Crows collect sparkly things; humans are similarly inclined. The writer’s notebook is a container to gather whatever you find interesting. I’ve found that comparing a writer’s notebook to a collection strikes a chord with kids, many of whom are collectors themselves. I believe that a writer’s notebook should be less text based and might include artifacts: notes, candy wrappers, fortunes from fortune cookies. Photographs are a natural addition to this list.
I’m a forager. Like many writers, I cherish the particularity of the world with all its astonishing wonder and head-shaking weirdness. I’m talking about strange little things. If I find a rock with a striking crystal or fossil, I’ll tuck it in my pocket. If I come upon a hilarious misspelling on a restaurant takeout menu, I tape it into my notebook. My camera allows me to indulge this persistent itch to collect things of this world.
This suggests an important way I use my camera. It’s not always about getting the perfect shot or preserving a special moment for posterity. Those are worthy endeavors, but I find that taking pictures allows me to drink in the world. I want to cast a wide net and capture objects, reflections, or shadows that strike my fancy or pique my interest. Taking a photo is my way of saying: This may look small and random, but it matters to me. I want to bring it into my life. I don’t want to forget.
The camera-as-writer’s-notebook is an emerging idea. Translation: I haven’t got it all figured out. I’m hoping that educators intrigued with this idea will run with it. I believe we should think carefully about the language we use when talking about this idea to our students. Perhaps we should confer with them on their photos the same way we would confer with them on the entries in their notebook (i.e., photos = seed ideas). If you have a student who
can’t think of anything to write about, you might suggest: “Scroll through your photos and see if you find any pictures that pique your interest or leave you wanting to say more about it.”
On the other hand . . . it might make sense to use a slightly different language, perhaps referring to students’ notebooks and “photo-books” to differentiate between the two. Either way we can invite students to look through their photos and find ways to sort them. We can ask them:
Do you see any patterns?
Does anything surprise you?
What are the most powerful images, the photos you keep coming back to?
What subjects seem to draw your eye again and again?
Do any photographs make you want to write about them?
The above has been adapted from Focus Lessons. Learn more at Heinemann.com
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Ralph Fletcher has been a mentor to teachers and young writers everywhere. He has helped hundreds of thousands of teachers understand the importance of letting go and trusting their writers. Ralph's professional books are part of this tradition.
His newest book, Focus Lessons, helps teachers use the natural links between writing and photography to enhance their instruction. Another recent title, Joy Write, explores the value of giving students time and autonomy for the playful, low-stakes writing that leads to surprising, high-level growth.