In My Brain // 11


Today was the last day of classes. Ten years of teaching down!
(Buh? How did that happen?!)


Let's celebrate with some Internet:





A Revolutionary Idea: Taking Notes During Class

I've been revisiting my “Do This Differently Next Year” document (currently at twelve single-spaced, glorious pages) more frequently as the school year wraps up. I want to write about my favorite success of this year, one that I will replicate and expand in full force next year: the notebook.

You know, that stack of bound pieces of paper where people can write stuff.



Disclaimer: This is the least innovative thing in the universe. Students taking notes while learning is like the most obvious and not-interesting thing that has been in classrooms since the dawn of time. I realize this.

But still! Hear me out! I never actually required note-taking before. Or really taught kids how to do it effectively (jury’s still out on that part). I’ve always just kind of assumed that good students take notes. That everyone surely learned this before high school. It’s always on the syllabus that they need a notebook for our class, and I’ll regularly say things like “Be sure to write this down” or “Put this in your notes, please.” But that’s about as far as I ever took it. I never followed up.


This past spring (in my tenth year of teaching, mind you -- I knowwww) was the first time I decided to approach student notebooks with seriousness.

I did this with 12th graders in Reel Reading, a film studies English elective.





On the first day of class, I established fresh expectations. Students needed a dedicated notebook for our class, so I encouraged them to obtain one that they love. I told them what kinds of things they could expect to write down, how often I would be checking it, and how it’s being graded.

Why, yes, I do have a rubric.

We talked about making notes, not taking notes. Notes are made when your brain is processing information and reframing it in your own words. Even if you never look at your notes again, your brain has already worked more effectively in simply writing them.


I also shared with them a Pinterest board I made called “Class Notes” so they could gather inspiration. I talked about how different people’s notes look different, and organization and creativity take many forms. The larger goal was for students to feel comfortable with note-taking in all sorts of endeavors beyond our class, so it would be important for them to personalize the process and take ownership of what works for them.


From the outset, different students approached the notebook in different ways (like I hoped they would). Some students went out and purchased a fancy new notebook. Some students dug up an old composition book or recycled a previously-used one. One student grabbed a bunch of copy paper and a staple gun from the engineering classroom.


And throughout the semester, students evolved their own note-taking styles.

Some furiously scribbled everything, and others struggled to figure out what to write.
Some brought pouches full of pens and art supplies and went to town, and others whittled the same pencil down to a nub.
Some organized information linearly, and others not so much.
Some were asked to put their notebooks away in other people's classes, and others used them as minimally as I required of them.

The outcome runs whole gamut, really, as seen in this photo dump of notebook pages:























(In case you're wondering, some of the films we've watched and analyzed are: Edward Scissorhands // The Graduate // Psycho // Rear Window // Jaws // The Grand Budapest Hotel // Do The Right Thing // The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly // Double Indemnity // American Beauty // Beasts of the Southern Wild)


One layer is seeing how different brains process the same texts. These pages pack a hilarious array of emotions that a person might go through in reading/viewing or in a class discussion.

Another layer is the participation/sharing element. Raising a hand and saying something out loud is not for everyone, every day. I've found that the notebook contains so much more than what a student is able to share in discussions. It helps lay the groundwork.



The notebook has changed the whole vibe of my class. It’s like every student has an ongoing micro-project at all times. A space for their brain to make things and process things. A space to document the most important ideas and doodle in the margins.

No matter how strong their notebook game, every student could benefit from actively engaging in processing information onto paper.




If you’re teacher-nerdy and want more specifics, shoot me a note and I’ll pass along some stuff I’ve used.

Nomad Office // The Monkey and the Elephant

People. This is my favorite coffee shop in Philadelphia. Truly.

It checks every box for coffee shop perfection. It has become my go-to spot in the city, and I'm excited to share it with anyone who will listen.


Here it is.


The Monkey & The Elephant // Brewerytown

2831 W. Girard Avenue, Philadelphia







First, it includes all of the things I wanted to find in a coffee shop:

  • free WiFi
  • tasty beverages, with the option for almond milk
  • seriously delicious treats (try the fig and cheese panini -- it's incredible)
  • a relaxed environment





Also, you know I love a variety of seating options. My favorite spot is at the table right by the big window, pictured above.

But sometimes I get hot/cold and want to move to a comfy chair, or on a nice day sit outside (and still get consistent WiFi).






Seriously, can we discuss this outdoor space?




More awesome than all of my coffee shop needs being perfectly met, though, is the story of this neighborhood cafe. The Monkey and the Elephant is actually a non-proft which helps former foster youth build life and work skills to transition successfully to independence and adulthood.

I'm so grateful this amazing space exists in our community.



Hey, thanks // Mr. Savino






I'm so happy my mom sent me this tiny feature on Mr. Savino today. His class was one of the best I've ever taken, college included, and I'll never forget how happy I was to be in his windowless room every day. It was a competitive one to get into; I lucked out in the rostering lottery, having just started at Hermitage after moving across the country and knowing no one. That was tough for a tenth grader, and 20th Century History was one reason to be excited about going to school every day.


I still have my notebook from Savino's class, its pages absolutely loaded. I remember specific lessons and activities and lectures and the way moved around the room, loved the Beatles, and made epically enormous lists of talking points on the green chalkboard. When I think of people who inspired me to go into teaching, Savino immediately comes to mind. I love that younger generations still get to have his class to grapple with big ideas, ask important questions, and most importantly, love learning.