Kathryn Dunn, 2019
Hand Crafted in the U.S.A.
The Friday Notebook – Sample Program
Early Morning Writers Club: a before-school program in an urban elementary school.
While siblings and classmates have breakfast in the school cafeteria, five third-graders join me to eat and write in a small office. To their breakfast I add a fruit-of-the-day; today, it’s navel orange wedges. While members eat, we experiment with a spoken story: members dictate and I capture their words on paper.
“We’re going to write a list poem – all of us, together.” I explain this as if it were an everyday occurrence. “It’s like I Spy, only in writing. So while you finish eating, you’re going to tell me words that describe this fruit, without naming it. And I’ll write them down. …There’s one tiny hitch: you can’t use the word ‘orange’, because the color is also the name of the fruit!”
Five students become colleagues on a quest, and there are no wrong answers. Their words begin to flow:
cut it in pieces
write a poem about it
taste sour and sweet with it
talk to it…
Writing is contagious:
When we finish, I title the piece Mystery, and read their list poem out loud. Halfway through, Edison asks, “Can we read this to our class?”
“Sure!” I say, and make a hand-written copy for Edison and his class. Breakfast winds down, and the story-telling shifts from spirited voices to the silence of children absorbed in their thoughts and imagination as they create new stories on the page.
Later that day, I run into Edison’s classroom teacher. “You should have seen him!” she says. “He was so excited about the poem they wrote with you. He read it to the class – twice – and he called on students to guess what the mystery food was. ‘Nope!… No!… Yes – you got it!’ I wish you could have seen it, it was wonderful!”
Learning extends exponentially, as students gain confidence in their abilities as writers and learners. They begin to see classroom lessons as invitations to explore and learn. And their progress in reading levels increases – at three times the rate of their classmates, for students in this program.
“I like to write to learn more. And I feel good to be learning. And I go home to tell my mom about writing.” – 2nd Grader
The Friday Notebook Project
Photos © K.Dunn