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Thinking About My Writer’s Notebook in a Digital Age

I suppose you could say I live a fairly digital life. I bank online. I use the Google Keep app to keep lists and notes for myself. I listen to audio books on my daily commute using the Audible app. I use apps like Weight Watchers and Runkeeper to stay healthy. My husband and I live by our shared iPhone calendar app; it is the only way we remember Show and Tell and library due dates. Almost all of my paper files have been converted to digital ones. My colleagues and I collaborate via Google Drive on practically everything. So, yes, I live a tech-y life.

4fbf5d12-c79c-4937-8a8a-c7eed20796d0The one and only area where I can’t seem to make the digital switch is my writer’s notebook, although I certainly have tried. I tried both free and paid versions of notebook apps such as Paper by FiftyThree and Goodnotes.I have an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro, so I’m certainly not lacking the equipment. I just can’t get used to digital notebook writing. I’m sorry. It’s just not the same.

As you can probably imagine, this inability to switch to a digital notebook results in a lot less notebook writing for me. I don’t carry around stacks of paper like I used to, and I don’t lug a heavy work bag home with me anymore. Nowadays if I need to bring work home I simply toss my iPhone or iPad in my purse. Without a notebook, my great ideas are going unrecorded and, ultimately, forgotten.

This is a relevant issue in our classrooms as well. Our students are more likely to have a cell phone than a notebook in their backpack. You are more likely to see them drafting in a Google Doc than on paper. How can we make the writer’s notebook an essential part of their very digital lives?

While at the Illinois Reading Council Conference, I attended Kevin Wardzala‘s session, Integrating Writers Notebook with Google Classroom, in the hopes of finding a solution to my non-digital writer’s notebook dilemma. Kevin convinced me that going digital was the right thing to do since a digital writer’s notebook would be:

  • multimodal
  • accessible from anywhere
  • more engaging
  • easier to comment and to offer feedback
  • easily editable

His idea was an interesting one: use Google Slides to create a digital writer’s notebook. Think about it. You can insert, delete, and reorder pages with the click of the mouse. You can add images and videos. Sharing is seamless. It is a smart idea, isn’t it? I’ve been mulling it over ever since, and I see some real potential in this possibility.

Maybe I will never find the perfect answer. Maybe this is the one area of my life that won’t ever go digital. Or maybe the answer lies undiscovered somewhere in between?



Dana Murphy View All

Literacy Coach, Reader, Writer

12 thoughts on “Thinking About My Writer’s Notebook in a Digital Age Leave a comment

  1. I struggle with this issue al the time now that my students are learning how to use google docs but I think I’ve come with a plan to try. I can use google slides to focus on one piece & take it through the steps of the writing process. Pics of entries, mentor text excerpts, etc. I can even teach my students to create one of their own to show how they’ve grown as a writer, sort of like a portfolio.


  2. I, too, struggle with this. However, my students have shown me some interesting ways to use Google Apps for notetaking, planning, editing and revising…and their only 10!


  3. Dana,
    Google slides….hmmm this does seem to be a very viable option! Then, if I do NEED to feel pencil and paper meet I can just make a slide of my written page. Thanks for the idea!


  4. This issue is near and dear to my heart, and to my students. I LoVE my paper notebooks and have more than one, but the shift to digital in so much of my life has made it harder to get things scribbled into the notebooks into a form where they can be edited and shared. Thanks for highlighting some possibilities.


  5. I have struggled with this as well but have decided for now to keep some things paper. When I am working out ideas, thinking about things I have read or taking notes from reading I still use a paper notebook. It is sloppy with crazy notes and quotes but it is where my deep thinking happens. Later I turn to my computer to write a blog post or use my thinking for another piece. I started several on-line journals but for me the creative juices seem stuck when on my computer. It may be age and long ago patterns that keep me using paper and pen but for now it works. Living between two worlds is just fine for me.


  6. I too am struggling to keep a Writer’s Notebook as everything else in my life is digital (except books). I do love the feel of writing in a notebook. Curling up with a notebook is not the same as curling up with my laptop or tablet or phone. I LOVE the idea of keeping a notebook of ideas in Google Slides, especially because so much of what I write is based off of images, quotes, and things I see every day. Looking forward to trying it out!


    • I am curious… What are some of your findings from the studies? I have not researched that much and am curious to know what the pros and cons are in the switch to digital.


  7. I thought a digital notebook was the way to go, however, the more I read various studies about the effects of penmanship and handwriting notes, the more I’m wanting to stay with the paper notebook. As with digital various tools, I believe there’s a time a place for going digital and a time for the “old-fashion” method which is why I have both and so do my students. Thanks for giving me more to think about this dilemma.


  8. The switch from paper to digital is interesting. I was a writer long before I had a personal computer (back in the old days). It was quite a lengthy transition to make, but now that I’ve made it there’s no turning back. I do any away-from-computer note taking on my phone or iPad now. I like that I can email it to myself, which makes me wonder why I don’t just write it in an email in the first place, but I never think of that until it’s too late. One day. I still scribble notes to myself on paper when I am working on the computer, but they are temporary lists of things to check or do. Anything more permanent goes into a Word doc. I haven’t tried Google Slides. Sounds interesting. I must check it out. Thanks for the discussion.


  9. The idea of having my pen or pencil touch the crisp, clean page to write is part of the magic of writing, so for now, no digital notebook for me.


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