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Whether I am teaching response to literature or specific writing skills that we will incorporate into a paper during a future writer's workshop day, Writer's Notebooks and have become a foundational base for everything I do when I teach Common Core- and other standards-inspired skills. My students (who, like me back in the tenth grade, used to drop their "journals" straight into the trash can as soon as the semester officially ended) now treasure their writer's notebooks. I keep a plastic crate wherein my students can store their writer's notebook between classes over night, but most want to take them home so they can either continue working on a writing idea they started in class, or they just don't feel comfortable having their cherished notebook out of their sight. I often present professional development sessions on writer's notebooks throughout my district and state, and should I ask my students if I can borrow their notebooks to share at my teacher workshops, well, you should hear them make me swear that nothing will happen to their notebooks while they are in my personal care. Does every child on my roster love their notebooks to this degree? No, of course not, because that will never happen, but 90% of my students think the time we spend working in their writer's notebooks is one of the best parts of their school day. Kindly check out the Pinterest Boards I link to below if you want to see the energy my students put in to their writer's notebooks for me.
This induces the left, or analytic, side of the brain to anticipate all the problems that this action could entail, causing it to go into "overdrive" and inhibit the ability to write.” (Paticia Huston)One knows if they have writers block if they are staring at a computer screen or piece of paper for a long period of time.
Right from the start each school year, we will establish an important routine in my Language Arts class. The first ten minutes of class every day begins with what we call --or SWT. It's sacred because it's guaranteed--even when there's a substitute teacher for the day--and it's sacred because it's quiet and we take it very seriously. My biggest belief about teaching students to be better writers is that you all have to write every day, and SWT is our opportunity to develop that daily practice. Ten minutes may not sound like much time at all, but that becomes almost an hour of new writing per week per student. How often do musicians and athletes practice before playing for real in a concert or game? Certainly more often than we practice in writing class, and I do everything possible to guarantee you writing practice. I want my students well-practiced when they sit down to write a real paper, which we'll do three or four times a semester.
Another trick is to start in the middle of your writing project. Avoid that problem of getting started by starting on a part of the project that interests you more and then come back to the introductory matter later. This sounds a bit like starting to earn your second million dollars before you've earned your first, but it's really not a bad idea in any case, because sometimes it's easier to say where you're going after you know where you've been. After all, your readers will never know you wrote the introduction last (another joy of word-processing technology!). One final maneuver around the old Writer's Block: talk over your paper with a friend, or just blab away into a tape recorder (even better). Play the tape back and write down what you hear in or freewrite about them.
Writer's block is often caused by conflicted feelings. We want the writing to be perfect and we want the paper done as soon as possible. We know what we know but we don't know what our readers know. We know how the memo should sound, but we don't have all the facts we need. We know everything about the software, but we don't know what an article should look like. We know what we have to say but we are afraid that it won't measure up to our expectations or to our readers' expectations.
True story...tenth grade made me hate journals! Daily, I was forced to maintain a journal in my sophomore English class. I learned to despise that spiral notebook because keeping it seemed so very pointless and very messy to me. You see, it wasn't my journal; it was more my teacher's than mine. On certain days of the week, our teacher would give us a literature-specific writing prompt, and we quietly wrote for 10-20 minutes, pretending we cared about the teacher's prompt about what we were reading. After quietly writing, I don't remember ever talking--as a class or in small groups--about what we had written to those prompts; instead, we were "blessed" to hear a lecture about what our long-winded instructor would have written as his response to his own prompt (though he never did actually write--he took roll and graded papers while we wrote quietly in our journals). Basically he assigned us a specific prompt, quietly had us write to that prompt while he took care of class business, then--without asking for our input--told us what his thinking based on the prompt he'd provided was. His "journal program" was busy work. Like many traditional teachers, his idea of writing and literature instruction was lecture-driven, not student-centered.
American poet William Stafford offers this advice to poets who suffer from Writer's Block: "There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough." This sounds terrible at first. "What? I'm supposed to write junk? I need a good grade! I'm better than that!" No, Stafford is not encouraging writers to produce garbage. He is suggesting, however, that it's easy to take yourself too seriously, to think you're going to write a poem or an essay that is going to be the greatest poem or essay ever written, that you're going to formulate the greatest, loveliest, most intelligent statement ever made. So you sit there, thinking how unworthy you are, cursing the day you were born, wondering why you ever went to college, hating the very act of writing that has you so stymied. A writer has to let that go, forget about judgment. Go ahead and write drivel at first, as long as you write. Out of your nonsense and ramblings, however, believe that something good will come, some idea will catch fire right there on the page, there will be sparks, patterns will emerge. Be willing to throw stuff out. It's all right. Do you think Shakespeare didn't litter his kitchen floor with balled-up pieces of paper? One nice thing about the word-processor is that you're not wasting paper and trees; you're just exercising the delete key. But this is no time to worry about the environment. Fill that wastebasket with paper and trust that something will come of all this scribbling. It will.
As it turns out, though, Bergler’s thinking wasn’t far off the mark. In the nineteen-seventies and eighties, the Yale University psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrios tried to gain a more empirically grounded understanding of what it meant to be creatively blocked. They recruited a diverse group of writers—fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose, print, stage, and screen—some of whom were blocked and some of whom were fine. The blocked writers had to fit a set of pre-determined criteria: they had to present objective proof of their lack of writing progress (affirming, for example, that they had made no progress on their main project) and attest to a subjective feeling of being unable to write. The symptoms had to have lasted for at least three months.
More importantly, since switching from journals to writer's notebooks, my teaching skills have improved. When you design a lesson with a writer's notebook element strategically placed to assist with students' pre-writing, you create a better lesson. I know for a fact that I don't ever include enough time for pre-writing, and my lessons that I've created since switching do such a better job at laying a foundation for ideas to grow and or writing skills to blossom. I used to rush through pre-writing; now, it's a purposely slow process that allows for me to strategically teach other writing skills while our ideas are still taking shape for our bigger paper assignments.