I often tell people that when I was in the classroom, stumped with how to help a child get over a learning hurdle, I would duck behind my desk and petition the Lord to give me a creative idea. I remembered Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom. From His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” As a home educator, I still offer up that prayer; I just don’t have to hide behind my desk while doing so! God is so good to drop ideas in my head, connect me with a fellow homeschooling mom who can help, or direct me to a good article, book, or webinar.
I had one of those experiences recently in the form of a webcast featuring educators Rebekah O’Dell and Allison Marchetti. Their workshop was entitled “Play and Discovery in Writing: Notebook Time.” You can watch the same presentation here.
I was drawn to the title because I talk to so many moms who are at the end of their rope trying to “eke” writing out of their students. I was also interested because I’ve been concerned about written expression—or the lack thereof—in our homeschool. I knew my daughter had a lot to say, but each time we began a writing lesson, I was met with complaining, tears, and very little production. I needed to change the negative feelings associated with written expression, and quick!
As you might imagine, play and discovery in writing sounded rather enticing. So, what is “Notebook Time?” Well, Marchetti and O’Dell say that the purpose is to “provide 5-7 minutes of risk-free, ungraded writing each day in the writer’s notebook.” I’ve always tried to be upbeat and excited about writing assignments, and we’ve utilized journals for writing, but this is a little different. It’s more than freely writing in a journal, because you always start with an example of engaging text or graphic as the springboard. Basically, Notebook Time gives students a new way to approach writing and exposes them to various types of authentic writing. Instead of seeing the task as daunting and impossible, writing becomes an outlet for creativity and a time to try a new skill new without pressure.
There is a lot of “meat” to Notebook Time which I won’t go into today. But, here are the basics. Each day, you present one of four writing prompts using either poetry, data (charts or graphs), images, or sentence study. Allison and Rebekah refer to these prompts as “invitations” to writing. They have researched and saved various sources for writing invitations. You can learn more at their website.
Before Notebook Time begins, take a few minutes to introduce the poem, data, image, or type of sentence that you’d like your students to use. No matter the writing invitation, students can write about what they notice, practice an author’s style, or take off in a completely different direction.
O’Dell and Marchetti encourage students to follow these rules during Notebook Time:
- Keep your hand moving; don’t just sit there! Even if you need to write, “I don’t know what to write,” do that.
- Don’t overthink what you want to say.
- Don’t worry too much about correct grammar or spelling.
- Let the writing take you where it takes you.
Later, your student may turn their entries from Notebook Time into something more formal and polished, but that isn’t required.
Even though these ladies are high school teachers, and my children are 5 and 8, I was able to implement a modified version of Notebook Time in our homeschool routine quite easily. Each day, we (myself included) play around with print. After a brief introduction, we set the timer and go! I love the fact that we are creating an environment where writing is celebrated, even anticipated. When the timer goes off, both of my girls are excited to share what they’ve written and want to hear what I’ve put down on paper too. I’m also thrilled that we’re exercising what Marchetti and O’Dell call “our writing muscles” on a daily basis.
My once-reluctant writer is absolutely fired up by this activity. She even pulled out her writer’s notebook during a playdate and invited her friend to write with her. My goal was accomplished: take away the negative feelings surrounding writing. Hooray! I’m excited to see what else in store for us now that we’ve “made friends” with written expression.
What have you utilized that has turned the writing experience from drudgery to delight?
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.