Writer’s Notebook on Steroids
I was sitting with my notebook this morning, relishing the heft of my favorite pen. Me, the passionate digital writer and reader, the enthusiast for the transformative teaching and learning possibilities the web offers us– forget all that. This morning, it was all about the pen. Its shiny gold-colored clip. The cool, smooth barrel and the way it sat perfectly against the nubbin of my middle finger.
And I thought about how writing changes us inside and out. How deeply I believe students can write their ways into their best selves.
But I haven’t been able to figure out how my paper notebooks and all the spaces of my digital composing fit together. What kinds of writing or composing do I do in which spaces? Do certain topics live in certain places? How can I make sure I can write anywhere– as the spirit moves me, or during specific times at my desk?
For some time, it’s meant token notebook attention while I tried different places for making things with words. Penultimate (formerly, an online journal space, now acquired by Evernote and something completely different.) Omwriter. Evernote. Posterous (R.I.P.) And, for a while, nothing in either paper or digital spaces.
Every once in a while, I’d pick up the pen, dip into my notebook again. I’d even buy new notebooks. Most recently, I chose a notebook for its sleek paper and tight coil binding. I decided it would be my work notebook.
But thinking is not divided between work and not-work, or, in the case of students, school and not-school. Composing happens in words and in more than words. Frequently, the spaces overlap.
Ultimately, I needed to write. A lot. And because I needed to write, I just did. In so doing, I wrote my way into a solution. One notebook. Some good pens (and one really good one.) Multi-colored gel pens. Use the notebook for everything. Use colors to mark off notes and questions to return to. Use tags at the tops of pages to help locate writings that might turn into something.
As I look back over the past weeks of writing, I see a chain of ideas with surprising, unexpected connections, and a string of questions that are narrowing themselves into something that may be researchable. It’s a writer’s notebook on steroids.
And now that I seem to have some systems worked out, I’m thinking about how to create opportunities for students–and their teachers– to need to write.
I ask my grad students to use their blogs as maker spaces– places where they can make sense of or develop new knowledge about intersections between their life experiences and their school reading and learning experiences. I try to design the assignment so that students discover they need to write. I’ve heard that for many of these students, public thinking becomes a powerful way to learn. I would ask high schoolers to use writers notebooks– or blogs– as places to write about the questions they have and are trying to answer, the problems they see and want to solve, the small things that matter….
Once I worked with a teacher who was trying to get her middle schoolers to just write. After a little while of working with the students to introduce freewriting, it was time to brainstorm a list of things they’d like to write about. Their list filled multiple pages of flip chart paper. Turns out, they needed to write, they just hadn’t discovered that yet.
Here’s hoping we can all keep discovering that need, and the right pens and notebooks and media and digital tools to help us meet it.
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