Aimee Buckner chats with Franki Sibberson about her new work on integrating nonfiction into reading and writing notebooks with students. Aimee’s latest book is Notebook Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook. A full transcript is available below the player.
Franki Sibberson: Aimee, both the reading and writing notebooks are anchors for your teaching. Can you talk about any new thinking you have about notebooks?
Aimee Buckner: I’m always thinking about notebooks and how they can evolve and move with my students and the curriculum and their needs. And that’s the thing about notebooks that’s so beautiful is that it doesn’t have to be stagnant.
So in the past few years, we’ve really upped our nonfiction writing, and so we’ve been looking at notebooks and how they can support us in our research process as well as in our drafting process and trying to find the angle that we wanna take on different topics. And so we’ve been moving towards more informational-type writing and preparation for that, and not only narrative writing.
And then with the reading notebooks, I’m still, you know, I think of them more as a way to prepare kids to talk about books and so they become also the prep ground for book clubs so that if they’re going to work in their small groups or with their reading partner, they have some thinking already done and they go back and reflect in those notebooks. So those have started to evolve as well.
Franki Sibberson: I love that. I love the nonfiction stuff. Can you share some specific work your students have done recently in writer’s notebooks?
Aimee Buckner: Well, you know, recently we’ve been working like with informational text, and one of the things that we started doing is using Post-it notes to plan out their text, like almost like the different events or the different topics they wanna talk about in the articles, and then they’d lay them out on Post-it notes.
And if they start to talk about their article, as a way of previewing what they’re gonna write, we can move those Post-it notes around until they get the right rhythm before they go and actually draft.
And then those Post-it notes go into their notebook as a way for them to remember how they want their article to go, and we write little notes on their Post-it notes of any facts or any wording that they used in their oral telling that we wanna make sure gets into their actually writing because it was so great.
And then if kids change their mind later, they can always take the Post-it note out or rearrange it again in their notebook. And so that seems to be very helpful for the students, and then to be able to store them in a place that they can use them again and again. But it’s been a good strategy for them.
Franki Sibberson: I love that, that’s so smart. So do you use your writer’s notebooks mostly for craft work or for lots of different things? Is it a big variety or does it focus mostly on craft?
Aimee Buckner: Writer’s notebooks tend to focus on a lot of different things, and that’s something I’ve heard in presentations, people asking me, “Well, is it only narrative? Is it only craft?” And I think that as I use them, and as my students use them, and as other teachers use them, you find that more and more can actually go in there.
So in my classroom, yes, we have a lot of craft work in there, but we also have a lot of prep work for narrative writing and we have a lot of prep work now for informational writing and persuasive writing.
So if we use the notebook, no matter what type of genre we’re using or studying, we use the notebook in similar ways as a way to jumpstart our thinking, to find our passions, and to find the stories in the world that we want to tell and then to find our angle in that story.
And so there’s a lot of thinking and reflection that goes on in the notebooks as well as the craft. And then, you know, we also have things that we’re studying about grammar or we’re studying about how language works together and why writers use words in a certain way, and some of that will go in the notebook as well.
Because this really becomes more of a portfolio of their thinking, and their growth as a writer when they’re with me for that year. So it becomes something that they’re going to refer to again and again especially within the classroom school year and in starting the new one they still go back to the old one.
So we end up having a whole hodge-podge of things we might need for our writing some day.
Franki Sibberson: Nice. And so this next question is a bunch of questions put together, so they’re kind of all around independent. You know, how do notebooks support, how do you see them supporting writers’ independence? Do you find that your students, when they’re away from you or finished with the year with you, continue to use the writer’s notebooks for the strategies? What do you do to build that independence for them?
Aimee Buckner: Well, I do think that the writer’s notebook and the reader’s notebook does give the kids a foundation for independence and growing from a place where they have their own starting point, you know, and they can continue to grow on top of that. And so it automatically almost sets up a differentiation of instructions because every student’s notebook is a little bit different based on their level.
And so as students start to take ownership of what their putting into the notebooks and of developing their own story ideas and developing their own research strategies, those things start to pop up as ways that they become independent because they no longer need me to tell them exactly what to do or what strategy to use or when to write because they’re doing it all the time.
And so I notice as students come in and say, “Ms. Buckner, you gotta see what I wrote in my notebook last night,” or when they ask me, “Can I even take my notebook home?” You know, those are things that I start to make a big deal about because they’re becoming real writers and that’s what writers do and they’re always thinking about writing or they’re always thinking about what could go in their notebooks, that they might need it someday.
But the other thing is that when students are writing in their writing notebooks or even in their reading notebooks, they’re developing a sense of fluency, a fluency of thought, fluency of writing. And that I think takes kids further than what we may give it credit for because when kids can, you know, write and think at the same time, and to do that without a lot of stop-and-go, they become more independent because they don’t need the constant reassurance that they’re on the right track or the constant rethinking.
And that constant practice in the notebook and not necessarily having to have a whole page every time, or, you know, but having different lengths as long as they get their whole thought process down and develop that fluency, it gives them that sense of empowerment that they can write about things and that they know when their done, say what they have to say about it. And so that extra practice, I think, in the notebook also sets them up for being more independent in their writing.
Franki Sibberson: I love that. Your definition of fluency, that’s really smart. What about struggling kids; do you see that they deal with the notebooks in the same way or do you find they’re supportive for all kids?
Aimee Buckner: Well, I will say that students who struggle with writing because of some sort of learning difference or because of just even their — what do you call that, the actual physical writing part is hard for them or even the kids who have a hard time like getting their ideas onto paper without talking first.
I do a lot of modifications, you know, for younger children, even older children who think in pictures instead of words, you know. I give them five minutes — one of their strategies is for five minutes, doodle and think about, you know, what you’re writing, and then go ahead and write after a few minutes of either doodling or drawing a picture.
Or some of those kids need to talk to a partner first, talk out what they’re gonna write, and then they go and write. And I found that a lot of times, that’s the jumpstart that they need, and they don’t need much more than that.
But then I have other students who really, they struggle with the actual writing or the spelling is such that they really have a hard time or they’re very embarrassed to actually write things out. And what I’ve done with them is I’ve had them keep electronic notebooks with the computers in my classroom.
And we just use the Word notebook format and they go in and they tab their date and they type, and then they can use the tools on the computer to help them with their spelling and a lot of times the kids who have a hard time actually writing with the pencil, you know, they often type even better.
So they get out there and they do their writing there and then a lot of times we just keep it on the computer and we confer from there or if they want they can print it out and actually keep a hard copy in their notebook. But I do think as teachers working with students we need to recognize that in this day and age of technology, children are going to be published if they haven’t already been.
And it’s not necessarily published as in like a book, but they certainly are always going to have an audience more so than we ever did. And so I wanna give my kids the idea that no matter what their challenge is, every writer has a challenge, and we can overcome it by using different technology or we can modify what works for you versus someone else.
And so the whole idea is notebooks is not necessarily that they have to be handwritten in a composition notebook as much as it is the concept of collecting all of your thoughts and keeping them together to look for patterns or to support you through the writing process so you don’t lose and forget things.
Franki Sibberson: I love that. More of an idea than an actual physical notebook. And so this is a question I struggle with a lot. Are your reading notebooks separate from your writing notebooks and can you talk about the roles of each one or how you work that?
Aimee Buckner: Mine are. And I don’t know that it has to be that way because I know sometimes it gets confusing when they’re reading like writers — the writer’s notebook, the reader’s notebook, and if they’re reading, you know, okay.
So really what I found is that for me, I have to keep them separate as a teacher simply because I find it difficult then for them to find, like if they’re preparing for a book group, you know, for them to find the entries they need in the midst of a writer’s notebook, then it can get confusing for children.
And I found that in my own life, my book group notebooks are separate from my writer’s notebooks because it’s a different type of thinking. Your stance as a writer is that you’re creating the story whereas your stance as a reader is you’re responding and integrating your thoughts into the story.
So I do have them separate although they’re both in essence a way to or just a place for kids to store their thinking about the story that’s in front of them whether it’s one they’re creating or whether it’s one that they’re reading.
Franki Sibberson: Okay. Thank you so much. Anything else you want to add about notebooks? Any new thinking you have?
Aimee Buckner: Right now really, I’m just really working on trying to nail some things down for nonfiction at work for kids a lot of the time, so that’s really the trend I’m on right now.