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Showcasing Laura Nardi and "Writer's Notebook"

"My students enjoy writing," third grade teacher Laura Nardi told Education World. "Their writers' notebooks act as wonderful banks of possible stories for them to take through the writing process. Students love writing about themselves."

Former members of Nardi's inclusion class at Marlton Elementary School in Marlton, New Jersey, often stop when they come to school the next year to tell her about writing they have done throughout the summer. The key to all of this wonderful written work is a simple technique -- writer's notebook.

"I usually start writer's notebook around the end of September, after we've established writers' workshop," explained Nardi. "It's important for the students to be settled into school and to know me a little. The children are asked to bring to school a spiral notebook. The first day we complete a topic sheet, and the paper is broken into sections -- hobbies, friends, pets, vacations, things I like, things I don't like, and holidays. We spend a writing period jotting a few things in each category."

Nardi models the brainstorming of topics with an overhead projector. The topic sheets are filed in the notebooks so that ideas are always handy, and students are encouraged to add to their lists. As students begin to write, there are very simple rules: date every entry, start each entry on a new sheet of paper, and write a "memory jogger" (reminder about the topic of the piece) at the top of the page.

"I always start off with some quick books that have good pictures; emotion and students can make a connection," said Nardi. "After I finish one of my favorite books, I tell my students that I have a connection, and my memory jogger is 'wool skirts.' I share with them my entry about the time Mr. Nardi did the wash and shrunk all my wool skirts. The students then are given ten minutes to write their connections to the tale."

Writing is followed by "author's chair," a time when students are encouraged to share their entries. The pattern continues for about three weeks, and then a "notebook museum" is held. During the event, the students move from notebook to notebook, reading the entries and responding on a "signing sheet." (The students may mark as many as three of their entries as "private" -- for the teacher's eyes only.) The event includes juice, cookies, and music in the background, like a real "gallery"!

Nardi has many uses for the writer's notebooks. In one assignment, students bring in a photo and explain why it is meaningful to them. She shares an old picture from Girl Scout camp! An area at the back of the notebooks is reserved for interesting phrases or sayings the students might want to use in their writings. Nardi also finds that the notebooks are a good source of mini-lessons about the art of writing. She grades the notebooks on procedure, not on writing skill.

"Third grade is a great year to start writer's notebook," Nardi said. "Let students get comfortable with you. Always remind them that what they write does not have to be shared. Be yourself, and share your own stories!"

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Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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