Pencils are hot commodity in my fifth grade class. My students are often on the hunt for a pencil right before we are to start any subject that requires writing something down, which is pretty much every subject I teach. This shouldn’t be the case, I have caddies on each table with a place for pencils. As well as, a cup in the front of the room where any extra pencils can reside. When I first started teaching fifth grade this was a complete mystery to me. How can a 10 year old lose a pencil five times a day, and where did they all go? I learned very quickly they all went to the floor of the classroom. Gravity is a powerful thing. As soon as all my students left for the day, and there were not 24 growing bodies filling the space, I noticed dozens of pencils sprawled across the floor. Since I have been teaching fifth grade my afternoon ritual is to go around the room and to pick up all the forgotten pencils.
This past Thursday, I was making my pencil collecting rounds, when I noticed an opened notebook on the back table. I became a bit annoyed by my students forgetfulness, because I had given multiple reminders to put all materials away after Writer’s Workshop prior to packing up. I walked over to the notebook and my annoyance graduated to irritation. The notebook looked like it had been through a lot. The cover was tattered, some pages were crumbled, and others were folded over. My first thought was that this student didn’t even care about his notebook, otherwise it wouldn’t be in this condition. I looked at the front cover and saw it was my student C’s Reader’s Notebook. He is a good student and a hard worker, though he is often onto the next thing before completing the task at hand. He is the type of person that will ask a question, then ask another one before you even had a moment to contemplate the first question. Therefore, I wasn’t too surprised he did not put his notebook away before he left.
I then started looking through it to see how his note taking went during reading. We had begun a unit of study on the American Revolution, and C was researching the Boston Massacre. I went through the pages of his notebook and I saw he had notes on his topic. As my eyes scanned the page I saw he wrote answers to his questions to further his research, particularly about the days leading up to the Boston Massacre. I quickly realized that this notebook was not neglected, but very much cared for. It was broken in like a favorite pair of shoes. It was not only a place for C to take notes, but a place for him to capture his thinking. I remembered he did have it out during writing to help with his nonfiction piece on the Boston Massacre.
At the beginning of the year, our literacy coach, Jess Carey, asked what I would like to work on this year. I said how to better use the Reader’s Notebooks. I wanted them to become more than a place the teacher makes the students write things down in, but a tool they could make their own. Jess said, “Let’s do it.” She gave me ideas and helped me guide my students on how to own their notebooks. For example, how to model a notebook page during read aloud, and she introduced the ‘Golden Jot’ to my class to help keep them accountable. The ‘Golden Jot’ is a quick write we do on Fridays on what the student has been working in reading. It also allowed me another way to assess the students. I realized that C’s notebook is a testament to the hard work we all have done. Teachers and students alike.
On Friday morning, C comes running over to me with panic in his eyes. “I can’t find my Reader’s Notebook. It is not in my book box.”
“I found it on the back table yesterday. I didn’t put away because it was opened to page, and it looks like you were working on something.” I replied.
Before my last sentence leaves my mouth, C dashes to the back table to recover his notebook. I watch him pick it and bring it to his chest almost as if he was going to hug it. I walk over to him and ask, “You really seemed worried about not finding your notebook.”
C keeps his eyes down and seems to be admiring his notebook and says, “It’s my notebook. It has everything.” He then gets right to work writing in his notebook. I was left standing there realizing how right he truly is.