So, I’ve been thinking about commonplace books. However, I have to admit, I wasn’t even sure what they were until recently, which is odd because I have been making my own collections of words and favorite bits and pieces of this-and-that forever. I am a collector at heart. (Doesn’t collector sound better than hoarder?)
I decided that my students need to start their own common place books. But, let me explain the entire thought process.
First, I was at the Ann Hamilton installation at the Fabric Workshop Museum in Philadelphia, habitus. (I am a total Ann Hamilton fangirl. She does amazing work that really speaks to the way I like to think about things. Her the event of a thread installation at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC in 2012 was one of my favorite things.) Anyway, habitus investigates strands of fabric and text. Part of the display included commonplace books as well as fabric sample books, collections of fabric scraps from museum collections. In addition, Ms. Hamilton created a deconstructed commonplace book of her own. She had a selection of passages from various texts (all about clothing) lined up on a shelf. There were many copies of each, and viewers were encouraged to take copies of passages that they particularly liked.
As my husband and I were waiting to go to move along, I got to thinking about how collecting bits of ideas is such a great habit. It means that the collector is constantly engaging with ideas and should he or she want or need to write about those ideas, so much of the thinking work is already underway. Time to find patterns, be original, and come to some conclusions. However, too often student writers start with deciding on their conclusion and then look for proof rather than really engaging with topic, wrestling with the content, and then deciding on their conclusion. I thought about this same idea two summers ago during my teaching writing course, which confirmed my thoughts that students need to do more looking at the evidence before deciding on their point, rather than deciding on their point and then looking for proof.
The habit of making a commonplace book could help here. Then, as I was wandering around the interwebs and thinking about this, I came across this post about a modern commonplace book-keeper. So, now I’m thinking about how to incorporate this idea into my English class. I have a lot planned for our next book, but our big book (The Art of Fielding) might be the perfect place to give this a try. Because it is a long book, students will really need to keep more notes and thoughts as they read. Also, that gives me some time to make a plan.
I can’t wait.