Search Results for ‘inside notebooks’

Inside Notebooks — Lynne Dorfman

In the latest installment of our Stenhouse author notebook series, Lynne Dorfman shares pages from her writer’s notebook. Why do you keep a notebook? Upload a photo to our Facebook page and you could win a free Stenhouse book!

I love to write ideas down in different colored pens and watch the words spill onto a notebook page.  It’s both comforting and energizing to watch the flow from brain to hand to pen to page!  I use my notebook to write about people, places, and objects that I love or that I find unique in some way. My notebook is filled with snapshots of friends, relatives, and pets.  Rich descriptions of Long Beach Island, the Poconos, my grandma’s house, the stables, and my East Mt. Airy neighborhood are some of my favorite entries.

My notebook is always a place to store lists.  For example, after reading Names for Snow by Judi K. Beach I had the urge to brainstorm a list of names for autumn.  I came up with names such as Leaf Dropper, Best Dressed Gal, and Masquerader.   I love making lists because they often help me find a topic I want to write about or research.  My notebook is a place for memory chains, my heart and hand map, and my neighborhood map.  I put photos, ticket stubs, and clips from magazines and newspapers that will serve as memory joggers or topics I want to explore.  A running theme in all my notebooks is my grandfather, Alexander William Sulima.  I have so many snippets about all the things he taught me to do and to appreciate.

Finally, I use my notebook to study the work of other authors.  I explore their writing using the advice of Katie Wood Ray in Wondrous Words. Mentor texts are imitated here before I use them in classroom communities where I  write for and with talented, young writers.  I could not imagine a writer’s workshop without the notebook as a central part of how  writers live their daily lives.  I am grateful to Ralph Fletcher, Aimee E. Buckner, and Katie Wood Ray for all their advice and inspiration they have provided in their professional publications about writer’s notebook!

1 comment March 20th, 2012

Inside notebooks: Rose Cappelli

I am sure that Rose Cappelli is not the only one who has quite a collection of notebooks. She shares a picture here along with some thoughts about how notebooks are like “pockets.” Rose is the coauthor of Mentor Texts and Nonfiction Mentor Texts.

I remember reading A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You and thinking about how Ralph Fletcher compared notebooks to different objects, each with a different purpose. I knew right away that my notebook was like a pocket – a place where I stuff lots of things, including ideas. In any of my notebooks you might find newspaper clippings, copies of poems, letters, emails, scraps of paper scrawled with book suggestions, even a fortune from a fortune cookie stuck between the pages. And, there are lots of lists – lists of books, lists of words, lists of memories.

You can see several of my notebooks in the picture. I only write in one at a time, but I love looking through the old ones to see where I’ve been, what I’ve tried from mentor texts and authors, and what I may look at again from a fresh perspective. My notebooks help me move forward in my writing and my thinking, but they are always a place to come home to.

1 comment March 14th, 2012

Inside notebooks — Liz Hale

We continue our Stenhouse author notebook series with an entry from Liz Hale, author of Crafting Writers, K-6. Don’t forget to upload a picture and a description of your notebook for a chance to win a free Stenhouse book! Just visit our Facebook page to upload your photo.

Before I start a new chapter for a book, I always take out my white, legal notepad where I write out and sketch my ideas. Even though I type faster than I write, I much prefer the freedom that comes with a notebook.   These lined pages have no expectations of me and they match the messy process of brainstorming and planning.  I can spill out my ideas and see them all in front of me like a dumped bag of pick-up sticks.  Then, by adding phrases, crossing out sentences, and drawing arrows and stars, I can start making sense of what I want to include in the chapter.

Technology, of course, also offers these features of moving, crossing out, and highlighting text.  But there is something about using a pen on paper that, for me, can’t be replaced for this kind of thinking.  I like the feel and purity of the ballpoint pen on paper and the simplicity that involves no batteries, software or electricity.  Unlike the Word document pages of my laptop, which have a crisp, hurried New York City feel to them, my notebook pages offer a space away from that place where the product reigns supreme.  With my pen and paper, I am not rushed.  My hands slow down, my thinking slows down and the simple, unassuming paper doesn’t mind.

Add comment March 13th, 2012

Inside notebooks — Stacey Shubitz

We continue our peek into Stenhouse author notebooks this morning with a picture from Stacey Shubitz, coauthor of Day by Day: Refining Writing Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice.

You can upload your own notebook photo to our Facebook page for a chance to win a free Stenhouse book!

The content of my writer’s notebooks changes with the woman I am at any given time.  If you look back to my notebooks from ten years ago, they’re about a woman living in New York City preparing to become a teacher.  Five years ago my notebooks contained lots of entries about the children I was teaching and the man I was about to marry.  Today my writer’s notebooks are almost entirely dedicated to preserving snippets of family life with my husband Marc and our daughter Isabelle.  The one thing that is almost always the same, though, is that I favor spiral spined notebooks so I can easily write on the front and back of each page.

Isabelle has captivated me and my writing in a way nothing else ever has.  I love to write about her advancements, the things she babbles, the silly things she does, and the way she walks (er, crawls) through life.  Together with my camera, my writer’s notebook allows me to capture the most precious moments of her life right now.  Without my notebook, I would forget so many of the amazing things she does to make me smile, laugh, and delight in the person she is right now.

3 comments March 5th, 2012

Inside notebooks – Ralph Fletcher

We continue our Stenhouse author notebook series with Ralph Fletcher. Here is what he said about his notebook habit, which has been going on for quite a bit, as you can see from one of his notebook covers:

“When I visit schools I tell students that my most important book is a book that has never been and never will be published–my writer’s notebook. This is the book that feeds all my other books. I use my notebook in many different ways: to collect odd bits of flotsam and jetsam, to play with language, to react, muse, daydream, collect seed ideas, maybe take a stab at new poem. My notebook is a low-pressure, high-comfort place where I can find my stride as a writer.”

1 comment February 29th, 2012

Inside notebooks

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. (Joan Didion)

What’s in your notebook? What does it look like?

For the next few weeks we’ll be taking a peek into the writing habits of Stenhouse authors who have graciously agreed to give us a glimpse into their notebooks. We invite you to share pictures of your notebooks as well — just visit our Facebook page and upload a photo with a brief comment about why and how you keep a notebook. We’ll select a few entries randomly to receive a free Stenhouse book.

We’ll start off our series with the notebook of Stenhouse editor Bill Varner. I noticed it on a pile of papers on his desk and asked him to take a quick photo and share his thoughts about keeping a notebook. Here is what he said:

“I’ve had a notebook off and on for many years. Mostly off. I used to scoff at paying for anything other than a cheap spiral bound notebook, but this black Moleskine is worth the price. It makes me want to write in it. What do I write? Mostly stray lines, a metaphor that pops into my head, an interesting quote, words that I just find fascinating, especially verbs.”

1 comment February 28th, 2012

Quick Tip Tuesday: What should notebooks look like?

In Notebook Know-How, Aimee Buckner provides the tools teachers need to make writer’s notebooks an integral part of their writing programs. She shares tips on how to launch notebooks and how to help students who are stuck in a writing rut. In this week’s Quick Tip, Aimee focuses on what the notebooks look like in her classrom and what to consider when choosing notebooks.

Also take a look at Aimee’s new book, Notebooks Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebooks

The physical form of the notebook can reflect the teacher’s preference and is generally inconsequential to the concept. Many people—writers and students alike—have preferences. I prefer that students use composition notebooks because the pages are sewn into the notebook so that none can be ripped out. A close friend of mine, who teaches high school, prefers a binder for her students’ writer’s notebooks. She likes kids to be able to add pages when going back to work on a certain entry or to put handouts and class notes near the entries where they’ll have the greatest impact. Still other excellent writing teachers prefer that their students write on notebook paper and store everything in a folder.

The type of notebook a teacher chooses needs to reflect his or her teaching and organization style. Even though the notebooks will ultimately be in the hands of the writer, the teacher needs to make it work with curriculum, classroom space, and time.

When planning for notebooks, there are several things for teachers to consider. I use a series of questions and responses to help me think through the feasibility of the notebook my class will use.

Is it easily portable to take home and bring back to school?
I find that it’s important for students to take the notebook with them. I like a lightweight and easy-to-carry notebook.
Does it provide a standard-sized page?
I didn’t always think this was important until students argued that some kids don’t really write as much because their pages are smaller or thinner. To keep the peace, I require a standard-sized notebook.
Is it easily replaceable when it becomes filled?
Expect notebooks to be filled. Even if it’s a binder, you will want it replaced. There’s something wonderful about a brand-new notebook. Make sure they’re easily accessible.
Is it a size that will be easy for you to collect and read?
You will need to read these and even assess them. Keep in mind how you will collect and store them if necessary.
Do you have a plan for where students will put their class notes and/or handouts?
Some teachers like to put notes and handouts near certain existing entries. I have kids keep notes in the back of their notebook for easy reference. Handouts are cut down and glued into the notebook.
Will students be able to personalize the notebook?
It may not seem important, but it is. Students should have the ability to make this notebook their own—inside and out. Composition notebooks now have different-style covers and are easily covered with stickers and/or construction paper.
Is it important to take pages in and out of the notebook? Does your notebook support this?
If this is important to you, you may want to use a binder or folder. I don’t want pages coming in or out, so I stick with a bound notebook.
Is the notebook easy for all students to manage?
All students are expected to keep a notebook. If there are special needs to consider, be sure to do so. One year I needed to arrange for a student to keep his notebook on a computer.

I’m careful to keep the organization of the notebooks flexible, without a lot of superficial or arbitrary sections. This was difficult for me at first because it seemed it would be easier to use a sectioned, three-subject notebook with different parts for different assignments. I have gone so far as to use sticky tabs and paper clips to mark off pages. But I have found over the years that the notebook rarely fills up if you do this. Some sections have paper left over, and kids are using one notebook for entries, another for lists, another for favorite words, and so on. It gets very confusing.

In addition, it is important for students to fill a notebook—really fill it. As overwhelming as the panic of what to write about can be when flipping through the blank pages of a new notebook, the sense of achievement is equally strong when students flip through a notebook that is filled with their words on every page from beginning to end. Finishing a writer’s notebook, truly finishing it, is as important to a writer as finishing a book is to a reader.

I am a person who likes routine—many writers are. I like having a routine with the notebooks, so that students can readily transfer learning from the notebooks to their drafts in progress. With this in mind, I ask the students to have two starting points. Students write from the front of the notebook toward the back with their daily, self-selected topics. Here students date each page and title entries when appropriate. Students can also try the different strategies presented in class—interwoven with their own ways of keeping a notebook. Some students glue a table of contents in the inside cover, listing the strategies, their dates and the page numbers where they can be found. Others simply keep a list of the strategies we study on the inside cover. Still others just keep a hodgepodge in the notebook, with no indications of where things are located.

The second starting point is from the back of the notebook, working toward the front. Here we keep notes from lessons, such as revision strategies, editing strategies, and grammar notes. Examples of good writing from other texts can be found in both sections, depending on the purpose—if we’re looking at craft it may go in the mix with our regular entries; if it is a piece that emphasizes a strategy we’re focusing on, such as paragraph structure, it would go in the back. When working from the back of the notebook on editing and revision strategies:
1. Students take notes on the mini-lesson;
2. Students try the revision or editing strategy in their notebooks with a common text;
3. Students go back to their writing to use the strategy; and
4. Students refer to their notebooks as a resource when trying the new strategy.

This gives me not only a structure for teaching strategies and using the notebook, but also a reference when conferring with students. If they say they’re having trouble with a lead, I can ask, Did you review our notes on grabber leads? Did you review the “Try Ten” strategy? Did you use it for this piece? Or, if a student is struggling with endings and I haven’t focused my mini-lessons on that yet, I can still refer to what I know is in the notebook: Let’s review the “Try Ten” strategy we used for leads. Do you think you can use this strategy to help with your ending? No matter where we are in the writing process, our notebooks are not far away. And the front and back starting points make use of every available page by the time the notebook is filled. Other than introducing these two methods, I leave the organization up to the kids. Sometimes, students will use Post-it notes to make tabs for lists, poetry, special stories, and so on. Other times they’ll use paper clips to save pages for certain ideas or strategies. Some students do not use any other form of organization beyond my front/back method. When it comes to notebooks, less is more, so keep it simple and focus on what’s important—students are writing. Students in my fourth-grade classroom will usually fill two notebooks a year.

One question teachers ask is, “How will students know where to find things in their notebooks?” A binder or a three-section notebook would indeed make it easier to find things. However, as students keep notebooks and work with them on a regular basis, they become familiar with them. Much like rereading your favorite novel until you know about where a certain event is in the text, students have a general knowledge of where things are. Students reread, which every good writer should do, and fi nd what they need as they need it. It hasn’t been a big deal. Kids who want things more organized can use paper clips, sticky notes, or a table of contents and index techniques. But overall our notebooks are a reflection of our lives—there is enough organization to keep them functional and enough flexibility to keep them interesting.

Add comment April 28th, 2009

Roundup of Stenhouse news from the Web

Here are a few interesting tidbits that we have found around the Internet about some Stenhouse authors and books:

* “It’s really hard to have a clear opinion about a challenging text…it’s a lot easier to say if I can find three things to talk about in three paragraphs then I can get this assignment over with. That’s where the five-paragraph essay discourages kids from deeper thought.”

National Writing Project director Tanya Baker recently interviewed education professor Kimberly Hill Campbell and high school teacher Kristi Latimer, authors of Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay, as part of the NWP Radio series. Listen as Kimberly and Kristi relate many practical suggestions drawn from their classroom experiences fostering thoughtful writing in response to literature.

* Teacher-librarian Mike McQueen who blogs at Reading on the Run, posted a lengthy, five-part audio interview with Steven Layne, author of Igniting a Passion for Reading and several YA books. The interview covers a lot of ground, but they focus mainly on supporting struggling readers. Listen to the full interview here.

* Amanda Villagomez reviewed Math Exchanges by Kassia Omohundro Wedekind recently and she read the book both as a teacher and as a mother trying to support her children’s math learning. “I will definitely be sharing the book with colleagues at my school and she has left me with plenty to think about as a parent. It was just what I needed to be more competent in understanding my daughters’ math development, as well as being more intentional with providing support,” she writes. You can read the full review on her blog, Snapshots of Mrs. V.

*If you remember our Inside Notebooks series recently, you’ll enjoy this post from Sharing Our Notebooks, where author Kate Messner (Real Revision) talks about her notebooks.

Add comment October 15th, 2012

A Sketch in Time: Poets Painting the Moment

We are excited to again celebrate National Poetry Month with the help of poet Shirley McPhillips, author of Poem Central. She introduces us to “word sketches” as a way of slowing down, noticing details, finding the wonder if everyday details. She offers some ideas for trying out word sketches in the classroom.

A Sketch in Time: Poets Painting the Moment
By Shirley McPhillips

The poet, in the novelty of his images, is always the origin of language.

—Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

One morning this fall, I found myself walking in circles—this time by design. A teen’s Boy Scout project resulted in fashioning a labyrinth on the lush green lawn of his church. A labyrinth—not a maze intended to confuse, but a circular pathway for thoughtful or meditative walking, intended to soothe and heal. At first it was hard to quiet my mind. Walking the labyrinth over time, however, my feet found a rhythm. My mind centered as if following a heartbeat.

Yet still, the rattling times we live in can knock attention, rapid fire, from one matter to the next. Even nature seems to join in with erratic weather patterns—disorienting record heat in February followed by epic arctic blasts. But the lesson of the labyrinth becomes a touchstone: allow the quiet voice inside you to speak; put your attention to the mysteries of a moment, find the surprise, feel the wonder.

Writing “word sketches” is one way teacher-writers and their students can practice finding the wonder in moments of their daily lives. Anyone can train the eye by frequent sketching—slowing the gaze to follow the lines of an object. A simple sketch a day (a coffee cup, a candle, a pear, a chair), even done quickly, can result over time in “seeing” of a different kind—noticing the drama of light and dark, the intricacy of detail and design, the subtle vigor of white space. Writing short word sketches holds the same promise.


The sophistication of the word sketches will, of course, depend upon the experience of the writers and will vary one from another. But, we can start with paying attention: jotting in our notebooks, making lists of what we see—on a walk to school, driving to work, looking out the window.

-a wet street

-a sparrow

-white chairs

-an old plate

As we go, we find our “noticings” becoming more particular and nuanced, especially if we share them, chart them, join others in finding things intriguing.

Next, we’ll want to get some language around what we notice. What else? Where? Doing what? Make a picture.

-the wet street streaked with colors

-a sparrow peeking out of a drainpipe

-two white chairs at the beach

-a plate with cracks in it

Zoom in closer. Enter the moment as if it were a painting. Look around with all your senses. Find the uniqueness. Get out the paints. Don’t be afraid to find unusual words to paint with.

Jack pictures himself walking along a wet side street in his boots. Colors from the buildings are reflected in the rain. His elaborated sketch has the tone and brevity of haiku.

On a narrow street

rain paints a watercolor—

amber, peach—

boots brush a slick design.

Shuyi imagines the sparrow working tirelessly to make a home in such an ignoble place. We know, without any mention of a nest. A true poet.

The sparrow

has built its palace

in a drainpipe.

Mr. Vitturi writes a pure image. Then, like Shuyi, pushes himself to imagine something surprising.

Two white chairs, sunwashed,

sit side by side at the beachfront—

a seat for seagulls.

Sometimes word sketches can be the start of a longer image. Or they can find their way into an elaborated poem. Often, looking back through my notebook, I find lines that seem right in a new poem. Lila pushes past the “cracked plate” observation to find the heart of a longer poem based on a personal story. She sticks very close to the image, revealing “the poem within the poem.” We can see how her practice with observation and detail, her sense of image, sticks with her as she composes “The Cracked Plate.”

Afternoon tea, with tea things spread out

on a lace scarf she made

when she was an English girl,

thin now like the skin of her hands,

lifting the delicate pot to pour.

We sit and talk about different things,

like the cookies on the cracked plate

with the castle scene and the gold rim,

some of this and some of that.


The way we lift our cups and our cookies

to our lips. The way she says, “Do have another,

my dear,” lifting up the cracked plate that holds

so much of what we love.

7 comments April 4th, 2017

Blogstitute: Moving Beyond the 4×4 Classroom

Right before the holiday weekend here is a great read for you from the talented,  brilliant Kelly Gallagher. In this post Kelly takes us through the year in his classroom and how he is re-evaluating how much and what his students read and write about, how he grades them, and how his choices in the classroom will impact his students’ learning. Be sure to leave a comment or ask a question for a chance to win free books at the end of the Blogstitute. You can also follow us on Twitter and use #blogstitute15 to comment!

Moving Beyond the 4 x 4 Classroom
By Kelly Gallagher

kellygallagherWhen I first started teaching, I ran a “4 x 4 classroom.” My students read four “big” books a year (one per quarter), and they wrote four “big” papers a year (one per quarter). Four big books and four big papers—a 4 x 4 classroom.

At the time, this made sense to me. It took a week or two to teach students how to write a specific essay. They took another week or two to move their papers completely through the writing process. Then it took an additional three weeks to read and comment on 180 papers. (While students were waiting for their papers, I shifted the focus in the classroom to the core work we were reading.) By the time I eventually returned the essays, we were into the next quarter and it was time to start thinking about the next big paper.

The same pacing held true when I taught core novels and plays. I took a week to prepare my students for the reading of Book X. We then spent six weeks reading the work, stopping frequently to make sure students were analyzing it to death. Then we spent a couple of weeks revisiting the work via numerous “beyond” activities. By the time students finished these culminating activities, we were into the next quarter and it was time to start reading our next core work.

Years later, I have come to understand the severe limitations of the 4 x 4 approach. The central reason 4 x 4 doesn’t work can be summed up in one word: volume. Volume matters a great deal, and, simply put, students stuck in 4 x 4 paradigms do not read and write enough over the course of the school year to significantly improve. A 4 x 4 approach ensures adequate progress will not occur.

As I write this post, I am three weeks away from the end of another school year—a year in which I have spent a lot of time and energy breaking free of the 4 x 4 mold. Considering the importance of volume leads me to think about my students’ reading and writing journeys this year. Following is a list of the reading and writing tasks they have completed:

• In-depth study of three core works: All Quiet on the Western Front, Hamlet, and 1984
• An in-depth study of The 9/11 Commission Report
• Various other books and articles on 9/11
• Book club books (self-selected from a list)
• Four (or more) self-selected recreational reading books
• An article of the week (every week)
• Numerous articles, maps, graphs, charts, infographics, speeches, and political cartoons that were woven throughout the curriculum

• Weekly Article of the Week reflections. Students wrote thirty-plus of these, each one page in length. (For more on the AoW, see
• Weekly pieces in their writer’s notebooks. All of these topics and genres were self-selected by the students and shared in their writing groups each week. (We did this for half a year.)
• An inform/explain essay (students chose the topics)
• Multiple narrative essays (students chose the topics)
• Poems
• A literary analysis essay on All Quiet on the Western Front (students chose the topics)
• An essay that connected Hamlet to the real world (students chose the topics)
• An argument paper after reading 1984 (student chose the arguments)
• A historical investigation into 9/11. The average paper was twenty-two pages. The shortest paper was twelve pages; the longest was forty-eight pages.
• Numerous reflections spun from classroom discussions and from video (YouTube)
• On-demand writings

in-the-best-interest-of-studentsAm I completely satisfied with this reading and writing output? No. On the reading side, for example, I want my students to have more choice when it comes to book club selections. (This is a budget hurdle; I am working on clearing it.) I am moving toward what I have deemed a 20/80 approach—20 percent reading of whole-class, core works; 80 percent reading of extended works, book club selections, and independent reading choices (for more on this, see Chapter 8 of my new book, In the Best Interest of Students. In regard to writing, I also want to build in more choice, perhaps moving toward a 20/80 split there as well (20 percent teacher-generated topics; 80 percent student-generated topics).

Though I am not completely satisfied with my students’ reading and writing output, I can say without hesitancy that the young men and women about to leave my class have written and read much more than my former students who were mired in a 4 x 4 approach. My classes are moving in the right direction. Volume is increasing.

Here are two factors that have helped me to turn up my students’ volume this year.

I recognized the importance of choice.
Looking at my students’ reading this year, there were times where they had no choice, times where they had limited choice, and times where they had wide-open choice:

No Choice: The class read three major core works together (see above).
Limited choice: In the 9/11 unit of study, for example, students were presented with numerous books on the topic and chose the titles they wanted to read. In book club settings, students were given a choice between eight different titles and then selected the book they wanted to read. (Instead of picking from a list, I would love to have wide-open choice in book clubs, but budgetary limits and school bureaucracy prohibit this. Again, I am working on it.)
Wide-open choice: Students independently read a number of self-selected books.

These three types of reading—no choice, limited choice, and wide-open choice—were found on the writing side as well:

No Choice: The entire class wrote a 9/11 paper.
Limited choice: My students had just finished reading 1984 and I asked them “to write an argument under the umbrella of 1984.” Some students wrote arguments within the four corners of the book (e.g., “The central theme of 1984 is . . .”). Others wrote arguments outside the four corners of the book (e.g., “1984 remains valuable to the modern reader because . . .”). Whether they remained inside or outside the book, students created and answered their own prompts.
In some papers, I blended the level of choice. For their 9/11 papers, for example, the first half of the essays were dedicated to informing the reader of both the prelude and the events of the day; in the second half of the paper, students generated their own arguments and answered them (e.g., “Has the Patriot Act gone too far?”). I call these “50/50 papers”—half assigned, half choice.
Wide-open choice: My students did a lot of writing in their writer’s notebooks, and they generated almost all of this writing (topics and genres).

One thing is certain: when students are given a choice—whether limited or wide open—they read and write more.

I recognized that grading everything slows my students’ reading and writing growth.
Recently, Nancie Atwell received the first Global Teaching Prize (and the $1 million award that accompanies it). This award nicely coincided with the release of her third edition of In the Middle (Heinemann, 2014), arguably the most influential book ever published regarding the teaching of language arts. It is interesting that in this newest edition, Atwell states:

I have never graded individual pieces of writing. Growth in writing is slow. It’s seldom straightforward, and it varies tremendously among young writers. It also happens on a wide array of fronts, as writers learn to generate, experiment, plan, select, question, draft, read themselves, anticipate, organize, craft, assess, review, revise, format, spell, punctuate, edit, and proofread. One piece of writing can never provide an accurate picture of a student’s abilities; rather, it represents a step in a writer’s growth—and not always a step forward, as new techniques, forms, or genres can overload any writer of any age. (300)

This bears repeating and should be shouted from the rooftops of every school in the land: the teacher who was recently recognized as the best teacher in the world has not graded an essay in forty years. Atwell’s students demonstrate remarkable writing growth, but let us not forget that her students’ growth occurred without a single essay being graded. Grading does not turn students into better writers. What makes Atwell’s students better writers? The same things that make our students better writers: Modeling. Conferring. Choice. And lots of writing.
The volume of writing is the key ingredient. If I provide good modeling but my kids do not write much, they will not grow. If I confer with them but they do not write much, my students will not grow. If I provide a lot of choice but they do not write much, my students will not grow. Modeling, conferring, and choice are critical to growth, but if my students are not writing a lot, these factors become irrelevant.
In my school system, I am required to score essays, and I imagine this may be true for you as well (Atwell runs her own school and gets to create her own rules). But let’s not lose sight of the lesson Atwell teaches us here: students should be writing way more than a teacher can grade (I have a goal of at least a 4:1 ratio). When teachers grade everything, the writing pace of the classroom slows down. Volume suffers. It is only when students begin writing (and reading) more than the teacher can grade that they approach the volume necessary to spur significant growth.

Moving Beyond 4 x 4
As this school year winds down, I cannot shake the feeling that, despite the progress in my classroom, my students are still not reading and writing enough (especially considering the deficiencies some of them have). My thoughts are already turning to next year’s classes, and, as I approach summer, I am wrestling with some big questions: How can I build more choice into the curriculum? When and where can I provide more modeling? How can I build in more time to confer? What else can I do to increase the volume of my students’ reading and writing? And, most important, what else can I do to move beyond the 4 x 4 approach?

24 comments July 1st, 2015

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