Writing About Reading in the Writer’s Notebook

Writing About Reading Blog Series FINALSome of my favorite writer’s notebook entries to read are ones kids craft in response to a book or article they’ve read.  The writing children craft about reading in their writer’s notebooks isn’t about making predictions, intertextual connections, or finding the main idea.  If a writer’s notebook entry is about something a child has read, then it usually holds a lot of meaning or value to the child. It’s not written because it was assigned in a reading response journal by the teacher. Rather, this writing about reading is usually composed in response to something that affected a child so deeply he had to write about it on his own terms.

In Living Between the Lines, Lucy Calkins and Shelley Harwayne share how the writer’s notebook is a tool for writing and living.  They reminds us writer’s notebooks can be used:
[F]rom recording cherished phrases from a book to commenting on their sister, from questioning why an author wrote a story to recalling a hurt dog they saw in the alley. Entries that explore why they’ve lost interest in a book are set alongside entries that explore memories and feelings.  This juxtaposition is a powerful brew — and a logical one. Writer Vicki Vinton, who supports this way of physically merging reading and writing, says, “After all, the me who notices something at the Metropolitan Museum isn’t any different from the me who notices something in a book or from the me who writes a story or teaches a class.” (1991, 49)
Teachers of writing can model possibilities for the way entries in about articles or books can look by showing students an assortment of their own notebook entries written in response to reading.  Many teachers don’t write about things they read in their writer’s notebook.  If you’re one of those people whose writer’s notebook is devoid of “writing about reading,” then here are some possibilities for the kinds of entries you can create.

EXAMPLE #1: Writing about a work of fiction

The literacy specialist in me takes notes when I read fiction. (That’s a little nerdy truth I bet you weren’t expecting to hear, were you?)  When I read The Best of Me, I highlighted several passages of the text and then jotted electronic sticky notes about them.  Here’s an example of one I wanted to explore in more depth:
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Since titles are a thing with me, I wrote about it in my notebook:

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Click on the image to enlarge.

EXAMPLE #2: Making a personal connection

I’m a big fan of the Draft Series in The New York Times. I especially admired and connected with Floyd Skloot’s recent op-ed “Forgetting It All.”  Therefore, I jotted down my connections to it in a writer’s notebook entry.

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EXAMPLE #3:  Copy-changing an admired poem

I read Aimless Love by Billy Collins last month. “Today” was one of the poems resonated with me. I used the sticky note feature in my iBooks app to jot down something the poem made me think about: 20140109-150807.jpg

I was moved to create my own poem about a beautiful fall day. I used the copy change technique I learned about from Tom Romano at NCTE. Here’s what I crafted in my writer’s notebook:

My meager attempt at a "Today" poem.

My meager attempt at a “Today” poem.

EXAMPLE #4: Humor/talking back in a safe place

I read Sarah Tuttle-Singer‘s article about Fakebooking in 2013. Like most people, I’ve been guilty of broadcasting the happier moments of my life on Facebook. (Because who really wants to know about picture book manuscript rejections, loads of laundry done on a Sunday, or a toddler temper tantrum?) As a result of her article I started to post occasional pictures of Isabelle doing toddlerish things in order to give some of my friends a good laugh.  That being said, I hadn’t given Tuttle-Singer’s article much thought in recent months until it got picked up on by Time last week.  As a result, I broke-in my new Jot Script stylus (NOTICE I can actual print in digital writer’s notebook now!) and wrote down some Facebook status updates I could’ve posted, but didn’t, from the past week.  It was my attempt at a little satire in a safe place, my writer’s notebook.

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EXAMPLE #5: Doodling about an article

In late December I read “Pouring Cheese on Icy Roads in (Where Else?) Wisconsin” in The New York Times.  As I read the article I found myself imagining cheese covering the roads.  I used my Penultimate app to create a sketch of what I envisioned.  Afterwards I marked it up in Skitch.

My visual response to the NY Times article

My visual response to the NY Times article.

There are endless opportunities to write about books or articles in our writer’s notebooks.  However, as educators, we must help young writers imagine possibilities for what this looks like so they’re tempted to do this kind of writing themselves.

How about you?  Do you ever write about books or articles you read in your writer’s notebook?  What do those entries look like? Please share by leaving a comment below.

On a related note: My writing spans the digital and handwritten worlds, which is why you may have noticed different formats of writer’s notebooks above. Click here if you’d like to read more about my search for the perfect electronic writer’s notebook.

Finally, we’d like to know what you’re thinking regarding writing about reading. Please join us when we host our first Twitter Chat for the TWT community.  Here’s more info:

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