Spring is here!
After what seemed like a very long, somewhat grueling winter, we seem to have made it to the other side, if the flowering trees and sunshine are any indicator. Here in New York City, like so many other places, this time of year marks another kind of crossing over as well – the end of another year of testing, give or take a few. The teachers I know, my colleagues, and myself, well, we are pretty tired. We are creeping out into the sunlight, stretching our cramped and aching limbs, squinting into the sunshine.
Yesterday I was working with the fine 3rd grade teachers at PS 59 in Manhattan. Earlier in the week they collectively wrote to let me know what they wanted to work on together – Writer’s Notebooks. My friend Lindsey Reyes wrote “It’d be nice to see writer’s notebooks breed more writers and the love of writing the way they used to.” So we did. And as I left the building, walking into a sunny day, after spending the morning reflecting on joy and creativity and voice, my ipod offered me the perfect soundtrack, as it so often does, the perfect song to capture how it felt to talk about Writer’s Notebooks.
It gave me funk.
You remember Writer’s Notebooks, don’t you? Where we let kids follow their interests, be themselves, have fun, and work on their writing all at the same time? Where we encouraged them to find their base line, and take it all the way?
Writer’s Notebooks are a place where students can find their voice, their rhythm, their stride as writers. In our current landscape of five paragraphs and topic sentences, we have to pause, now that the sun is out, and ask whether or not our kids’ writing is really getting better, or just more logical, more precise, more backed up by evidence. If the answer to this question is no for you or your kids, maybe focusing on Writer’s Notebooks would be a good, funky place to (re)start.
Yesterday, the teachers of 59 and I discussed how to launch a Writer’s Notebook study. We went back to the basics. We called on Nancy Atwell to help us out. Taking Atwell’s writing territories – where we coach students to collect the topics that they like to write about, we riffed a bit, like good springtime funkologists. Instead of focusing on only topics to write about, we went further and created a three column chart: One for topics we are interested in and could write about, one for genres we could write in, and one for audiences – people or institutions we could write for or to. The combination looked like this:
To launch Writer’s Notebooks we want two things: we want the notebook to feel generative – that is, we want it to be relatively easy to think of something to write or try out, and we also want it to be open and creative – we don’t want to do all of the work for our kids by telling them what to write. This three column take on writing territories can help on both counts, as now the writer can, essentially, choose one from each column. I can look at my writing territories and say, “Ok I think I’ll write a poem about rudeness to my upstairs neighbor,” or “I’m going to draft a photo-journal of small moments and photos for my partner about becoming a parent.” This way, our notebooks can become a bit like those awesome flip books where you make strange animals by mixing and matching different animal parts:
And what is more funky than that?
Happy Spring everyone. Let’s have some fun, shall we?
Kate and Maggie
Big Idea: Engagement Tiny Detail: Three Column Writing Territories.