Notebook Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook
Reviewed by Kathie Marshall
Sixth Grade Literacy Teacher/Coach (Los Angeles)
Teacher Leaders Network
I first began working with reader-writer notebooks as a middle school literacy coach. I quickly saw evidence of the power of this approach when I taught a narrative unit with a class of sixth graders. The reader-writer notebooks helped students of every level to deepen their comprehension and ability to write about their understanding.
When I re-entered the classroom a year ago, I wanted to explore the use of notebooks more fully with my own students. Pretty quickly, I found myself juggling and struggling to find my footing in the classroom once again, and I wasn’t completely happy with my approach to the reader-writer notebook process. So when I was given the opportunity to review Aimee Buckner’s new book, Notebook Connections: Strategies for the Reader’s Notebook, I was excited at the prospect of learning more about a process I believed in, supported by someone who’s put a great deal of thought into this practice.
Aimee Buckner did not disappoint. She prefaces the book by discussing the common frustration that although students may talk well about what they’re reading, this conversation doesn’t always transfer to their writing. Buckner has put a great deal of time into finding an appropriate bridge between reading and writing, and like me, has decided that notebooks are the answer.
One point I appreciated was her attitude toward the use of notebooks. While some people prefer one reader-writer notebook, she prefers separate notebooks for reading and writing. “It’s really a matter of organization and what makes sense for you and your students.” She also talked about how her personal practice doesn’t exactly reflect what she’s learned from others, and she gives the reader the right to do the same. “I’ve given myself room to evolve…That is my hope for the readers of this book”. I liked that Buckner uses this comment to conclude her book because I believe it’s important for teachers to learn how to take any new learning and synthesize it into our own, ever-changing practice.
Overall, Notebook Connections is an effectively written balance between the philosophy and purpose of reading notebooks and the modeling of effective strategies to support them. Buckner incorporates strategies such as “Leaning In,”, “Fab Five,” and “Character Connections” to explain how to deepen student thinking about their reading. All the while, she directs the reader toward other authors she learned from during her development as a teacher of reading and writing, thereby providing the reader with a great list of books for further reading on the topics she presents.
Each strategy is introduced anecdotally with pertinent student samples, and then charted as to purpose, method, and writing connection (which is helpful to someone like me who prefers the single reader-writer notebook). This approach helps the book audience to more fully grasp how to present a specific strategy and also provides reasons why each strategy is valuable to students. She also illuminates how teacher modeling eventually gives way to students’ independent use of these strategies.
The final topic is assessment of reader notebooks. Although Buckner does not use the term formative assessment, she provides background information, prompts, and rubrics that demonstrate how useful reader notebooks are for keeping on top of student thinking. For example, in the appendix is a “Reader’s Notebook Rubric” that shows teacher and students how the notebooks can be assessed for volume and variety, thoughtfulness, organization and frequency. She also outlines the importance of student self-reflection and leads the student reader through this process. The appendix also contains a number of helpful charts to guide teacher thinking and preparation for lessons, as well as how to provide appropriate assessment.
Notebook Connections is a very thorough, thoughtfully written text about the use of notebooks with students. Although Aimee Buckner is an elementary teacher, I can see the benefit of this book in the hands of teachers of all grade levels who are attempting reader notebooks for the first time — or who, like me, are looking for an enriched understanding of their use. There’s much food for reflection for those of us interested in this approach.