Good stories are not written. They are rewritten.
Not long ago, I stumbled across my college “capstone project.” This assignment was the pride of Allegheny College, a massive culminating task meant to represent a graduating student’s learning and future potential. It was a big deal, back then and back there, in the context of undergraduate liberal-arts studies.
Mine was a thick plastic-bound volume of short fiction, buried at the bottom of a giant box of aged photographs and albums. I was surprised to see it. I’d thought I’d thrown it away decades ago.
I looked at the cover for a long time. It had been written during a dark chapter in my life, and I’d soldiered through the worst parts of it by building those stories. I’d get up early, before anyone else had even begun to stir. I’d walk across the silent campus to the 24-hour computer lab in the basement of Pelletier Library. Delightfully alone, I’d lose myself in words. In late April of senior year, I printed the final version and marched it to Cochran Hall, where I handed it to the printer guy for copying and binding. Two weeks later, I stood in a conference room in that same building, defending my work to a panel of intimidating, stoic professors, each of whom kindly gave encouraging feedback.Two weeks after that, I left campus for good, turning my cheek toward the next chapter of my life.
Holding it now, more than two decades later, I wondered what was inside. With a small, tentative breath, I turned the cover.
I was a different writer back then, young and raw, but I saw my now-self there, too. The real fun was seeing the bridge between the two. My then-voice was the then-me, seeking confidence, considering the concept of having something to say, something people might actually read. As I read, I paused frequently to time-lapse to the now-me. I’m still writing, but with life experience and a much more positive, grateful outlook.
It was like looking into a memory mirror. It was my own voice, speaking to myself, acknowledging the path and process of becoming who I am, and recognizing I’m not finished yet, either, because there is going to be more to say, and more curves in the road. I considered how I might even rewrite a few of the stories now.
My district is experimenting with digital portfolios that will theoretically follow a student from early years until graduation. Students will have folders with work samples from key content areas. I like the idea of a student being able to capture their work and hold on to it as artifacts and evidence of learning, because I like the possibilities it will provide—they’ll be able to go back and see how they have changed as a thinker and learner. If they want, they can rework their thinking into something new and different. Or not.
Most of our instruction is done with some sort of deadline in mind. By the end of the period. The week. The semester. Drafts can’t languish forever, right? They need to be done at some point.
But do they? No, of course not. I’m not sure if I’ll go back to rework my short stories. I might. Or I might not. The point is that I can. And that’s really the point of providing ways for students to organize, save, and finish their writing as they prepare to move on to a new grade. We want those final binders and virtual portfolios to feel like a culmination. We also want to pass their words on in a form they can return to later, savoring and remembering where they were when they wrote them. And maybe revising them as they continue to develop their writing voice.
This week we look at ways to tweak student notebook formats and expectations in classrooms. Plus more as always—enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jen Schwanke began her career as a language arts educator and is currently a principal for the Dublin City School District in Dublin, Ohio. Her book You’re the Principal! Now What? is available through ASCD.
Melanie Swider enhances read alouds and the entire reading workshop with creative uses for reading notebooks.
Ruth Ayres shares five “mentor pages” from her writing notebook that you’ll want to develop and use over and over again in lessons.
Stacey Shubitz highlights six ways to keep the energy of a writer’s notebook strong all year long.
Close out your coaching year by getting organized for the next one in our Getting Organized for Literacy Coaching online course starting on May 12. Ruth Ayres offers lots of strategies for everything from setting up a calendar to putting your best foot forward in initial meetings. Members receive discounts of 20-40% on course fees, and nonmembers receive three-month trial memberships to the website.
New members-only content is added each week to the Choice Literacy website. If you’re not yet a member, click here to explore membership options.
Gretchen Schroeder analyzes the use of writing notebooks in her classroom, focusing on what’s confusing or frustrating for students. She makes some small changes that yield big results.
Dana Murphy is dismayed by the ways graphic organizers can sometimes limit student creativity. She uses writing notebooks and a few other strategies to begin to wean her fourth graders from depending too much on organizers.
This month we are launching a new video series on options for student annotations during read alouds in Franki Sibberson’s fifth-grade classroom. In this week’s installment, Hannah shares her notebook where she highlights the setting and characters, as well as makes predictions.
In an encore video, Andrea Smith’s fourth graders brainstorm next steps for their research project on owl habitats, discussing different options for recording research findings in their notebooks.
Lead Literacy now has a new home as the Leaders Lounge at Choice Literacy. We’ll be posting the new content updates here in the Leaders Lounge section of the Big Fresh newsletter.
Is there anything more fun than taking a peek at a colleague’s notebook to see what they are writing down? In this week’s video, we do just that. Kelly Hoenie opens up her coaching notebook and shares with Cathy Mere what she writes down during observations and consultations, as well as how she uses the information when conferring with teachers.
David Pittman works with a teacher who is overwhelmed by all the notebooks, forms, calendars, and notes she is taking to document and assess student progress. He helps the teacher streamline and organize a new system tailored to her needs and strengths.
PD2Go: Ruth Ayres confers with third grader Jade about the value of collecting ideas in her writer’s notebook, and shares some strategies for organizing the information.
Melanie Meehan shares examples of how her coaching chartbook has continued to evolve, as well as some of her favorite materials in it.
I record dates and journeys and personalities and traits and heroes and losers and weaknesses and strengths. I try to capture every one of those people because one day I’ll need what they had to offer.
That’s all for this week!