The Notebook Investment

It is not uncommon for a teacher to ask me about notebooks. It is not uncommon for me to squirm under the pressure of that question. Why? Well, notebooks take investment and time, and if there is one thing I know about teachers, it’s that they’re already invested and time is something they’ve been searching for since they started this profession.

However, notebooks have changed the heartbeat of my classroom. They’ve given me something to fall back on as evidence of student growth; they’ve given me ways to form flexible groups around specific writing needs; they’ve given me a place to connect one-on-one with every student I’ve taught— no one gets missed.

Here are some musts for the notebooks in my classroom. They aren’t the musts for your classroom, you’ll have to make those up for yourself and change them as you go. Hopefully this list will give you some ideas as you start working with notebooks or help you think of a way you can change your list (mine changes every year).

  1. Everyone must use a composition book. I learned quickly that in order for me to bring them home and read them, I had to have them all the same size so they fit in my bag nicely (Plus the spiral bound ones tend to rip).
  2. Write every school day. The kids will write, if you give them the time.
  3. Each new day, must have a date. It doesn’t mean they can’t continue writing from yesterday, it just means you know where they ended and started. It helps me keep track of how much writing is actually happening in Writer’s Workshop and helps me to help them build stamina.
  4. Model for them. You have to show them in mini-lessons what skill you’re looking for. Then when you collect the journals, you know what to look for in their writing.
  5. Only revisions on the left. Perhaps one of my favorite rules, this lets me know if kids are revising, because that work will be done on the left. It also encourages them to leave the original work on the right. I can now trace their thinking and give feedback. Or get on them if they’re not revising ☺
  6. Read them. Everyone has to read the journals. The kids with their writing partners who offer feedback and leave it in their journals. You can read them alone and write feedback at the end, OR have the student read it to you in a conference and offer feedback.
  7. Follow up. If you gave feedback, if partners gave feedback, writers need to be held accountable for the change OR for the “Why I don’t need to change” argument.
  8. Don’t always tell them what to write in there. In order for them to feel ownership, they need to decide. Usually when kids say to me, “I don’t know what to write today.” I respond with, “Oh cool! You get to try a generating strategy first, which wall chart are you going to use?” Generally, they respond with an eye roll and then get started.
  9. Treat the notebook like gold. Make a big deal when a notebook is lost. Make a big deal when someone disrespects a notebook (throws it on the ground, reads someone else’s without being invited). Make a big deal when all the pages are filled with words. The more you model this, the more the kids will understand that notebooks are important.
  10. Put down your red/purple/whatever color pen your using. Be human. These kids are writing amazing stories of growing up; you’ll miss them if you’re always looking for correct comma patterns. Every child is doing something right in their writing, notice it, tell them, and celebrate the writer in front of you.

I’m sure I have more rules. I’m sure I could share more. But honestly, I learned the most about notebooks by diving in, flailing my arms a little, and then investing deep into the writing lives of my students.

Happy Writing Everyone!