Day 12: Thinking in Our Notebooks

This March I’m “slicing” a piece of my teaching day every day.11454297503_e27946e4ff_h

One of the challenges I face every day is getting thinking going in my classroom. Thinking is uncomfortable.  I could go on about all those frustrating moments when kids just don’t think. But. How often have I just wanted to hear the answer from my students? How many times have I thought I had a “good” teaching day when kids “got it.” And, how many times have I had that horrible feeling of this isn’t working, I *** as a teacher?  Plenty. When we make mistakes, when we don’t know, we hate it and sometimes we hate ourselves for our lack of success. We just want the answer. I could blame the culture, our mindset but that isn’t an answer. It’s an intellectual excuse.

I’ve read Choice Words and Mindset many times. I’ve had many discussions with colleagues and shook my head over the lack of growth mindsets; the poor choice of words, such as that’s so smart. But I haven’t considered my problem-solving process. How I do it, when I do it and when I don’t.

It starts with input. A problem. An idea. Something to solve or wonder about. Then I ruminate on it, alone.  I turn it over and over in my mind. When I run. When I write. When I doodle. When I drive. I might bounce a thought or an idea off someone else (that would be collaboration) but many times I just take that idea and try it in the classroom. It could work, or not. Refer to the good teacher, *** teacher paradigm above. The results return as input, and the cycle starts again. With failure, I often reach out for input. That’s how it goes for me. I do it. But.

I don’t explicitly teach this process to my students.

I’ve given thinking stems, have students create t-charts where they write what they know on one side and what they wonder on the other. These tools have helped some students push to new ideas. But many still have a blank column where the wondering should be. They just keep collecting input. The thinking side is blank.

A weekend class on STEAM note booking got me thinking about another way to explicitly teach thinking.  Math and science are natural places for mistake making. Notebooking in these subjects is designed to promote the “figuring it out” mindset. Why not borrow a method from those domains in our reading and writing work?

The structure of the notebook required students to put input, something like a focus question from a teacher on the left side of their notebook. The right side was for their thoughts and sketches.  Explicit input and output.  Perhaps stimulating right and left brain connections. Perhaps a way to explicitly teach the idea of how to take input and push for our own output.

Could this physical layout make a difference in our thinking in reading and writing? It could easily and unobtrusively be applied to students’ current nonfiction and poetry notebooks by explicitly placing the “input” be it research or poetry on the right, and leaving the left side for student “output” for thought. This simple adjustment might stimulate and encourage a few more students to make the jump.

Thinking is not only hard it is scary. Sitting in that workshop yesterday, looking at that blank left page that was supposed to contain my thinking was not comfortable. What made the jump easier was when I talked with a team member who was trying to solve the same problem. The collaboration made my thinking take off.

Could this work in reading and writing?

It’s got me thinking.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for the March Slice of Life Challenge. Read more slices here. 


8 thoughts on “Day 12: Thinking in Our Notebooks

  1. I love this – “Thinking is uncomfortable.” You’re right, it absolutely is at times. Maybe if we were more honest with kids, if we owned up to our own struggles here, it would also change. I’m excited to read more about your exploration of notebook work. Good stuff.

  2. I can so relate, especially your line where the “I know” column is filled out and the “I wonder” column is empty. Good for you, to give yourself the same experience as your students and to recognize the discomfort. Great thinking here. I recently learned of a technique called “stronger and clearer.” Before students write, they talk over their answer with three other students, randomly chosen, one at a time. They are encouraged to borrow from others’ ideas and make their next conversation better. At the end they write. Can you imagine how their answer will be stretched from what they would have done cold/alone? I plan on trying this with my students’ science writing.

  3. Often times, thinking is not something kids are used to doing. I wonder if we don’t give students enough opportunities to ponder a problem and work it out on their own or through conversation. Great thoughts, something for me to think about.

  4. I admire that you keep thinking about your students, deep think about your practice and stretching to improve student thinking. Are you familiar with thinking routines from Making Thinking Visible book? It has been very helpful in my classroom.

  5. Interesting that something as simple as layout might unlock thinking. But why not? If standing up and walking to a new place can jog a thought or idea free, why not the way we set up our notebooks.

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