"I think daybooks could be better with more and more people writing in the daybook as the years go by. Because more people are learning more." - Ty, a student
Taking daybooks schoolwide
After figuring out how to use my own daybook and one with my fifth-grade class, I became a literacy coach in a Title I elementary school. I was brought in to help with writing, at first. Could I take daybooks schoolwide?
I talked with the principal, Dr. Katherine Propst, and explained daybooks. She liked the idea and purchased 500 for the school. Daybooks also went on the supply list for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. We called them “writer’s notebooks” then. I gave a daybook as a gift to each third grader. I asked my writer-friends to visit the classes and share what they had accomplished by recording their ideas systematically. I wanted the children to know how daybooks could help them, too.
Using TV to promote daybooks
To further explain daybooks to teachers and students, I started videotaping students explaining how they wrote. I showed the 3- to 4-minute videos on closed-circuit TV each Friday morning to our school's 750 students - and their teachers.
The broadcasts worked! Seeing others talk about their daybooks intrigued teachers and students and the younger children with whom I had no daily contact. The second-grade team even approached me and asked me to explain what daybooks were. Several second-grade teachers adopted what they called “sparkly journals.”
The beauty of the daybooks – and I think Donald Murray would be proud of this statement – is that there is no “one” way to use them.
- Some teachers called them field journals. Some called them response journals or writer’s notebooks.
- Some teachers asked students to keep one for each subject. Some teachers had students combine everything into one book.
- Some teachers asked students to decorate the books, or add tabs for each section.
- Some teachers chose to grade the daybooks or certain pages within the books.
- Some asked their students to defend their writing to show what they had learned.
Dramatic learning boost
Our school eventually earned recognition as the Title I Distinguished School for North Carolina because of our success in closing the gap between our Hispanic, African-American and white students. I had the joy of taking a judge on a tour of the school – now 3 years after I introduced daybooks. We found children walking the halls with their composition notebooks. They eagerly shared their writing with us. Our halls had become galleries of posted student work. In most classrooms, we found an author’s chair where students shared their work and listened to their classmates’ critiques.
It was obvious to the judge that our teachers emphasized writing and writing to learn through their instruction, our literacy broadcasts, contests and our annual Coffeehouse, where families came to hear their "authors" read original stories and poems.This journey, from a school that needed help with writing to a school worthy of national recognition, had taken just three years.
Daybooks start with the teacher
And your school can take that journey, too. My best advice is simply to start. You can even start just with yourself. Begin writing and figuring out what you want to write and how you write. How does a daybook fit into your literary life? Then, share your ideas with your class. Test your theories about what will work with them. Engage them in the study. Ask them to talk about and write about what works and what needs help. If daybooks improve writing in your classroom, step out and share with your grade level or department. Then maybe go schoolwide by showing students on closed-circuit television teaching one other.
Set a small goal. Meet it. Set the next. You may be pleasantly surprised by the ownership students feel and the enthusiasm for writing they display months later in your daybook project. You and the students also should become more relaxed about writing: you because you don’t have to read and grade everything for students to become better writers; and your students because they don’t have you constantly looking over their shoulders.
You both will have the freedom to explore and then display your best, which is a much more natural way of learning any new process.
NEXT: Publishing – the great motivator