I ‘ve been rereading Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading as I look to teach and apply the signposts with my 9th graders (we introduce the signposts within the first few weeks of school). At the same time, I’ve also been reading the 3rd edition of Atwell’s In the Middle. Atwell’s book is so dense with wonderful ideas that it’s been taking me some time to work through it all. I find myself being constantly challenged as I read through both books, as I am forced to reconsider my past teaching practices and find inspiration for future ones.
I was in the middle (pun intended?) of reading about Atwell’s list of writing territories when an idea occurred to me. What if I adapted the idea of writing territories from Atwell and connected it to the signposts in Notice and Note? In other words, instead of using the six signposts as tools for close reading, I could also use them as invitations for student writing. In this way, I can also capture some of the spirit of the writing territories Atwell points out are so important for students to develop as writers.
Here’s a rough sketch of what I envision:
|SIGNPOST||INVITATIONS TO WRITE – Students could…|
|WORDS OF THE WISER||
|CONTRASTS & CONTRADICTIONS||
|AGAIN & AGAIN||
What I like about the using the signposts as invitations for writing is that the writing builds naturally on what they’ve already been doing in their reading. In other words, because students have been using the signposts to read closely in their reading, they’ve been analyzing and collecting their many “mentor texts” along the way. I imagine myself saying, “Remember how we talked about how important that memory was for Jonas’ character in The Giver? Now think about a memory you have about an experience that shaped you.” Or “Remember when we were shocked by Pip’s treatment of Joe in Great Expectations? Now think about a time that you acted in a way that shocked others, or even yourself.”
This writing is also personal and reflective.
What I also like about writing assignments like these are that they ask students to write in a variety of modes, especially narrative. This writing is also personal and reflective. Each of the writing assignments above requires that students write stories about themselves and their worlds and experiences. Students can use the novels we read in class—and even their independent reading—as mentor texts for the stories they will write about their own lives. For example, Dickens’ use of color to describe Miss Havisham in Great Expectations can serve as a mentor text for students when trying to describe a role model in their lives using the “Words of the Wiser” signpost.
Using the signposts in their writing can crystallize students’ conceptual understanding of the signposts when they are asked to think about how to apply them to their own lives. After all, the metaphor of “life as a novel” works naturally here—students easily see themselves as the protagonists of their own stories, and just like the characters we read about in literature, students deal with internal and external conflicts, experience flashbacks, face crisis moments, and resolve problems (or not).
As I write this all down, my mind is still pondering the possibilities. And of course, there are questions, too—How will I introduce these assignments? In what order? At what point? How much structure will I give? What form will the essays take, individually or together? My initial thought is to introduce this as a portfolio after students are already comfortable with seeing the signposts in their reading. I might list all the possibilities, similar to what I’ve outlined above, and tell students that they should choose 4 of the 6 signposts to “write from.” Working on this portfolio could be what constitutes their regularly scheduled writing workshop time. Structuring this as a portfolio makes this writing an ongoing process: students might take weeks or months or even the whole year to complete this, in any order. Once students finish one assignment, then can move on to the next.
So much to think about… and a lot of work, but it’s the kind of work that energizes and I’m excited to see where this takes me and my students.
And if you’re reading this and have any ideas or comments, I’d love to hear about them below. What do you think?
UPDATE: I shared this post on the Notice and Note Facebook group where there has been some good conversation, including a much appreciated comment from Kylene Beers! If you’re not already part of the N&N Facebook group, I highly suggest it!
UPDATE #2: Read this follow-up post with my step-by-step plan on how to implement these ideas.