As this post drops, I’m wrapping up the second week of the new semester. I’ve got new courses, new students and new ideas.
One of the first things that I try to establish is the importance of our notebooks. I actually try to do a lot of our work, our writing, our responding… our thinking in them.
So, I really want them to matter.
For the last couple of years, as I’ve already shared, I have had students put a word on the front of their notebooks, borrowing from the #OneWord resolution movement. After doing this last week, I can reaffirm there is a power in this. Already, students are calling for their notebooks by their words, and there’s something special about this daily occurance.
“I am loyal.”
“I am overachieve.”
“I am creative.”
“I am intensity.”
Even “I am reckless!” speaks to the spirit with which it actually feels like they’re approaching their new English courses.
I added a new element to notebook personalization this semester. I make no bones about being an Austin Kleon fanboy. Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work are a pair of texts that have had an incredible impact on my teaching. His tweets and weekly email newsletter have added so many ideas to my notebook.
In a recent newsletter, he did what he often does, and shared his one of his own processes. Each time that he begins a new notebook, he tapes a picture of someone who inspires him inside, a guardian spirit. He adds a quote as well.
Of course, as I would have students starting new notebooks, I “stole” the idea right away. In our first classes, after we made the initial run through the syllabus, and started establishing our community, we personalized our notebooks. I explained how they were going to have a word that spoke to their goals and aspirations in the course on the front, and a person who inspired them inside. I told them that their first page of their notebook would give me my first glimpse at their writing, as they explained their choices. We had something to do that accomplished a lot, but didn’t feel like a big ask on the first day.
The guardian spirits are as diverse and random as the students that chose them. From Yoda to Dali, Homer to Hermione , Mandela to Jesus, they run the gamut. Of the 60 or so guardian spirits, the only duplicate is Eddie Murphy. In two different classes.
And the rationales for their choices of words and guardian spirits gave me so much insight into who these students are. Eddie Murphy is there because of his bravery as a speaker, his ability to win people’s respect and adoration with his humor. (I know you were curious, so he was the example I chose!) I appreciate the openness with which they did this task.
But as I’ve been assessing those first pieces of writing, and looking at other responses in their notebooks this first week, I’ve actually come to appreciate what those two things they stuck to their notebooks have come to mean. Every time I grab a student’s notebook, I read their word. I open and see the image of someone who inspires them. Who that student is, and wants to be is laid bare for me. It’s quite powerful.
Imagine if it’s having a similar impact on them.