We’d all be perfect teachers if we had our students all day, every day, and English was their only class. Then we would have time to do all the things. We could use every single smart idea we found on Twitter. We could perfectly balance reading and writing and vocabulary study. We could study every mentor text and revise each piece of writing one million times.
Alas, this is not our reality. In the real world, our struggle isn’t knowing what’s best for our kids — it’s finding the time and space to do it.
To find time and space for other things (namely more intentional vocabulary instruction. More on that some other day, perhaps), I have adapted our daily notebook time and turned it into our nightly independent writing homework.
(Because I never wrote a final follow-up post on independent writing last year, I’ll mention that the end-of-year consensus was that while the activity itself was worthwhile — and kids loved choosing their topics completely freely — the 20 minutes per night was cumbersome, few students were using the time to its potential, and it just wasn’t working the way I had dreamed. I’m sure Nancie Atwell’s kids do it perfectly; mine just weren’t there.)
Here’s what happens:
- Each month, I make a Google Slideshow of 15-20 notebook time invitations. (This is exactly what I did this summer for the 100 Days of Summer Writing. In fact, I created that for my students because I knew this was coming down the pike in the fall.)
- Each week, students go into the slideshow and choose three slides to use as guidance and inspiration for 10ish minutes of writing.
- Students will house their writing in a Google Folder that is shared with me so that I can easily click through and eyeball that kids are doing it.
These slidedecks of notebook times are saving my life in a few different ways:
Restoring Class Time
I am getting 10 minutes back at the beginning of every single class without sacrificing notebook time. We will still probably do whole-class notebook time every once in awhile when I have something I think every student needs to do.
Restoring Planning Time
This year, I am teaching an extra class and losing a planning period. I just don’t have the time to mull over the perfect notebook time for each class period. Instead, I spent about an hour one evening on my couch while watching To All the Boys I Loved Before and put together slides for the next month. Check one big task off my to-do list!
Focusing Independent Writing
Last year, independent writing time got super-lazy. Some students wrote a “log of their day” every day for months. Of course, a big part of that is my fault. But the reality was that I didn’t have the bandwidth to closely monitor students’ independent writing and confer about it while also conferring on their “real” writing workshop writing. So, I’m hoping this will help provide some focus for students who need it while still allowing them to write freely about anything they want should the inspiration strike. Ultimately, I hope this is more meaningful writing.
Want to use a notebook time slidedeck of your very own? Because I love you, here is September’s. (You’ll notice there is a little extra scaffolding since this is our first month doing this on their own at home.) You can also find a slidedeck of 100 notebook time invitations from our 100 Days of Summer Writing here.
What is saving your life this fall? Share it in a comment below, join the conversation on Facebook, or find me on Twitter @RebekahODell1.