The end of the school year is here and all I can think about is curling up on a picnic blanket under the trees while my kids play around me so I can read. Nothing feels better than losing myself in a text, when I’m reminded how much I love stories, connect with characters, and absorb new ideas that springboard my own critical thinking.
But more than anything, writing about that reading fuels my work as an educator. I jot notes in my notebook to help me remember parts of the texts I want to teach. I write down facts I want to store longterm in my brain. And I pay careful attention to how and what I record so I can show students how they might replicate those same moves.
Wearing my mama hat: this is what I want for my four young children. To be able to read what they want and respond to their reading accordingly, either in the form of lists or paragraphs or visuals that help reading stick. I want them to learn lifelong, real, reading and writing habits. Wearing my educator hat: same deal. This is the barometer I use to filter my teaching; I ask myself if it’s useful for kids outside classroom walls.
Here’s a short list of things I often write down:
- Mentor lines I love
- Interesting word combinations and phrases that move me
- Nonfiction writing organization tactics
- Thoughtful chapter endings or article leads
- Parts I can envision easily
- Direct quotes I want to tuck into workshops
- Questions I’m asking back to the text or author
All the Ways Our Personal Writing About Reading Can Look
There is no one way. Linda Rief, one of my longtime mentors, elevates writing about reading to an art. I covet her beautiful notebook captures, which she sometimes shares on Twitter or with me via email after we read the same book. She draws and doodles, sometimes prints little parts of text, and captures her thinking in a variety of ways – not just after reading but after hearing a podcast or keynote. I include a variety of examples from her notebooks below.
“I also use my WRN to collect short excerpts that might work as mentor texts to inspire my writing, the writing of teachers, and kids. If I don’t collect right after I read, the passages disappear onto the shelf. Also jot down craft moves- so much easier to find (in my head and memory) once I have written them in my notebook,” Linda wrote me. “As I work with teachers— such as at UNH— I always jot down what I would do differently next time. Something I tried to do when I was in the classroom.”
I love the fluid way she incorporates visuals into her notes, and appreciate how personal these pages look. They make sense to her. They are useful for her. They support her own critical thinking. Looking at these, what might you teach your students to try?
My Top Five Summer Stack
Reading and writing are so woven together that the excitement of new text options compels me to write. Like Linda, my reading fuels my writing. When something I’ve read resonates or made me think, I welcome the opportunity to re-read it and mull it over, so I can share those thoughts with my children, friends and colleagues.
Here’s what I am thrilled to sink into this summer. They vary in terms of genre, length and type of text, and that is exactly what I love: the ability to choose anything and everything to voraciously read. Every kid should have this reading right, too.
- Literacy is Liberation: Working Toward Justice Through Culturally Relevant Teaching by Dr. Kimberly N. Parker. I’ve been savoring this professional read and look forward to writing about it more, as her work aligns exactly with what I believe, that “humanity is not up for debate” and thus, all of our teaching must orient around this as one of our foundational beliefs. She discusses the diversification of texts to include a culturally inclusive library, which is critical for truth-teaching. In addition, Dr. Parker is the co-founder of #31DaysIBPOC, a May blog series written by educators of color that I highly recommend. Also pumped to get my hands on a new professional text called The First Five by Patrick Harris and Tuned-In Teaching by Antero Garcia and Ernest Morrell.
- My Bindi by Gita Varadarajan, a beautiful picture book my daughters have loved reading – not just once or twice, but repeatedly. I love the identity-building; I love the protagonist’s budding confidence. And as a writing teacher, I took the opportunity to replicate similes like Varadarajan does, listing several from the book as mentor sentences.
- The End of Mom Guilt by Lara Bazelon, an article that ran in the May Atlantic Monthly magazine, about juggling parenting, relationships and career. I wrote this line in my notebook and have thought about it at length. “Feminism today must be about more than structural change. We have to redefine what it means to be a good mother.” What I grapple with doubly is pressure that women of color feel when it comes to “professionalism,” recalling a piece I read by Aysa Gray called The Bias of Professionalism Standards.
- The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade has been a novel I’m savoring, slowly. It’s the kind of family saga that jumps narrating perspectives that I love, and instead of writing about it I’ve been texting friends random lines that make me laugh. Quade captures raw humanness beautifully. I saw somewhere on social media a call to normalize saying we love books without remembering the details and I became lost in thought about how important that is for us as adults, sometimes. Why don’t we afford the same privilege for our kids’ pleasurable reads? The details are fuzzy but the story is lovely. I am equally excited to devour How to Not Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz because I adored her other novel, Dominicana. Family stories forever please.
- Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place by Neema Avashia is at the top of my stack for the start of summer, once I’ve put my writing projects to bed, and I cannot wait. The author is an educator from the Pittsburgh area, where I was born and raised, and I am just pumped to lose myself in someone else’s interesting story while learning about new ways of being and moving in the world.
It is powerful to end the school year by listing with kids the reading they want to tackle – keeping an expansive view of ‘text’ in mind (podcasts, music, art count) – and then asking what kinds of writing they can make as a result. Show them examples of your notebooks. Give them the power to make decisions based on interest. And when we relaunch in the new school year, let’s not forget how deeply personal literacy really is. Choice is everything.
Nawal is an educator, literacy consultant and writer based out of Chicago, IL. Nawal worked as a classroom teacher, literacy coach and curriculum developer in Brooklyn and Chicago before launching NQC Literacy in 2014. She and her team support schools and districts by facilitating professional development and coaching around a holistic, balanced approach to literacy instruction: always looking through lenses of cultural-sustainability, inclusion and equity.
Nawal earned a Bachelor of English from the University of Michigan, a Master of Teaching from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School. She won a New Jersey Press Association Award for her international reporting and transitioned into education as a New York City Teaching Fellow. She is the proud daughter of immigrants and her role as a mother to four multiethnic, multilingual kids shapes her approach as an educator. You can find Nawal in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood or on Twitter at @NQCLiteracy.