In Notice and Note, Beers and Probst make this important observation:
As you think about each of these signposts, you’ll see that they appear not only in texts but also in our lives. When your significant other mentions again and again that the garbage needs to go out, there’s a subtext to that message—and it has to do with rising anger! When the friend who always checks on you suddenly begins to ignore you, then the contrast with what expect, the contradiction of an established pattern, makes you wonder what is wrong. If you’re now a parent, you can look back on those long talks with your own parents not as “another boring lecture” but as your parent’s attempt to spare you some pain, to impart words of someone wiser. When a friend asks you what your teen thought of the party that weekend, you suddenly realize—aha—that your teen’s sad face over the weekend tells you she hadn’t been invited. (74)
As Beers and Probst point out, the reason that the signposts are so ubiquitous in the texts we read is because they are ubiquitous in our lives. After all, art imitates life.
So how do we get students to see this?
As I started thinking about a model for how to use the signposts as invitations for writing, I went back to what I know is an essential element in the workshop model—quickwrites. Regular, preferably daily, opportunities to explore ideas in their writer’s notebooks, quickwrites build fluency and confidence. These “writing territories,” as Nancie Atwell calls them, also serve as an important resource for students, as they later draw upon these initial notes and wondering to write longer pieces.So if I want my students to write personal pieces of writing that explore how the signposts apply to their own lives, I need to get students thinking and writing about those personal connections in their notebooks. Below are a few of the quickwrite prompts I’ve come up with for each signpost, any of which could be broken down and expanded upon into multiple quickwrites.
|Words of the Wiser||
|Contrast & Contradiction||
|Again and Again||
It’s easy to see how any one of these quickwrite prompts could be serve as the subject for a writing piece. On the other hand, each of these prompts can also serve simply as a beginning, an entryway, into some larger or more complex idea. At this point, I think I would like to leave the actual focus of the longer piece of writing up to each student. It will all depend, on some degree, on what they are able to unearth in the prewriting they do in their notebooks, and hopefully, these quickwrite prompts will serve as an important part of that process.
I typically start each class period either with a quickwrite or a booktalk (in a 43-minute period, it’s tough to find time to do both each day, though sometimes I am ambitious 🙂 ). My thinking is that I will rotate through the quickwrites for each signpost so that students have “something down” in their notebooks for each. Then, when we begin our writing workshop session, they will have some notes on each of the signposts and can choose from a wider terrain of ideas.
Of course, once students have an idea of what they want to write, they’ll need some additional mentor texts to study. That’s where I’ll head in my next post… until then, let me know if you have any ideas in the comments below.