Igniting Inquiry with Writer’s Notebooks, Conversations, Reading Stations, and See-Think-Wonder

This week (Tuesday and Wednesday) we have kicked off our first unit of study (early American literature) and the overarching question for our course, “What is an American?”  We will take an inquiry stance on this big question and think about the range of possibilities through the lenses of texts we read from the canon of American literature in different time periods, young adult or nonfiction reads that will be part of our choice reading/reader’s workshop that we’ll begin after Labor Day, and informational texts that students will be assigned and self-select for mini units of inquiry on issues and current events related to American culture and life.  By looking at this question through different kinds of texts and perspectives, we’ll build a rich and organic definition of what it means to be an American in the past, present, and future through a variety of lenses.

Today we began class by introducing our Writer’s Notebooks and protocols for notebook time.  Notebook time is designed to give students a dedicated space and time to write without fear of the dreaded red pen.  While students are encouraged to write as well as they can with correct spelling and grammar, the emphasis is on:

  1.  Using writing as a tool and medium for thinking.
  2.  Giving students opportunities to write in class; regular writing opportunities builds student capacity and fluency.
  3. Depth of thinking and ideas and evidence of effort from the student to push his/her thinking.

Students may use a spiral notebook, a composition book, or even an artist’s sketchbook as their writer’s notebooks.  This notebook is just for use as the writer’s notebook for this course and will stay in my classroom unless the student needs or wants to take it home to write in it until the next class meeting.

Here are some possibilities of what we might write in our writer’s notebook:

Here are our protocols for notebook time, which will usually be the very first thing we do at the beginning of class, but sometimes it may fall in the middle of class.

We began today by responding to the following prompts in our writer’s notebook:

Students wrote quietly for about 7-10 minutes; students then had the opportunity to either exchange notebooks and respond to a writing partner OR students circled/highlighted their most important ideas to share with their table group in an oral turn and talk.  Once students had shared with their small groups, they then decided as a group one interesting idea from the small group discussion to share with the entire class.  Each group also picked a spokesperson to share out in our lightning round big group share.

After we completed the whole class share lightning round session, students received the following graphic organizer and we reviewed the instructions together:

This learning structure is adapted from Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners 1st Edition.  The articles students could reflect upon after reading through the See/Think/Wonder strategy were a variety of informational texts that gave some kind of extended definition of Americans or they reflected survey data on how people defined “American.”  Some of our texts were strictly texts; other articles included data charts and graphs.  A total of eight reading stations were designed for students; below is an outline of our procedures for using and visiting the reading stations.  Our goal was to visit as many as we could and reflect with See/Think/Wonder within 25-35 minutes of class time.  You can view the articles we used here in this Google Drive folder.

I was so impressed by the level of engagement in each of my three classes today and the level of effort I saw from so many students!  I appreciate that students made a sincere effort to participate even when they visited a station that may have had a more challenging text to read.

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When we completed about 25-35 minutes of reading and reflecting, students returned to their assigned seats (everyone received seat assignments today!) to complete the ticket out the door reflection and to jot down or photograph our class Remind code.  Our next steps to complete and wrap up the activity will be for groups to build a collaborative See/Think/Wonder chart for one of the articles and share their thinking with the whole class.  Afterwards, each student will write a short mini-essay in which he/she will explain how he/she defines what it means to be an American.  This piece of writing will serve as our baseline for us to revisit periodically as move through the year and revise and update our perceptions and conceptualization of what defines our ideas of being American.


Gwinnett County Schools AKS (Standards)

Reading Informational AKS:  LA11.B.19: read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 11–CCR text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range, by the end of grade 11 (I)

Writing AKS:  LA11.C.29: write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences (I)

Speaking and Listening AKS:  LA11.D.30: initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (e.g., one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively (I)

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