Putting the Exploratory Notebook into Practice

We are excited to have a guest post today from Tara Smith from the Two Writing Teachers blog. She used Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Making Nonfiction from Scratch, to implement exploratory notebooks in her classroom.

notebookIn his wonderful new book, Making Nonfiction From Scratch, Ralph Fletcher tells it like it is for writing teachers (and their students) everywhere:

When it comes to nonfiction, teachers don’t have to work very hard to motivate students…with this genre we start with an intrinsic buy in from students. On the other hand, I see an awful lot of formulaic nonfiction writing in the schools I visit. Nonfiction is the writing genre most typically “done to” students. We channel students into a particular curricular area whether they like it or not. We organize their writing for them, directing them to follow rubrics and use detailed prewriting outlines and graphic organizers. We teach them our system for taking notes and doing research. We tell students, “Your final report must include _____, and _____, and _____.” No wonder students feel confined! No wonder so much of their nonfiction writing lacks energy and voice. Welcome to nonfiction writing: our most pre-packaged genre.

Ouch!

So, over winter break, I took a good long look at my plans for our nonfiction unit, which I was set to launch on our first day back to school. My sixth graders were so excited to be moving on from personal narrative and memoir into the realm of “the real stuff” (as one put it) “the kind of stuff I WANT to be writing about!”. And I wanted to be sure that they stayed excited from launch all the way through time to publish. I wanted our nonfiction unit to rock!

Among Fletcher’s suggestions for key ingredients of “making nonfiction from scratch” was an Exploratory Notebook – a place to gather information, think through ideas, and sketch out writing. I thought back to our many varied attempts to do all of this in many different places – our writer’s notebooks, research folders, “thinking envelopes” – and how nothing had worked quite the way I’d wanted it to. Ralph Fletcher would probably say this was because I had pre-packaged each of these research/gather/write venues, they were “done to” my students rather than “done by” them.

Read the full post on Two Writing Teachers

Add comment January 19th, 2016


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