FACT 1: When I was a kid and I needed help with my homework, I’d often ask my father who would sit next to me at the table and begin fumbling for paper and a pencil. I need a pencil, he’d say. I can’t think without a pencil.
It rubbed off. I like taking notes. I love taking notes. And doodling. My father can’t think without a pencil, but whenever I’m sitting down listening to someone talk at me, I can’t focus without doodling. I mix thinking and playing, notes and doodles. Sometimes the two coincide. Sometimes not.
FACT 2: At the beginning of the year I warn my English students with an adage I heard from Marilyn Elkins during the AP training course I took before teaching the class: AP English Language is just good readin’, writin’, and thinkin’. I don’t transmit a lot of data, facts, and information to my students. It’s a skills-based writing class and what we do is write and read. And write about what we read and read as examples of how to write. We practice those skills all year long.
FACT 3: About five years ago one of my former students stopped by to say hello and she was eager to tell me about her first college English paper she had to write. Her class had just finished a poetry unit and she had read about 100 poems. Her assignment? Write a 15-page paper on poetry. What was the prompt? I asked. Write a 15-page paper on poetry. There was no prompt. I had spent so much time giving students writing prompts, prepping them for a prompt-based test, but I hadn’t prepared them for this: no prompt.
FACT 4: Up to a couple years ago I’d get frustrated seeing my students simply sit and watch the front of the room during lectures or discussions. I’d see very few of them write anything down, and after reminding myself that they can’t all be doodlers like me, and that there’s not ONE vocab or factual question on the AP test I’m preparing them for, I knew I had to do something. Worksheets were not an option.
FACT 5: Thoughts and ideas are elusive creatures.
FACT 6: The Aquatic Life of Steve Zissou. Bill Murray’s character, oceanographer Steve Zissou, travels everywhere with a rag-tag film crew documenting just about every move he makes as he searches for a creature he calls a jaguar shark that ate (“swallowed whole? Klaus asks. “No, chewed,” Zissou says) his partner.
FACT 7: Probably over tacos, my friend David Theriault and I were picking each other’s brains, looking for ideas to improve our classes. He had his struggles. I had mine—I needed some way for students to keep track of their thinking, something beyond taking notes. Something simple. Something that would provide fodder for their writing now, and something that would serve their learning well into the future.
FACT 8: David Theriault LOVES acronyms (more precisely, he hates crappy acronyms. KWHLAQ gives him hives while something like SCUBA warms his soul), and so we cobbled together S.Q.U.I.D.D., a low-fi, extremely malleable, life-long learning tool. In a nutshell, after we read, listen to, or watch something in class I ask my students to put down some S.Q.U.I.D.D. ink, a quickwrite where they focus on one S.Q.U.I.D.D. element, either in composition notebooks, or on a 3×5 card. In just a few minutes all students have thought about and responded to the work in question and they’re ready for a discussion. Then on a regular basis I’ll have them do a deep dive where they expand on one or more of their S.Q.U.I.D.D. inks.
FACT 9: David and I do A LOT more with S.Q.U.I.D.D. (did I mention S.Q.U.I.D.D. is extremely malleable and easy to use in lots of ways?), but that will have to wait for another post or twelve.
FACT 10: The bare bones of S.Q.U.I.D.D.—