Monday, March 26, 2012

Living the Dream Day #1

My name is on the board! 
Day 1 in Linda Rief's classroom started with advisory. Advisory is a time to get settled, to work on projects, to plan or update calendars. There are no school bells at Oyster River Middle School. I never realized what a difference that makes. No rush. No clock watching. No running-out-of-time feeling.

Students move casually between class periods and rooms. Rief teaches four language arts classes and supervises advisory and a study period during the 7:35 a.m. -2:30 p.m. school day. The schedule is a thing of A/B blocked beauty.

Beyond the building schedule though is Rief's schedule for collecting students' journals. See it on the board?

Do you collect students' journals or notebooks or portfolios? One thing I wrestle with in my own classroom is how to assess or give feedback on the work students create in their academic journals. My students have kept writing journals, academic journals or reading journals--see the directions inset below. I've graded journals, not graded journals, written in them or not written in them. How I've used journals or notebooks in my classroom changes over time.
Hi I'm RJ - Directions

Today's to-be-graded pile
When I first began using reading journals or readers' notebooks with students,  I based my format on Rief's design--built my list of prompts from her suggestions. Today I saw those same prompts charted on the wall above the classroom library.  The academic journals my students are creating this year share some traits with Rief's Writer's-Reader'sNotebooks, but as I confessed to Rief, I've abandoned some things. The pressures in my state, at my school, in my teaching schedule-- reading journals fell by the wayside this year. I have regretted that instructional choice.

One purpose of this trip is to remind myself of what really matters. To refocus on what I  believe is right for kids. To clarify and sharpen what matters.  Today what matters are how students use their writing and reading notebooks and how Rief assesses, grades and gives students feedback.

Rief collects one class set of notebooks each day, so she is responding to students 4 days a week. She collects the notebooks every two weeks. Students get a quantity grade (4-8 half hours for reading, 8 vocabulary words and 4-8 pages of writing) and a quality grade. When asked what the quanties were worth, Madison told me "8 is an A; 4 is like the lowest."

Feedback is important and Rief has streamlined the process. She uses underlining as a form of commenting. Students understand that Rief underlines lines, phrases, sections in the writing that stand out or sparkle. Sometimes there is nothing to underline and students reflect on that. She adds positive comments here and there as a reader, a member of the community would.  Her goal is to respond to one class set of notebooks a night and return them to students the next day.

Rief's grade and comments in one student's journal.

What matters is that students are doing the bulk of the work. Though Rief does works with the whole class (at least 1/2 of each quarter is spent in study together) most of the writing about reading in the notebook is done about self-selected texts. Students are choosing what to read at least half of the time. Students also choose what to write (form and content). Sometimes Rief guides students through a particular genre (writing a short story or a book review), but other times students make the writing choices. Students are collecting their own vocabulary words--tracking and collecting language in the backs of their notebooks. I'm still processing and my niece is calling for Auntie to come tell stories by the bathtub. Here are a few last words about seeing these students' work:  authenticity, balance, collaboration,community, choice and engagement, and investment. The notebook becomes a living artifact, a map of students' journeys, their learning in action.


  1. I like this. I need this. I need to read more by her. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks, Deb,
      She is an amazing teacher. Though I re-read a bit before the trip, I need to read more. I always come away from her writing refreshed and re-energized for the work ahead.

  2. I did graduate work at the University of New Hampshire in the mid 90's. I had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time in Linda's classroom. She is AMAZING. Tell her hi!

    1. Hi, Carol,
      Lucky! She is amazing and I'm loving spending time in her room learning. I will pass along your hello. : )

  3. I spent a day at a Nancie Atwell workshop a few weeks ago-it just made me want to spend a day in her classroom. This sounds like a wonderful experience.

  4. Wow, Lee Ann! I so wanted to go to the worksop this weekend, but I had other Spring Break plans. I have been fascinated by the idea of notebooks since I saw Linda at NCTE this year. I'd heard of her, of course, but wow.

    I think she just moved up in the TBR pile.

    So glad you had that opportunity!!