Slice of Life: Scheduling Time to Notice

“I’m done. I have no more ideas. I quit.”

So said one of my 4th-grade writers. A student who reads and reads. One who writes poetry with the tiniest nudge. One who wanted to start a grade level newspaper. Now he is done?

While this could be a moment of self-induced drama, his serious face said otherwise.

We sat for an unscheduled writing conference.

“All writers have these moments. When the ideas run dry. When we think we have nothing to say.”

He sat and stared.

I talked. I tried to explain that the heart-wrenching feeling of writer’s block/loneliness happens.  I went on. Talking about how writing is the decision to make something inside visible. How it is the product of personal thoughts, opinions, and imagination.  And because of that, writers are risk-takers. Putting yourself out there is scary. Someone might not like it and say so. Or worse. Not say anything at all.  To write is to be brave. And sometimes it is too hard.

He sat and stared.

I told him that maybe it’s time to collect ideas in his notebook.

“But I have no ideas.”

“Write about your life.”

“My life is boring.”

“That depends.”

“What exactly do you mean, Mrs. Harmatz?”

“Get your notebook.”

We sat and looked. We noticed. And jotted a few things.

Paper, pillows, people.  Perhaps paper was more than something to write on.

Words were written in his notebook. And in mine. Perhaps to surface on another day.

Planning our units of study rarely signal us to commit time to notice. The idea of keeping a notebook with noticings is what writers do. It goes back to the old school version of writing workshop. One that collects ideas. In the wake of ever-escalating expectations that children are subjected to, we must instill balance. One way is to cultivate a practice of noticing.

Tomorrow is a busy day. We will be pressed for time. All the more reason to stop and notice.

Thank you, Two Writing Teachers for Slice of Life Tuesdays. Read more slices here.


22 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Scheduling Time to Notice

  1. I love that you are using your notebook to help this writer with his! Teachers who write are just all around better writing teachers!

  2. What an important reminder – to stop and notice. We are all running too hard and too fast these days. I’m going to get out my own notebook and do some stopping and noticing. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I was sitting at that conference table with you and your student, could picture your notebooks filled with words. I hope I remember this slice in the third week of March, when I feel like my well is running dry.

  4. Noticing is what separates a writer from others, says Ralph Fletcher. There is much to notice, if we just pause and allow ourselves to do that. I love that your notebooks helped catch a few words.

  5. It is so important to slow down and refuel. Noticing, gathering, wondering are all parts of drafting. I love that you slowed down to honor and celebrate this stage of the process. The Calkins units have students using Tiny notebooks as early as second grade – it really helps them.
    Thank you for the reminder!

    • Teaching in the upper grades I think we tend to believe students have mastered earlier practices. But to be honest, I have not mastered the practice of noticing and collecting. Many have forgotten or think it is no longer something to do!

  6. My seventh grade son sounds just like this student! At one point he was writing a how-to essay about essay writing. I shared that his teacher definitely didn’t want to read about how to write an essay. She wanted something from his heart. He said, so she wants me to write about what’s important to me? Yes. I can’t believe it was his reply. Eventually, though, he did write. This weekend, he had to write a small moment. My life is boring! I don’t remember anything. Eventually, after much oral rehearsal, he settled on a great topic. I don’t know where he learned that he couldn’t write. I’m so thankful to his teacher this year who is trying to help him think differently.

  7. We expect so much from kids. Sometimes they just run out of gas and need “time out.” When I run out of ideas, I give myself more time. Eventually, something pops up. We need to respect that need in kids, too.

  8. “A notebook with noticings…” I like that! I never called it that before, but that’s right. All writers should carry a notebook around in case they notice something that strikes inspiration. I’ve been inspired by the oddest things I’ve seen or heard.

    P.S. I am a new Slicer. I posted my very first Slice of Life on my blog. 🙂

    A Turtle is a Boy’s Best Friend

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