What’s the Deal with All These Sticky Notes?

While visiting classrooms and chatting with teachers and students, I’ve noticed some common themes.

  1. Kids want to be told what specifically to stop and jot about.
  2. Teachers are frustrated with minimal stop and jots and surface thinking on notebook pages.
  3. There are all these sticky notes, but now what to we do with them?

If you need a quick background on the purpose and benefits of the sticky note, read “The Life Cycle of a Post It: Management, Functionality, and Benefits of Capturing our Ideas on Post Its” from the Heinemann Blog.

As I listened to teachers and students, I decided to do some experimenting myself. I am a firm believer that students learn best when they have access to real modeling, so I pulled out a new notebook, chose a book from the classroom library, and got to work doing what I would expect from kids.

Much like reading to discover strategies that I use to keep myself focused, engaged, and thinking about my reading, taking the time to actively read with stickies in hand helped me see different strategies that I could use to model with students.

How do you know what to write on the sticky?

Short answer…whatever stands out to you! Stop and jots are not meant for everyone in the room to notice the same thing. Students do not need to be told, “Everyone should stop and jot about___,” nor do they need a worksheet, but a scaffold might include the close reading menu of possible lenses for reading and your current anchor charts for the unit of study. Remember, the close reading menu is just an extension of the anchor charts from the reading units. Students in the younger grades or students who struggle can even start with using SIR and note what is surprising, important, or repeated.

So what goes in the notebook then?

The notebook is not a place to rewrite what was noticed on the stickies. It is, however, a place to think deeply about something you may have noticed. After reading for about 20-25 minutes I stopped and jotted on a sticky 13 times in those 29 pages. So now what? I found myself looking back and noticed a pattern. I noticed that in those pages I wrote “unimpressed” multiple times. When I thought back, I realized that the main character and his mother both had multiple instances of acting unimpressed. As a reader, I know that when I see something come up again and again, it’s something to stop and think deeply about. Why would the author do that? What do I think it means? Why do I think it’s important?

I took three of my 13 stickies and started to explore through writing my thinking around that.

By doing the work myself, I notice that what stands out to me and what I need to think deeper about cannot be directed by a teacher or a worksheet.

I notice that over time (I’m now on page 110) I stop and jot most when:

  1. I see repetition (the way a character acts, responds to something, or even a word that’s repeated.)
  2. I see a character give advice.
  3. I notice a character acting differently than I would expect in a situation.
  4. I notice an issue the character is facing.

But Diane, who is reading the same book and noting, stops and jots most when:

  1. She sees a pattern in the moments of choice of a character.
  2. She notices the way a character struggles internally compared to externally.
  3. She sees how the setting might be driving a character’s choices.
Diane’s Notes

Is this one more thing to add to the massive plate?

No! It all goes together. Think back to the TDA training.

First, students stop and jot what they notice while independently reading. This may produce a lot of thinking, and that’s okay.

Next, students look back for BIG IDEAS they might notice through a pattern. When looking back on my stickies throughout pages 65-76, I noticed that there were a few that made me think about the issue of belonging.

Finally, students take that pattern or one BIG IDEA and explore this thinking deeper in the notebook. This is meant to push thinking about reading and practice skills like inference and analysis. But most importantly, it is mean to be student-driven.

Students need to be in the driver’s seat as much as possible. They choose their independent reading book, they choose their reading spot, they choose what to notice and what to explore deeper.

The more students are in the driver’s seat, the less they rely on what the teacher wants and what is the “right answer” or “right way”.

This process continues on a regular basis throughout the reading workshop. Each day students return to their reading, noticing, identifying patterns, and thinking deeper about BIG IDEAS. It’s also known as the life cycle of the sticky note.

One thing to consider. Writing about reading is only a small percentage of reading time. Some students will try to spend days on end in the same entry. This type of writing is about showing thinking more than formal writing.

Students need to know it’s about being FAST AND FURIOUS. All of my entries are no more than 5 minutes! This may need to be modeled!

How do I grade notebooks?

Notebooks are a playground for thinking and not meant to be grades each day; however, it is possible to have students choose one entry a week to self evaluate and turn in for a grade, but ideally a conference around their notebook would work better because students could leave with a strategy to try if they are struggling with any aspect of the life cycle of the sticky note.

Moving Forward!

Sometimes we get so focused on making sure everyone is doing the work that we get a little tunnel vision, requiring specific notebook pages that look a certain way. We focus on format and lose sight of the deep thinking. In my next post, I plan to show you the work of multiple teachers modeling the life cycle of a sticky note using the same book to highlight how even when reading the same book, we can notice, think, and explore a BIG IDEA differently, and it’s okay!

I leave you with my thinking across six independent reading sessions

The Mirror Challenge…Who’s In?

Let me start with a quick flashback and confession. When I came back to teaching after having my kids, I was slightly out of touch. I had kids that ranged from two to seven and I was busy. My reading was limited to what I had to read for continuing education classes, self-help books like how to help my child with ADHD, and children’s bedtime stories. So when my students were asking if I liked Hunger Games or Twilight, two big series at the time, I was at a loss. I noticed that everything kids asked me about, I had the same response, “I haven’t read that yet.” And I’m going to be honest with you, I was not going to read it because I was too busy. And that’s what I hear so often from so many teachers, “I just don’t have time to read.” And I get it.

What I noticed was my students were reading less and less as I was less and less in touch. And let’s be real…why would kids read when even their reading teacher isn’t reading? The older kids get, and especially in grades sixth through eighth, the more they despise the do–as-I-say-and-not-as-I-do-approach. So if the adults around them are not reading, why should they? It’s clearly not important, right?

Fast forward a few years and my oldest, a very strong reader, was starting fourth grade. He was also starting to read books that were on my middle school classroom library shelves. I wanted to be able to talk about books with him, so we started reading one series after the other at the same time. It started with Among the Hidden, then The Hunger Games (our favorite) before moving on to Divergent and then The Fifth Wave. But while my son and I read each series and talked about them, I noticed that I was having more and more conversations with kids at school about these same books and we were all excited about it. I was having trouble keeping those books on the shelves and started adding more and more because my students were reading more and more, and before I knew it, I was reading their recommendations too.

Without even realizing it at first, I had so many readers who were devouring books, and it was because I was reading. No incentive nor connection to grade motivated students to read more than having a teacher who was a reader, and I think there are several reasons why.

  • By just reading I had a common ground to talk to kids. If I was reading something like The Cellar I would talk about how much this book hooked me because it was similar to an episode I might see on the television show Criminal Minds, which is a series I love. It was a dark, twisted, fast-paced psychological thriller. Kids were then starting to talk to me about the type of television show or movie that was similar to their books, so when I came across kids who didn’t read because let’s face it, they just had not found the right book yet, I could ask, “So what types of movies and television shows do you watch?” and go from there.
  • By just reading I was experiencing the same struggles as kids. You think grown ups are busy? Kids are busy too! They have school, after school activities, family obligations, distractions, and disruptions in the home too. I started paying attention to those struggles and simply talking to kids about it. I would tell them for example, “Last night I was so sucked into scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, and I just didn’t feel like reading my book. I tried anyway, but I’d read a page and then turn on my phone to scroll again, and I was just not getting my reading in. I noticed this is happening to me a lot…I’m just procrastinating. So I set my timer for 20 minutes and told myself I am not allowed to touch my phone until the timer goes off and I read. It worked. I think when I notice I’m procrastinating and wasting time on social media, I need to remind myself to set a timer and keep increasing the time to get back to my reading goals.” You know what I found out? Kids respect that. They respect the honesty about real struggles because it’s not always easy to read, but I would share my struggles and become a model for coming up with strategies for those struggles. Kids think reading just comes easy to some. It doesn’t. We all face struggles and have to use strategies to overcome them. Pay attention to the struggles and talk about them!
  • By just reading I became a mirror for what I expect. We can’t tell kids how important it is to read and then not read ourselves. Yes, there are a ton of benefits that our kids need academically including the development of vocabulary, background knowledge, inferring and analysis skills, but they also need the development of empathy that we we get from reading about characters who live different lives with different struggles that we may not experience ourselves but others in our community may. And guess what? Grown ups need that too! But so long as kids see that reading is a chore they have to do and the grown ups can say they are too busy or they don’t like it, then we will never be able to get more than a small population to be readers.

Forgive me while I stand on my soapbox a bit longer.

So where am I going with this? Well, I am proposing, as educators, we become the mirror. Not just reading teachers…all of us. We put our excuses away and we read. We know that consistent, independent reading is a HUGE factor in academic success. But to make real change, we need to start with ourselves and let it grow from there.

I’ve been thinking of some starting ideas. What if every teacher advertised what they are reading. Let the kids call you out when you are spending too long with that same book! Actually sometimes when I just don’t feel like it, I remember that I share my reading with kids. They know what I am reading, and I can’t stay stuck in a book too long. That alone gets my butt moving. So what does that look like?

What if we all posted our current reads. I’m currently reading two books. One I listen to in the car on Audible while I drive my kids here, there, and everywhere. And the other I read most nights (I’m not perfect) before I go to bed.

What if we shared great reads with kids in person or even through Twitter?

Imagine being able to just type in a hashtag like #Snyderowlsread or #Shafersharksread and getting book recommendations. This is something kids can do too!

I challenge all of us to take the challenge and become the mirror. I know from experience that the more we read, advertise, and share, the more we hook students. So imagine if this was bigger than just a few teachers. Imagine what could happen if as a staff we all took the challenge.

It all starts with us. We are teachers. We teach, we inspire, we motivate, we encourage, and we are so much more effective when we are the models for what we expect.

So, I will step down off my soapbox, but I have one question…

Who’s with me?