Writers’ Notebooks and More

As I walked around the room during writing workshop, I noticed most of the children had no sense of what they were writing about and why they were writing about that topic.  In fact, many of them seemed aimless in their writing with little energy and interest to write.  Instead, they were drawing or cutting or coloring.  Had this been going on for a while and I hadn’t noticed?  Was this due to the fact that we’d had to adjust our schedule over the last couple of weeks and we’d missed our regular writing time?  Was it because I had not spent enough time, including occasional revisits, on how to find and choose good writing topics?  Were had I been that I hadn’t noticed what was happening in the classroom?

So, right then and there I decided to pull out the extra set of notebooks on the shelf and institute writers notebooks in my grade 2 classroom.

I called the children to the carpet and told them what I had observed.  I did a quick introduction – maybe not the best way to bring writers’ notebooks into the classroom but I felt desperate – about writers’ notebooks telling them that all writers keep a notebook where they try out writing ideas, or keep lists of topics, or jot down thoughts that come up that they might want to use in a piece of writing later.  I told them that we would be doing this at the beginning of every writing workshop for a while.  Then, I told them to make a list of up to ten things that they are good at.  This was challenging for some.  I told the children that it was OK if they only came up with one or two things on their list for right now; they could always add to it later.  Some misunderstood my directions and wrote what they were good at as a writer, which was fine and will be useful information for me later, but many wrote the typical list of what they’re good at – swimming, riding a bike, writing stories (surprisingly this one appeared often), etc.  They had three minutes to make their list.  Then, I told them to circle one thing on their list that stood out for them that day and write about that on a clean page for about seven minutes.  We did this the next day as well with the children adding to their list for a few minutes first and then continuing their writing from the day before or starting a new piece about something else on their list.

I had a chance to read their entries yesterday and I was impressed by what they wrote though some children wrote very little and some wrote more than is customary for them.  I can now go back and do small groups or confer individually with each child on things I noticed that would help them improve as a writer.  For example, when I said to write on one of the topics on their list, some children had no idea how to start.  Even though I had suggested they could start by saying, “Swimming is…” or “I like to swim because….”some children had trouble expanding on that, and so I will be conferring with these children in the coming days.

In the past, I have done writers’ notebooks using suggestions from Aimee Buckner’s, Notebook Know-How.  I have sometimes wondered if grade 2 is too young to start writers’ notebooks but now that I haven’t done it this year until recently I can see a difference in the kind of writing my students are doing.  I am also noticing that in the past I gave the children the choice of writing during reading workshop a la Daily 5 and this year I decided not to do that because I wanted reading workshop to be solely focused on reading with a once a week time for writing a response in readers’ notebooks.  So, that means that the children are actually having less writing time this year than in the past.  Also, previous classes had the choice to write and read during the Spanish portion of our day.  This year, I am more directed during this time because I’ve felt I needed to in order to stay closer to what the other teachers are doing.  Not working either.  There is a transference about the process of reading and writing from one language to another that happens naturally if this is given space and time.  I am going to reconsider writing as an option during writing workshop and reinstitute wider choices during our Spanish language arts time.

Lesson learned:  trust my expertise and knowledge as a teacher and use that to impact my students’ learning rather than doing things because I feel pressured to conform.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ruminations today.  Please leave your comments below.

9 thoughts on “Writers’ Notebooks and More

  1. I loved using Writer's Notebooks with my second graders when I taught second grade years ago. I believe you can start any time of year, and kids rise to the occasion and learn to love to think about what they're writing — how they are responding to the events in their lives. It's a worthy endeavor!

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  2. Sounds like you're making some beneficial changes — way to respond to your students! (Too bad that you had to sacrifice some of your beliefs in an attempt to stay with the other teachers.) I don't know what your bilingual school is like, but I'm sure the kids need that flexibility to read and write in Spanish as well as English — as you said, they need the time to make that transfer of skills. Good luck with your changes and keep us updated!

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  3. I think you have had an Aha moment with the writer's notebook and writing during reading. I find your thinking so timely as I am to work with 2nd grade teachers tomorrow and we are going to talk about starting writer's notebooks. You have confirmed my thinking that these kids need something like this to help them explore the possibilities.

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  4. Hi Tara,
    That has been my experience with writers' notebooks in the past, and with anything really: the children rise to the occasion because you trust that they can do so. It never fails! Thanks for your comment

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  5. Hi Jennifer,
    Most of the students in my class are native English speakers learning Spanish as a second or third language. So, yes, they need as much time as possible writing in both languages. Sometimes the children will ask to write in Spanish during the designated English portion of our day. It's very exciting for me, as a teacher, when this happens. Right now, there's one boy who is writing an animal book series in Spanish. Yes, I should know better than to sacrifice my beliefs because of pressure, perceived or real, from others but fortunately I always reflect on this when it happens, and it's rare, and then I return to my roots. Thank you for your feedback.

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  6. Doesn't it feel liberating so see where your students are and throw the 'plan' out the window to help them from this point to the next point. Congratulations for reconnecting with what you know works. Thanks for sharing your reflections and reminding the rest of us to examine our own practices.

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