moments that occur while travelling, and ultimately will tape ticket stubs, boarding passes, and receipts to the pages, turning the notebook into an informal scrapbook for the hopelessly lazy college student. 


The memories that I tape into my notebooks, like those ticket stubs, are my favorite parts about them. I like writing on scraps of paper hastily found in the moment and this system of writing and taping lets me keep it organized and protected. Sometimes these are snippets of thoughts written in the corner of a playbill or event programme. Other times, these are direct quotes or lessons from people I interact with. 

This past summer, most of these thoughts came from my interactions working with the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Joseph, an order of Catholic sisters who live in a convent not far from my house. I worked at the convent in the kitchen, learning that meaning can be found in the little moments that time would have us forget, like the following tidbits that the sisters shared with me over the summer.

I would usually spend the beginning of each shift restocking snacks and beverages near the buffet line in the dining room. Because of the sheer number of cans of soda and little Lorna Doone packages that I would need to replenish for the sisters, I would make a list on a piece of scrap paper of these things that I would stow away in the pocket of my work apron. On these wrinkled pages about the size of an index card, I would also jot down quotes and lessons from the sisters and general thoughts I’d have while working. 


By preserving these small moments in my notebooks, and journaling through my responses to them, I am better able to find and reflect on the meaning that each day provides, whether that meaning comes from my travels or from the convent. With each new insight, I am left wondering what my notebooks will teach me next.

I have one notebooking strategy that I use for days when it seems that I have nothing to say. To spark some added creativity, I've found that it is quite helpful to leave the bookmark of the journal on the page of the previous day's writing. Little reminders that I have, in fact, written before can prompt more thoughts as I continue to journal. 

What have your notebooks taught you? 


Jenna Kersten grew up in Hamburg, NY and is a former fellow with the WNY Young Writers Studio. She is currently in college, pursuing a degree in English, international studies, and German language, and hopes to use writing to promote positive social change. Visit her online at www.jennakersten.wordpress.com


Sharing Our Notebooks will give away one copy of Jenna's favorite book about writing, Anne Lamott's BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE.  Please leave a comment, including a way of contacting you should you win, by Sunday, March 6, to be entered into the drawing.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share their process.  At the present time, I am accepting all notebook entries and am especially hoping to receive some entries from boys and men who keep any kind of notebooks.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.

Winners! Winners! New and Old!


Congratulations to Ingrid M.!  You have won the three book Melissa Stewart Collection!  Please send me an e-mail to amy at amylv dot com with your address, and I will pass it along.

Much gratitude to Melissa Stewart for her fantastic notebooks post and to National Geographic for their book donation.

We also have winners from our two past giveaways, none of which have yet claimed their prizes!  I will put this out there for a week, and if no on replies by Monday, February 22, I will draw new winners.


Congratulations to Cheri Hall and Kristi Veitenheimer, winners of books by author and illustrator Peter Catalanotto! Cheri has won MONKEY AND ROBOT and Kristi has won THE NEWBIES.  Winners, please write to me at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail addresses and the names to which you would like your books inscribed, and I will send the information along to Peter.


Congratulations to the winners Tanny McGregor's books! Jennifer has won a copy of COMPREHENSION CONNECTIONS, and Gretchen Egner has won a copy of GENRE CONNECTIONS.  Winners, please write to me at amy at amylv dot com with your snail mail addresses, and I will send them along to Tanny.

Thank you for reading Sharing Our Notebooks...

Warmly,
Amy

Friday, January 8, 2016

Melissa Stewart: My Most Critical Writing Tool

I began my first nature notebook in 1989, while taking an ecology class in college. Initially, I used it to record observations I made during field trips we took as part of the class. I still have that notebook, and I sometimes refer back to it for information as well as inspiration.



My professor recommended that we purchase a specific brand of notebook and waterproof pen. He told us to keep the notebook in a plastic bag, so it wouldn’t get wet, and suggested that we keep a small ruler in an envelope secured to the inside front cover. Of course, I followed all his recommendations, but over time, I’ve developed my own persnickety notebook habits.

For many years, I only pulled out my notebooks when I went hiking or explored natural areas near my home. But in 1996, I began a special notebook, a travel log, when I went on safari in Africa. After that, I kept a special notebook for each major trip I took—the Galapagos Islands, the Costa Rican rainforest, the coral reefs off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Hawaii, the Florida Everglades. Those travel logs now reside in special folders inside a giant file cabinet in my office, and I pull material from one or more of them for almost every book I write.


When I became a fulltime freelance writer in 2000, an account advised me to keep records of how I spent my days to use as evidence if I was ever audited by the IRS.


At first, each entry was just a brief listing of projects I worked on each day.



But soon they evolved into much more. Today they are a hodgepodge of everything from lists of books I want to read to research notes to snippets of poetry.


They include sketches and observations, lists of title ideas, and thoughts about how to structure manuscripts in progress. 



My notebooks might seem like a cluttered mess to someone else, but not to me. By keeping all kinds of thoughts and ideas together in one place, I always seem to be able to go back and find what I need when I need it. 

I never go anywhere without my notebook, and I can’t imagine my life without it. It’s my most critical writing tool.

One thing I like to do in my notebook when I’m out exploring is make quick lists of observations. I write down anything that makes an impression on me, and then I try to use the observations to write a haiku. 

During a recent week-long residency at Wealthy School in East Grand Rapids, MI, I accompanied a group of students in grades 3-5 to a local wetland. I was intrigued by three female mallard ducks furiously feeding, probably because they wanted to fatten up before migrating. 

One student said, “It looks like their heads are vibrating.” What a great comment! That was all the inspiration I needed to start writing.

Here are the notes I took:



You can see I used pencil because I wanted to be able to erase. Based on those notes, here’s the first haiku I wrote:

Three female ducks
shaking, quaking, vibrating,
furiously feeding.

I wasn’t totally satisfied with that, so I left some blank space in my notebook. I thought I might give it another try later. 

Sure enough, while I was eating dinner, I had an idea. I realized that if I showed a photo I had taken of the ducks along with the haiku, I could use my words more wisely. 

Thanks to the photo, I didn’t need the first line of the haiku at all. Readers could see the three mallard ducks I was writing about. That allowed me to include some information about the setting.

Here is my revision:



Three vibrating heads
in a shallow wetland,
furiously feeding.

What do you think? Which version do you like better?



Melissa Stewart is the author of more than 150 science books for children, including FEATHERS: NOT JUST FOR FLYING (Charlesbridge, 2014, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen), an ALA Notable and winner of the Cybils Award for Nonfiction and the Nerdy Book Club Award for Nonfiction. She is the co-author (with Nancy Chelsey) of PERFECT PAIRS: USING FICTION AND NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS TO TEACH LIFE SCIENCE, K-2 (Stenhouse, 2014). To learn more about Melissa and her work, please visit her website


I am very grateful to National Geographic, one of Melissa's publishers, for offering a giveaway of these three wonderful nonfiction books - SNAKES, DEADLIEST ANIMALS, and METEORS - to one lucky commenting winner! Please leave your comment by Sunday, January 31 to be entered into the drawing.  

As winners have sometimes not claimed their books, I would like to remind you that I will announce this month's winner in this space on January 31, and I will also make announcements at my Twitter page and at The Poem Farm Facebook page. Please consider following either of those pages if you would like to receive such updates.

Please know that Sharing Our Notebooks welcomes all kinds of notebook keepers - of any age and interest - to open up their pages and share process.  If you are interested in writing in this space, please contact me, Amy, directly.

Please share a comment below if you wish.