Scriptorium – Commonplacing in Community

In the Art of Commonplacing, Part 3, I mentioned this new habit we are forming in our week. Providence Prep meets each Friday morning for English studies, history, and literature (a four-year mostly Great Books class). The majority of our high school students’ written work during the week is in the form of Reading Journals and commonplace entries. Some of these are done as each student studies and reads during the week, but a good number need to be completed at the end of the week just before class. So we have instituted a Thursday afternoon Scriptorium devoted exclusively to those two things. After very brief greeting at the beginning, we stop talking and get to work. The current week’s classical composer selection is playing in the background. All of our highschoolers are invited to join us. A few gather around our dining room table, but more gather via the Zoom classroom we set up. We offer this because we have folks from a large geographical area, and because we have folks who just cannot go out of their houses for one more thing in the week. You can see several students on the screen there—Zoom is almost like being in the room! Technology for the win—at least this time.

My boys were, shall we say, slightly hesitant at the idea of another scheduled event during the week. Seeing how much they accomplished the very first week, they both exclaimed, “Oh wisest and dearest of mothers, thank you for forcing encouraging us to set this time aside.” Okay, perhaps they did not use those exact words, but that was how I chose to interpret it. Said boys actually find that it is very helpful, and are now quite happy with this arrangement. Look—in the photo the senior is actually smiling while doing school! (And yes, I know we might need to work on our posture a bit . . .)

I send a reminder to all of our high school students each week. Here’s how part of it reads (feel free to borrow and adapt!):

Our purpose, in the words of Francis Bacon: “Reading makes a full man, conversation a ready man, and writing an exact man.”  Your reading has been completed during the week. Conversation will happen at Providence Prep on Friday. Writing is what happens at Scriptorium.


What we plan to do:

Write. Really, just write. We are setting aside this hour and a half to write in response to what we have read. This is a leisurely time to think and make your reading journal entries, your commonplace entries, and your (history) journal entries. If you are totally stumped on what to write or need clarification on something you read or heard this week, we can briefly talk about it. But the main purpose is to write. This means there will be some ground rules about chatting, so that we do not end up wasting your time. 😀 Also, about electronic devices – Leave smartphones, computers, screens of all kinds on the ledge inside the front door, or the equivalent at home, i.e. AWAY from where you are working. This is pen and paper time. Terribly old-fashioned, yes, but wonderfully liberating—as in “freeing.”


What you need to bring:

The books you have read/are reading this week, including your poetry anthology. You should bring your journals: reading journal, commonplace, Modernity journal, and even your writing journal if you wish. Bring several pens, and any notes you have taken this week as you have read and listened.

Scriptorium now contributes significantly to scholé in our week. Too often we were quickly dashing off something late on Thursday evening when we realized that one or more of the journals or commonplaces was missing—stressful and not very conducive to excellent work. For me, the time set aside to sit at the table and write along with my students—I enforce the same rules on myself as I do on them!—is making me a better teacher on Friday morning.


I most emphatically do NOT recommend an hour and a half for any student under high school age! For younger students, I would shorten this significantly and do it more frequently. In fact, in a perfect world with no demanding schedule of online classes, co-op,  and outside activities like basketball, I would recommend this to be a briefer but more frequent—even daily—discipline even for high schoolers and beyond. Alas, yet another example of the real-life gap between principle and practice.

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3 thoughts on “Scriptorium – Commonplacing in Community

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this! I can’t tell you how many times my plans are aborted or never begun because we cannot fit it all in the way I think we should. This is a good reminder that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing imperfectly:)

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