Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Writer's Notebooks

When I first started teaching in Brooklyn in September 2001 one of the first teaching professional development workshops I attended was for Writer's Notebooks. I tried it with my students, but one more notebook, with state testing, and underperforming students with little support at home, and little to no money for extra notebooks, it was just one more thing and I admit when it became difficult, I dropped it in lieu of other resources.

But I was hooked. The artistic approach, the fact that it was a step away from journaling and focusing on often negative experiences, the scrapbook option, and the encouragement to copy and paste things into it and then respond to these things, find inspiration in them, all of this appealed to me.

So since 2001, I have kept writer's notebooks.
Some are very focused, every page filled, very productive. Other ones I've abandoned with pages half-empty when I just felt like I needed a new start. I prefer the black, blank artist spiral notebooks because so  much of my notebooks have a scrapbook feel, but I've used others. One key feature of the writer's notebook though is making it your own which I do mostly by decorating my covers.

In my high school classroom I use interactive notebooks which I love and I find that there's a lot of overlap in how I approach them both. The personalization, the ownership of the materials, and the arts and craft approach. In fact sometimes students complain about doing art in English class. But I think it's good to stretch them. I tell them (much like my Mom used to say with vegetables) that they don't have to like it but they have to TRY it.

I'm currently on #23 in fifteen years (seen here with the original book we were given at the PD workshop). My new favorite thing is to use self-created Avery stickers to decorate my books (these look funny because I was out of black toner so I had to sub in blue and everything printed funny for weeks).
Yesterday a few Twitter colleagues were posting about their attempts at or revisions of the new bullet journal approach. I think the analog push is a little over-the-top, but that's fine. I've looked at it and it's a little too rigid for me. For myself I know that not sticking to the rigid pages and table of contents would make me feel bad and I'd feel like I had to redo the whole thing.
Plus, between my filo-fax and writer's notebook they performed these same functions.
I use the filo-fax to track day-to-day to do, appointments, and writing deadlines, that sort of things. I used to use and LOVED James Burke's Teacher Daybook as it was a planner and lesson planner in one, so was perfect for tracking everything. Plus it was spiraled. So pretty much perfect in every way. But despite the fact that they discontinued the paper Teacher Daybook a few years ago, a lot of the resources that were in it are available online, and I still use a lot of them.

I use my writer's notebook for a lot of reasons and uses. I journal some in it, although I try to keep it more positive and not a place to just complain because I do believe that focus can become self-fulfilling. I do use tabs to mark pages I reference a lot like budget, books to read, wish list, and dissertation to do.

Here are some of my sample pages from the writer's notebook I'm in now:
This page shows brainstorming I had in reaction to Kevin Gannon's semester blogging project. These pages helped me think through how I could adapt it, and apply it in my early Shakespeare class.
These pages are color coded, as much of my work is. I found out this summer I would not be defending my dissertation this summer as I thought so these were some initial notes trying to make sense of a new timeline. It's not (probably) what I'll end up doing or what is approved, but in those first days trying to apply some order was helpful and comforting.
I wrote a chapter for an edited collection on superheroes. My chapter argues that Captain America is a proletariat hero. I wrote it last summer and when Avengers came out I had to add an addendum. When Civil War came out, I had to add a small bit at the end of the chapter as well. Here are my notes, my ticker, and the poster image. My writer's notebooks end up very scrapbookey, it's one of the things I love best about it.
Back in May there was a conversation on Twitter about medieval(ist) tattoos which became a conversation about how medieval narratives are written on the body. I wrote a blog post about it and we submitted a roundtable proposal for #Kzoo17 on Medieval(ist) Bodies and Boundaries which was accepted and I'm very excited about.

Here are my initial thoughts on what I'd present on. The St. Catherine is a revisit/later addition. And that's one of the things I love best about the writer's notebook approach-- that a main component is to constantly revisit your writing, to add and comment on it in different colors and with fresh eyes. Since the #Kzoo17 is a roundtable it will be a shorter piece than a normal conference paper. So I may gesture to the other saints, but think I want to focus on how female saints' stories are written on their bodies through torture and how to connect this to how women now use tattoos as agency.
Since Catherine is my patron saint, and confirmation name, I think I'll focus on her. I chose her because she wins through argument, which I always loved, and takes everything thrown at her. Hence the addition of her on these pages. I'm sure I'll revisit it again between now and then and have more to add as I get closer to actually writing the paper and presentation for the roundtable.

Because I have a photographic memory I can easily remember where something is in 23 notebooks because I remember what the cover looked like and what the page looked like so it's still easy for me to find things if I need to go back to old notebooks for reference.

As I shared on Twitter, I tend to view my filofax and writer's notebook as HERE AND NOW organizing. I use Google Calendar for long term, recurring reminders like bills. But I use other forms of organization as well:
  • I keep my conference papers, dissertation drafts, and all my teaching resources in Google Docs.
    • I copy and rename each semester so it's easy to track.
    • This also makes things easy to share resources with students and colleagues.
    • Once I send a dissertation chapter off for approval/editing I download it to Dropbox and share that with the date in the title.
  • I store syllabus ideas (not yet taught) and old syllabus from classes I've taken in One Note.
  • I also use One Note for more long term planning- future articles, books, etc.
    • I tend to think of One Note as more of an archive, there if I need it but not commonly used.
I wish I could integrate writer's notebooks into classes more. I've tried (and failed) several times. The one time it kind of worked was when I taught a first year composition class that was paired with an acting class. They used it for both, and I used it to encourage their creative side and to apply this to their writing. Usually this class was made up of fine arts majors, specifically theatre majors and I think this would have worked better if this class had that demographic. But due to low enrollment, this class was not restricted and was instead closer to a normal first year composition class.
I think part of the reason it worked as well as it did was because we used them in conjunction with my use of Lynda Barry's Syllabus. Which I continue to think about how to work into classes and my approach. I think using this and samples form my own writer's notebooks helped them to "see" what I was looking for.

Googling writer's notebooks will give you a lot resources but here are some of the links I like:
If you're able to integrate them into either your high school or college classes, I'd love to hear how you use them and your successes, failures, or improvements!

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