Using The Writer's Notebook To Demystify Writing

Yesterday I had the opportunity to share a collection of my writer’s notebooks with a group of young writers from Sunshine Heights Primary School in Melbourne's West. Two groups of Grade 3 and 4 writers and their teachers gathered in the library to undertake a close examination of the Writer's Notebook. 

I have shared my notebooks many times across the years and given that I have been using Writer's notebooks for 32 years, I have acquired quite an array. I impressed upon the students that my notebooks reflect my way of operating as a writer and that it may not necessarily be the way they choose to develop a notebook. It is one way,not THE way. Every writer must find a way unique to them when using a notebook. However, each notebook should reveal something about the writer you are, and something about your personality and interests. I challenged students and teachers alike to become text detectives and explorers. I was inviting them to delve into my collection zone in the hope of finding an idea they might consider adopting. As the most experienced writer in that room, I was sharing some of my acquired experience with less experienced writers.

Young writers must understand that to be a useful resource, a notebook requires regular feeding. You must feed it the ‘stuff’ of your life.It is important to challenge the notion that reading and writing are just for school. My notebook is a travelling companion. It is constantly with me, wherever I go. Encouraging students to take their notebooks out into the world gives them greater ownership of their writing lives.

I presented these young writers with certain challenges when scanning my notebooks. I urged them to be:
  • Curious learners
  • Text detectives
  • Explorers
  • Thinkers and Questioners
  • Collectors and Note-takers. (Each of them were given a notepad by their teachers)
They were given notebooks to share in small groups. They scanned and perused. They pondered and wondered. They discussed entries and puzzled over artifacts. As I roved the room checking in on groups, questions bubbled up. Curious learners were everywhere.

When we gathered to share the findings of their action research, they noted. The subsequent discussion revealed their close reading:

Lots of beginnings
Memoir pieces
Ephemera- tickets, business cards, greeting cards, messages, emails
Opinion pieces
Maps, plans
Extracts from mentor texts
Writing craft ideas
Memory markers
Facts  -some unusual facts
Each notebook was different in size
Some notebooks had no lines
All the notebooks had strong protective covers.
Many of them had personalized covers
'There was lots of writing.'

Every time I invite such inquiry, I marvel at what catches the eye of young writers. The questions asked and the observation made impressed me greatly. I asked students to share one thing (at least) they would begin to include in their notebooks as a result of viewing mine.

These sharing sessions were followed up with a debriefing session with the teachers.  In the days ahead students will be encouraged to add to the range of entries they gather. Teachers will model these expectations as well. This will support the goal of closing the gap between intention and action. 

There was palpable energy among this group of developing writers. Such energy must continue to be nurtured moving forward. The support of teachers will be vital here.  I have little doubt this group of young writers and their teachers will embrace the challenge of producing rich and varied notebook entries. It was wonderful to be in the presence of such curious and joyful learners.


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