Posts Tagged ‘commonplace book’

So, I’m still thinking about this idea of the commonplace book reinterpreted. This idea fits nicely with the ideas of slow learning that were highlighted at the Project Zero conference I attended in October. We, as observers, notice things all the time, but how much of it goes in one ear/eye and out the other? Honestly, a lot of it can just keep on going since I know I see and hear an awful lot of crap. However, systems to keep the good stuff and the “it might not be so good but it is really interesting to me” stuff are key.

One of my booksnaps for "How it Went Down" by Kekla Magoon

One of my booksnaps for “How it Went Down” by Kekla Magoon

With my second semester class, I plan to keep the noticing and collecting going, but want to adjust the format a little. This course has a lot of shorter books, rather than a few longer ones. And, comparing and looking and the works in groups is a key component to the work we will do. So, I wanted a more group oriented, public system where we could put a lot of raw data. @TeacherDebra introduced me to booksnaps some time ago. Time to put them to use. I was not a snapchatter myself, but I set up a Snapchat and a Tumblr. We are gong to use Snaphat as a photo editor; I am not going to be sending snaps to the students directly. Students take pictures of passages of text that stand out to them, annotate them in some way with the Snapchat tools, save the image, submit it to our Tumblr page. (Full disclosure, I got the tumblr idea from the amazing Ann Hamilton’s habitus project and the collection of quotations about clothing she solicited through her tumblr: cloth a commonplace. Seriously, I love Ann Hamilton.)

Since we started the semester with several independent reads, it was a great way to share our books. Then, we moved on to a unit of three books we all read together. The students and I took turns leading class for these books. Part of the job of leading class was to share, before or after, a few booksnaps to support the ideas of the discussion. For the independent reading, it was a good option that helped us talk about common characteristics that we were seeing. As we moved on, I didn’t incorporate the booksnaps into class as well. Therefore, the students had a hard time remembering them too. No surprise that when I dropped the ball, they dropped it too.

We are just finishing this unit, and I am going to return to the booksnaps as we move into our next group of texts, perhaps with a little bit of focus.

Anyway, there are several things I like about our Tumblr booksnaps so far. It’s a pretty quick and easy way to collect passages, and the students are so used to the tool that they add comments and notes in no time. Therefore, I get more information about their thoughts about the books. Victory! I really just want my students to think and share that thinking with me. So, if I can find a way that accomplishes both of those goals, I’m happy.

So, I’m still thinking about my commonplace book assignment for my senior English elective students.

So far the students have been collecting their own personal bits and pieces from the book and commenting on what they have collected. I have not necessarily checked these collections, but I do see that everyone has one. Some are on paper, others are Google docs, some are using Google Keep, another is using Evernote. A few times students have volunteered that something we were discussing in class was something that was part of their collections.

By Beinecke Flickr Laboratory [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image of 17thC commonplace book By Beinecke Flickr Laboratory [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I gave a test midway through the book and asked (among other things):

Please comment thoughtfully. What types of things have you been noticing so far? What kind of patterns do you see in your notations/collection? What are you looking for? What are you not noticing? What does this say about what you look for in a book?

Here are some examples of what the students said (each paragraph is from a different student):

I have been noticing the theme of mindfulness and the role that doubt plays in the book… I believe that I look mostly at the characters in the books, and how they evolve and how they struggle to achieve their goals…

I have been noticing that Harbach’s style of writing is incredibly descriptive and heavily detailed. His words have a sort of “flow” where the book kind of flies by and the pages begin to “mesh” together and reading does not feel like a chore… I like the highly descriptive tendencies of Harbach’s writing, and I highlight a lot of his most beautiful sentences.

I see patterns like very thoughtful quotes and meaningful quotes throughout my commonplace book…It seems that I look for a book with descriptive and flowing language as well as many meaningful lessons that each character learns.

…In my collection I see a pattern of broad themes not specific details. I think that speaks to me as a reader as well as a writer. The big ideas and overarching themes are what keep me engaged …

In my commonplace book I am noticing that all the characters have their own personal issues which affect their interactions and speech patterns…I am looking for recurring patterns in characters commentary and their development. I am not noticing any characters that feel completely satisfied with their situations. This says that what I look for… is the characters flaws.

Mainly I have been noticing two types of quotes: ones that are inspirational/are advice and ones that have a strong use of literary devices that make the sentence pop out and come alive… After looking at all the quotes I have collected so far, it is clear to me that I enjoy reading books that have a sense of reliability with not boring text, incorporating literary devices to make reading more exciting and have an extra layer to the text.

In my common book, I have a mixture of two main themes. The first theme is with complicated sentences. I love detail, so certain sentences …really interested me… I am looking for sentences that make me want to read them over and over, never getting old of the complicated language… The second main theme in my common book is relationships…

I was really impressed with the patterns that the students found in their collections.

We are now more than half way through the book and I have been leading or at least coming up with the options for what to discuss in class. I’ve been alternating between big picture thematic discussions and closer passage analysis. I often come in with a list of options that we could discuss, more than enough for class, and ask what topic folks want to start with first. Sometimes I ask for suggestions in on online forum on our learning management page. The point being, it’s time to change it up.

After reading all the answers to the commonplace book question I have put the students in groups based on the focus of their noticings. I’m planning to have the groups meet to discuss particular passages that relate to their topic or think about some idea that is particular to their topic. Although I worry they will skim over some important parts, I see that they have real and specific interests that can carry discussions. I need to let them do that.

So, I’ve been thinking about commonplace books this school year. Ever since I saw Ann Hamilton’s exhibit habitus at the Philadelphia Fabric Workshop museum, I have been thinking about how this on going habit of collection and reflection. I wrote about it earlier and found others are writing about commonplace books this as well. An art colleague uses Pinterest with her class for their visual commonplace books. She finds it helps students hone in on what they might want to do for their independent projects.

Ann Hamilton's deconstructed commonplace book in her exhibit, habitus, at The Fabric Workshop. Photo by me.

Ann Hamilton’s deconstructed commonplace book in her exhibit, habitus, at The Fabric Workshop. Photo by me.

Well, we are about to begin our commonplace books. I have also been investigating hyperdocs, after the amazing @TeacherDebra featured this tool in her weekly round up recently. As I wrote before, I am trying to get students into a habit of noticing what they notice. Seniors, really any age readers, have their own interests, yet I worry that they have forgotten that they have their own interests around reading if teachers are always directing discussion. While I recognize my role in promoting a discussion that does more than recap plot, I am becoming more and more aware that students must play a more vital role in molding and shaping that discussion. If we are reading even quasi-good books, there is plenty to talk about. The question is not so much what has to be discussed, but what discussion the readers can generate.

As we read our big book of the semester, my goal is to do two things:

  1. to encourage and structure ways for students to notice what stands out for them as they read and to comment on this as they read.
  2. to empower and push students to be responsible for having a discussion that is of interest to them and one requires thinking beyond the plot.

I think these two goals go hand in hand. It will probably also mean some quiet and maybe awkward moments in class. Silence is not bad; I can wait.

We have read the first few chapter of our new book. I had several things I wanted to get out there at the beginning, so I set up a bit with our first discussion. Over the weekend I asked students to look at the hyperdoc below to get acquainted with commonplace books and our project. (I have talked about this in class before, so it’s not out of left field.)

I also asked that they respond to an online question asking what they wanted to talk about in regards to the reading. Could be a passage or an idea. I will see how this goes. I may alternate days between passages and big ideas, because I suspect big ideas will be what students suggest more frequently, and we do need to do some close, slow looking.

I am trying to be very clear with my class about these goals. It’s nothing secret. So far, when I have asked, they have stepped up.

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.

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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.