Sending Notebooks Up

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When I was ten years old, on the first day of summer vacation, I gathered up the following items:

  • My Dirty Dancing Soundtrack cassette tape
  • A Kirk Cameron Teen Beat centerfold
  • A spiral bound notebook full of scrawled stories, lists, magazine cut-outs, and journal entries

I placed them all in a giant freezer bag. Then I dug a hole in the backyard and buried it. Inspired by a last-day-of-school time-capsule ceremony, I planned to wait all summer long before digging them back up. An entire summer, at ten years old, seemed to stretch out like eternity ahead of me. I could barely imagine the kind of person I would be by the time September rolled around. Would I even care about Kirk Cameron any more?

Soon your students will have the whole summer stretched out ahead of them. And just like all kids, they too will feel like different people by the time they return to school in the fall — even more so if this is the year they transition to a new school building. We can help kids remember everything they’ve learned about writing by sending up their writing notebooks and some writing samples to next year’s teachers — not just for teachers to get a sense of their incoming class — but for students to look back on and remember where they left off. In other words, we can send up our own little writing workshop time-capsules for kids to open in the fall.

DURING YOUR FINAL UNIT OF STUDY

If you plan on sending up writing notebooks, there are some things to consider around this time of year, before it’s too late. You might consider revamping your notebook work in this final unit of study, encouraging kids to draw from all that they know, paying particular attention to the quality of the work in the notebook. You can let kids know that the notebooks will be passed on to next year’s teacher — this will give them an authentic audience and reason for making the notebooks the best that they can be.

Perhaps you’ve begun to use a digital system for notebooks, instead of a physical, pen-and-paper, notebook. In this case, you might guide students through sprucing up their digital notebooks a bit, making sure that all the folders and files are labeled in a way that next year’s teachers will be able to understand and make use of.

NEAR THE END

As the final unit of study begins to wind down, you might teach students to label some of the strategies they’ve used in their notebooks, using post-its or a different color pen. They might write labels such as “Tried out different leads” or “Used a time-line to plan.” This serves two purposes: 1) It’s a nice way for students to reflect on their own learning, crystalizing some of that work by literally giving a name to it, and 2) Next year’s teachers will be able to more clearly see the strategies your students worked on and can get a sense of the kind of vocabulary your kids are used to hearing when talking about writing.

You might also consider guiding students to do a bit of written reflection in their notebooks before the year is up, knowing that these might be the first thing they see when they enter writing workshop next year. Perhaps they’ll write a letter to themselves, with reminders of all the things they found rewarding and challenging this year. Or maybe they’ll write a letter to next year’s teacher about themselves as a writer.

SENDING UP

The actual, logistical work of sending up the notebooks will take a little advance planning, and will depend a bit on the physical location of next year’s classrooms. If students are moving to teachers right down the hall from you, that’s obviously easier than if they are leaving the school.

In the case of your students transitioning to a new school building, communication with next year’s teachers will be key. The last thing you want is to “dump” the notebooks on next year’s teachers without a plan for how to use them. It might be a good idea to designate a point person on either end (your own school, and the new school) to coordinate. For example, in my own school district, I recently emailed middle school coaches and teachers with an inquiry: “Would you like to have your students’ writing notebooks sent up to you at the end of this year?” My next step will be to plan with fourth grade on how to gather up the notebooks and deliver them to our two middle school buildings.

The summer is a long time to be without your notebook when you’re a kid. You might decide to have kids take their writing notebooks home with them over the summer, and bring them back to school in the fall. Or maybe you’ll send up the notebooks from school, and give kids a nice new notebook to take home over the summer.

FINALLY

When students arrive in their new classroom, with their new teacher, and it’s the first day of writing workshop, it’s helpful for them to have some time to look over their old notebook and remember everything they already know. It might help to post some open-ended reflection and goal setting questions for conversation:

  • What do you notice about your writing notebook from last year?
  • How would you describe yourself as a writer?
  • What did you find the most rewarding about writing workshop last year?
  • What was the most challenging thing about writing workshop last year?
  • What are your hopes and dreams for writing workshop this year?

So, by now you’re probably wondering whatever happened to my time-capsule from the 1980’s. Well, my big plan to wait until the end of the summer never happened. When you’re ten years old just one week without the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack feels like an eternity. So, after about a week, I dug up my time capsule and and taped the poster of Kirk Cameron back to it’s rightful place next to my poster of Whitney Houston. I happily listened to I’ve Had the Time of My Life about ten times in a row, and realized I probably should have made a copy before I buried it.

P.S.

You’re not alone if you often feel that kids have forgotten everything over the summer. Last week, on this blog, my Two Writing Teachers colleagues and I wrote extensively about Keeping Learning Going Through the Summer. In case you missed it, click here for a recap.