From Ralph Fletcher’s A Writer’s Notebook
As we model “what good writer’s do” it is imperative that we make sure our students understand what the writer’s notebook is and what we expect from this routine. Fletcher is very specific in how he describes the writer’s notebook, stating that it is not a diary or journal where students simply talk about their weekend, for example. He also states that it should not be utilized as a reading response journal either (although this would be a wonderful topic for another day!). Instead, the seed notebook should be a place to store details & descriptors, feelings and emotions, and to tap our 5-senses. In short, the seed notebook is there to help our ideas grow so that we may share our world as authors.
Ralph Fletcher breaks the writer’s notebook into various sections. For our purposes; however, we will be focusing on three: Lists, Memories, & Fierce Wonderings. My vision for our young authors is to provide them with a standard marble notebook, with 3 sections (delineated by colored tabs, for example). This would be in addition to their writing folders and should also be decorated, giving our seed notebooks the same pomp & circumstance that we give our writing folders when launching the writer’s block…after all, they are both equally important! I even have my own to reference when conferring with students.
Below you will find some details on each section of the seed notebook, along with some ways that it can be modeled for our students.
Lists: On the surface this would seem like a self-explanatory routine…after all, list making is something we do every time we go shopping! Fletcher, however, goes much deeper, which leads to some interesting possibilities as we conference with our students and begin prewriting routines. He suggests going beyond categorization and challenges us to list our new/favorite/silly/scary words, specific vocabulary or figurative language (onomatopoeia). Our lists can simply be about a friend or family member or even our own experiences (i.e. things I am an expert on; my favorite/worst food, things I love, things that annoy me, etc.). When writing informational pieces we can utilize this section of the seed notebook to organize facts or to create a list of writing goals that pertain to a particular piece/unit (consider the role that the Writing Pathways Checklists can play with this idea).
Memories: This is where we challenge our young authors to go beyond establishing the setting and recalling basic details. Here is where we ask them to dig deeper, focusing on emotions and feelings – I was elated the first time I climbed to the top of that tree! The “memories” portion of our seed notebook is also where we can really get creative by including artifacts of things you want to remember (that ticket stub from the Sonny Rollins concert), photos (magazine cut-outs of “things I love”), or a drawing that depicts a special occasion. Question prompts can also play a role as we scaffold in this routine. Fletcher gives several examples:
- What do you remember?
- What stories does your family love to share about you?
- Did you have a favorite toy/stuffed animal/blanket when you were little?
Fierce Wonderings: What’s on your mind when you wake up? What do you day dream about during lunch? Throughout this chapter Fletcher encourages us to think deeply (What happens to the thinking part of us after we die?), and with humor (How is it that a pair of glasses keeps everyone from noticing Clark Kent is Superman?). He even encourages us to share the internal dialog that surrounds your question. While these deeper thoughts and inner dialogs are a crucial part of becoming a writer, these wonderings can be scaffolded/modeled for our youngest writers by linking the seed notebook to our literacy instruction (Why does Eric pick on Trisha so much in Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker?). It also has great potential to support our students as they explore informational texts to support expository writing (Why are there different kinds of clouds?).
Writing & Re-reading Routines with the Seed Notebook: As you can see from the deep thinking that is possible throughout this part of the writing process, it is imperative that our seed notebooks are living documents. They must be revisited frequently and it is essential that we provide time for our young authors to write in them. This can certainly be a part of independent writing time, but can also be done at the writing center, during breaks/transitions or as a regular start-the-day/end-the-day routine. Seed notebooks should also play a regular role during our conferencing routines, particularly as we prepare for a new writing genre. It is during conferencing time that we can coach students and ensure they are re-reading their seed ideas for possible use. That being said, seed notebooks should not take over the writer’s workshop and we should keep the 3 S’s in mind as we communicate our expectations to each student.
- Simplicity: Ideas in each section should be brief vignettes (at most several sentences). You will notice that each example I gave above was only one sentence…this is the “seed” notebook after all. We’re not going for the entire tree…yet! It is this philosophy that will allow us to easily integrate the seed notebook into our instructional day.
- Sincerity: What is written throughout the seed notebook (as it is throughout the writer’s workshop) must be authentic! To require that each student writes about butterflies, for example, does not allow for meaningful conference dialog or deep engagement.
- Space: Each entry in the seed notebook (or artifact in the case of “memories”) should be surrounded by ample space on each page. As students reread/revisit their seed notebooks or decide to turn an idea into a piece of writing, the space will allow for additional details during the prewriting process.
Providing regular routines to read, write and review the seed notebook will help to ensure that we are providing many opportunities for students to build their inner voice and self-assess. Fletcher even provides us some questions to utilize when conferring with students to support their use of the seed notebook, including:
- What entry is the most interesting to you?
- Which entry do you care most deeply about?
- What ideas do you want to develop further?
- What is the most bold/original idea in your notebook?
Feel free to share some of your seed notebook highlights in the comments section below…and remember, the more “seeds” we plant the better! To quote Don Murray – It takes forty gallons of maple sap to make one gallon of maple syrup.