When Notebooks Go Home

notebooks by shellfish is licensed under CC BY 2.0

notebooks by shellfish is licensed under CC BY 2.0

In early December during Throwback Week, I received the following comment on my post titled “A Peek Inside my Writer’s Notebook”:

I have been wanting to ask this question for a while and now seems the right time. I am wondering how teachers get the kids to bring their writers notebooks to and from school everyday. I know I have time set aside each day for the kids to use these books and I want them to take them home but am not sure how to do this successfully. Do other teachers have trouble with lost and missing WNB’s. What happens if kids don’t bring them to school sometimes, ever??? I would be so appreciative of any tips and tricks as I really think they should have them with them all of the time.

I have been thinking about how to address this comment.  I wish this post you are reading right now was titled “The Secret to Getting Kids to Bring Their Notebooks Back to School.”  I wish this post was full of surefire, foolproof tricks to eliminate lost or forgotten writer’s notebooks.  Unfortunately, I do not know the answer to this dilemma, and I do not have any foolproof tricks.  All I can offer is the experience of my own school district.

We first introduced writer’s notebooks in our district about six years ago.  The notebooks were meant as a tool to help our students live like writers, not just at school but also at home.  However, teachers bristled at the thought of sending the notebooks home.  Their fear, of course, was the notebooks would never make it back to school.  Despite the teachers’ hesitations, our Assistant Superintendent held fast to the idea that the notebooks must be sent home if they were truly to be used as authentic writer’s notebooks.  So, the teachers sent the notebooks home and waited for the worst to happen.  Here is what we’ve learned on our journey:

1.  Most of the time, most of the kids bring the notebooks back to school.  After sending the notebooks home each night, this was the surprising truth.  Really.  Most of the kids, most of the time, brought them right back.

2.  Some kids didn’t.  Sometimes, kids forgot.  (I even forgot my own notebook once or twice.  Ssshhh.)  When kids occasionally forgot, we gave them paper to write on, and we stapled the paper into their writer’s notebook the next day.  We gently reminded kids how important it was to always, always have their writer’s notebook.  “You wouldn’t leave the house without your underwear, would you?  Then don’t leave without your writer’s notebook.  You never know when you are going to have a wonderful idea, hear the perfect phrase, or see something beautiful,” we said.

3.  For the chronic cases, extreme measures had to be taken.  These chronic cases of forgetfulness were few and far between, honestly.  (About one in every forty kids.)  For those kids who just couldn’t manage the daily transition of the writer’s notebook, we gave them a second notebook.  One notebook for home, and one notebook for school.  Of course, this is not ideal, but we found it was necessary for the select few of forgetful students.

4.  Authenticity matters.  My Assistant Superintendent was right.  We had to send the writer’s notebooks home.  We had to.  We could not preach to the kids about living like writers and being observant and writing daily…and then keep the notebooks at school.  We wanted the notebooks to be real writer’s notebooks, and real writers write at home.

So, I hope sharing the story of my own district helps alleviate some of the worry about disappearing writer’s notebooks.  If you are hesitant, I nudge you to try it.  Send the notebooks home for one week, and see what happens.  I think you might be pleasantly surprised.  When the notebooks go home… they usually come back.