Saturday, August 2, 2014

Writing Notebooks

I’m excited to join Ruth Ayres and Christy Rush-Levine for their first #TandCWriters chat tomorrow night. This is their first chat in what will become a monthly chat I will look forward to, all about teaching and celebrating writers. Their plan is to hold it the first Sunday of every month at 8pm Eastern.

When they asked me to guest host this first one and shared that the topic was routines and procedures in the writing workshop, I will admit I was a bit excited. I love organization. I love the start of the school year. I love teaching my students the routines that will become commonplace, but also help them become the readers and writers they are meant to be. One item that becomes treasured in our writing class is our writing notebooks.

Linda Urban has been blogging lately about her writing notebook and I love reading her thinking. (Her blog is HERE.) One day I’d love to write a book just about getting kids to fall in love with writing. I’m not ready to write it yet, because I’m still learning with my students. But man, we’ve come so far.

It was May of 2013 that I knew I needed to change something. Gae Polisner had Skyped in with my class. She asked them two simple questions. First, she asked them to raise their hand if they loved reading. I’d say 22 out of 23 hands shot up. Then she asked them to raise their hand if they loved writing. A few hands went up; most spun their heads and looked at me. Gae asked them why they were looking at me and they shared that they didn’t want to make me sad, but most of them didn’t like writing. When asked why, my student Josh looked at me and asked if he’d get in trouble if he said what was on his mind. I replied no and he said, “Because writing is hard. Mine sucks.” Ahhh.

Gae shared with them some secrets. That all authors tend to think their writing “sucks” at the beginning. And it was then that I made my goal for the following year. I wanted the kids to use their notebooks more. To see that all writers are insecure about their writing at times. That revision was what made writing shine.

This past school year we had one main writing assignment each day. Write for ten minutes. I did not grade this. I truly just wanted my students to begin living a writing life. If they wanted to make lists, comics, write poems, it all worked. In some ways this worked great, in others, I still have room to grow.

At the end of the year when surveyed, over half – almost 75%  - of the students listed writing as something they loved to do. I think I’m on the right track, but I know I didn’t teach the procedures of keeping the notebook as well as I could have. That’s where I’m beginning this year.

We’re beginning the year with a slice of life unit to get to know our fellow classmates. We’ll be writing in our notebooks, picking one slice to extend on our blogs once a week. I want to teach the following with our notebooks:
  • Finding a time each day to spend thinking and writing.
  • The idea that our entries can be narrative, comics, sketches, or something we tape in and write off of.
  • How to reread our entries and take a piece to inspire new writing.
  • What it is like to be inspired by your daily life and want to write about it.
  • How to be inspired by another author’s words.
  • How we will share our writing with classmates.
  • How we will respond to classmates’ writing.
  • When I will look at their writing (weekly) and how I will grade it (did they do it?)

I’m interested to see how writing notebooks continue to grow. I’m hopeful that they students will continue to grow to love writing as much as they love reading. I loved having them write for ten minutes daily last year – the ease at which most of them began to be able to sit down and write showed me that this assignment could have great benefits for all of them.

Hope to see you tomorrow night for what I’m certain will be a great chat. I can’t wait to be inspired by you all and grab some ideas that I could try in my classroom this year. The last part of the chat will be for all of us to share some celebrations about teaching writers. Let’s celebrate!


  1. Looking forward to the chat, Katherine. After all the years I taught, I would say that the notebooks were the treasures for the students always. They were "theirs", with some response from me, but mostly lots of writing, re-reading, then reflections from them. Good luck on your journey. I'll be looking to see how it goes for you!

  2. I am just starting out as a teacher, a writer, a blogger, a sharer- and you always write/post about something I am just beginning to think about or have been recently. I am so glad I found you and your blog. Thanks too for Linda Urban's site. SO many of my students have loved her books, I know seeing her notebooks will inspire them. Still figuring out how to follow her blog though- may just have to bookmark it.

  3. Dawn Marie Miller-FultonAugust 3, 2014 at 11:02 AM

    This sounds wonderful and I am hoping to be able to join. I am new to twitter chats. Will questions be posted? If so, Where and when. Still trying to cobble together how this amazing communication tool works. :)

  4. Dawn, yes, I will be posting questions. (There are six if we have time for them all). Make sure you add #TandCwriters to all of your tweets so they will show up in the chat. I wrote a blog post about Twitter Chats here: That might help. See you tonight!

  5. Dawn Marie Miller-FultonAugust 3, 2014 at 2:05 PM

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  6. My background as middle school principal taught me that grade 4&5 teachers are critical to the journey. If you can't reach them during those years they won't even be literate writers, much less enjoy writing. I love seeing this passion for writing! I'll be sure to stay tuned!

  7. I'm really looking forward to tonight's chat. Thank you for this post. I think if my students were asked they would respond just as yours did at the beginning of the year. I hope this will be the year to turn that around.

  8. It is going to be a great chat and you are the perfect person to kick off this endeavor!

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