The Power of Modeling: From Sticky Notes to Reader’s Notebooks

One of my pushes this year is pushing thinking using the reader’s notebook. While re-reading Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them and her newer book 180 Days which she co-wrote with Kelly Gallagher, I found myself re-energized by the act of doing the work in front of kids in a real and organic way.

Our great reading teachers have been modeling active reading with stop and jots and think alouds within mentor texts pretty much on a daily basis, but when it comes to the reader’s notebook there is a disconnect. Kids want to be told what to write about and how it should be formatted. As workshop teachers, we know that everyone writing the same way about the same thing is not conducive to growing readers. They do not benefit by doing what the teacher wants; they need to have the choice and ownership to push themselves.

Revisiting Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s work made me wonder. What would it look like if we modeled moving from the stop and jot to the notebook? What would kids see if more than one teacher modeled using the same text? This was an experiment that I felt was important to take on, so I asked some of my people who I have worked with in the past to do this experiment with me. I thought I’d get a couple volunteers, but little did I know that all of my people would volunteer!

My first stop was with my former coaching colleague turned fifth grade teacher. I shared my idea during his prep one day, and he not only said yes, he suggested we start that day! We grabbed two of the same book from his classroom library, and when his fifth graders came back from special, we shared our plan.

To do this plan, we had to flip the workshop around and begin with independent reading followed by the minilesson. While the students read, we did not conference or pull small groups. We joined them in reading and jotting. After about 30 minutes of independent reading, they joined us on the carpet and we took 5 minutes to look over our jots and write a notebook entry.

The kids paid close attention while we grappled with our thinking and writing about our thinking.

Then we each explained how we went from our stop and jots to the notebook entries that were before them. They turned and talked about what they noticed about how we went about it and how we formatted our writing.

I continued my tour with Sarah Wolbransky, also a former literacy coach who went back to the classroom this year to teach fifth grade. We did the same experiment. Using a different book that we had not read from her classroom library.

From fifth grade, I hit the middle school and Bridget Sperduto’s seventh grade. The best part about middle school is we can do this for five periods, which is the equivalent of five class periods of reading and noting. The students were not only able to see what we each did using the same book, All American Boys, but also what we each did over the course of five class periods!

I continued in the middle school, but this time my seventh and eighth grade teachers, Theresa Simon and Danielle Armstrong, pulled their classes together, and the three of us got to work using Everything, Everything.

Seventh and eighth grade teacher, Justin Hopf decided to join one of Danielle’s classes and since we were already pretty far into Everything, Everything, we decided to pull another book from the classroom library.

From there I went back to the elementary school to experiment with Chris Jordan and his sixth graders. We used a book from his classroom library that neither of us had read.

Later that day, I joined Gina Miller, Kelly Kovach, and Natalie Hartman, a sixth grade team in another building. They pulled the entire sixth grade together to do the experiment with Out of My Mind which showed how four different teachers went about this work.

I ended my tour in eighth grade with my Wonder Twin, Diane Murray. Using Ghost, we modeled our thinking and writing about reading across the day.

What did I learn from this experiment?

  • I learned that notebook entries should not take more than a few minutes. We’ve seen that when given prompts and structures, students will take hours and sometimes days to push themselves to do the thinking work that should only be taking about 5% of the workshop time. The time spent was because students were often so focused on being right and formatting it correctly that they were losing time from the real work.
  • I learned that students need to see a lot more of modeling. I encourage teachers to keep their own reader’s notebooks and share images of their own work but also take the time to do the work right in front of them. Students will benefit from seeing you grapple with your own thinking and how to get it in the notebook.
  • I learned that students may start with imitating exactly what you do. Having the confidence to do it your own way takes a lot of time and practice. Keep modeling your process!
  • I learned that when kids don’t have enough experience and don’t know what to do, they default to writing a summary or nothing at all.
  • I learned that these notebook entries are the seeds that can be used for long writes that are not as frequently written.
  • I learned that reader’s notebooks show thinking over time and that thinking can change along the way.
  • I learned that together as a team we can do so much more to model with kids.
  • I learned that other people think differently than I do even when we may be reading the same book.

What did students learn?

A LOT! They watched us in the moment write about our thinking based on what we noticed, taking no more than 5 minutes to write our entry. They listened as we explained our process of stopping to jot, determining what to explore deeper in the notebook, and how we decided to organize it. They learned that it’s okay to take charge of their own thinking about reading, but most importantly, there is no one right answer or one right way to go about it.

I look back at my notebook compared to Lee’s. We both ended up looking closely at how the characters were acting, but we came to different conclusions. Kids need to see this!

Lee wonders if the poor behaviors are a result of living in poverty while I wonder if the leaders feel helpless and try to control the situation by punishing everyone instead of those who are really responsible.

I also look back at Diane and I who came to similar conclusions by noticing different patterns.

What’s next?

I encourage you to do this modeling in front of kids. I’m not going to lie. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but that’s what kids need to see. They need to see us struggle with making sense of what we notice while reading, so they are less overwhelmed when they are expected to do the same. They need to know it’s really hard work but so important. They need to see that we too have to really push ourselves. If you’re able to do this work with a colleague to show the different ways you both go about it after reading the same text, it’s pretty powerful. And if you would like to invite me in to do this work with you, you know how to find me!

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 Classroom Library: What Are Your Marketing Tools?

Imagine walking into a book store and the books are just sitting on the shelf much like the image on the left (below). Not very appealing. Not drawing you in. I don’t know about you, but even when I’m walking through the local Barnes and Noble to get into the mall, I get sucked into displays and other eye catching arrangements of books that I didn’t even know I needed to read!

Imagine if we set up our classroom libraries like the image on the right (above). Drawing kids in. Showing them what they didn’t even know they needed to reed. What if we talked to kids in ways that got them excited about books. Just recently I was visiting a classroom library with the school nurse who wanted to take on the Mirror Challenge and check out a book. As we were looking, I was picking up books and talking about them to the kids around me. One of those books was Danielle Vega’s The Merciless. “This book…oh my god…it’s like mean girls meets horror…I’ve never read anything like it. And it’s a series!” It was snatched out of my hand and checked out before I even finished!

We draw in readers by marketing. And preadolescent and adolescent kids really need convincing, so we need some strong marketing tools! Here are a few that have made all the difference.

Know your library!

When reading teachers are reading what’s in their library, they become amazing resources because they can recommend and connect with kids so much faster. When teachers have asked me how I can easily conference with kids about books, my only response is because I read what they do. I have a pretty firm grasp on if you like this book or author then you’ll like this book or author too. If you are a middle schooler who refuses to read or reads at a lower level but do not want to read “baby books” I know some pretty edgy books that are mature, peak interest quick, and are less complex in readability. I can finish a book, create a one liner description, and it’s out of my hands immediately. I can read a book like Thirteen Reasons Why and be honest that I just didn’t understand why these reasons led to her decision. I told my kids, “I don’t know if it’s because I’m in my forties and just so far removed from being a teenager, but I don’t think these were reasons that were enough. But maybe I’m comparing them to real grown up problems that you don’t know about yet. I’m curious what you guys think.” And before I know it I have several kids reading it and we are discussing along the way what we think of these reasons. I don’t write all of this to brag and pat myself on the back. I’ve admitted here that I have not always been able to do this. But I can now because I read, I read as much as I expect my students to read, and the benefits are immediate and powerful.

Share Your Reading!

I’ve always kept my own reading log that was visible and updated regularly. My students kept a similar log. To the right was my log last year that I kept in one classroom for students to see my reading and then I would leave the books as I finished for them to borrow. As I visited the class and talked to kids about their reading, I shared mine and even added books they were reading that interested me.

This is a true reading log that grows throughout the year and doesn’t tell lies of how many minutes I read each night. And guess what? Even I abandon the occasional book!

This year some of the reading teachers have decided to try something similar.

Teachers, secretaries, administrators, instructional assistants, social workers, coaches, and nurses who have taken on the Mirror Challenge at both middle schools have been sharing their reading outside their doors too. What a great way to talk about common interests, books, and reading for different purposes! The school nurse at Snyder and the K-8 Social Emotional Learning Instructional Coach bonded at lunch over a similar interest they realized through sharing their current read! We are modeling that reading is not just something we have to do for school.

While visiting one classroom recently I noticed another way reading is shared. Mrs. Sperduto at Shafer is using What I’m Reading to display in her room. As she finishes a book, she adds to the string of “Must Reads”. Each print out has a QR code that takes readers to the Goodreads page for that book to read more about it.

Blurbs

Mrs. Simon at Snyder is very well known for her amazing library displays and catchy blurbs. When she isn’t talking about books, she lets the blurbs do it for her.

Reader Recommendations and Hashtags

Mrs. Simon also has students write quick notes about the books they recommend as they finish then display the note with the book for students when they are browsing for new reads.

Mrs. Murray at Shafer is having students share their reading with a picture of the book and a recommendation. This is one version of using the hashtag in the classroom. Teachers are starting to use the hashtags on Twitter to share reading and encourage students to join in. That way students can search a hashtag and get lots of ideas of what to read next.

The student in the image on the left, wrote a note about the book on the book’s cover to share with others.

Bulletin board become in class Twitter feed

Tweet…Tweet…Tweet!

Speed Dating, Book Tastings, and Good Ol’ Fashion Turn and Talk

Many teachers spread the books across the room in centers and have students walk around and visit the centers they are interested in to look the books over, talk to others about what they’ve already read and authors they recognize. As they move around the room they make a list of the books that interest them and decide on the one they’d like to start first.

Another way is to create book tastings by spreading books out on the table and having students read each book for about three minutes and then deciding which one they would like to take and continue.

Nothing beats a chance to turn and talk with peers about what they’re currently reading on a pretty regular basis. I used to do quick “circle groups” where students were separated into groups of 4-5 and had to stand in a circle to discuss what they were reading (yes, we even did minliessons on how to stand in a circle and have this discussion for it to really work well). A timer was set and students talked and when time was up they had a chance to do add anything that sounded interesting to their list of “interested in reading” in the reader’s notebook.

What’s the Point?

The words of Jennifer Serravallo ring true for me. Over the years I have found that a huge part of getting kids to read and read a lot is a huge undertaking. Our job is not just to teach but to sell reading to our kids. And the time spent to know our books, market our libraries, and create interest is time well spent.

As I continue to visit schools and classrooms this year, I will be on the lookout for the great things I know many of you already do to sell those books! One of the fun parts of my job is sharing what our great teachers do because we are so busy in our own room with our own kids that we don’t always get to see the great ideas we could incorporate too!

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?

The Journey Begins…

Master teacher—two words that have been on my mind lately making me wonder.

What exactly is a master teacher? Does this teacher have a certain number of years under their belt? Or maybe it’s dependent on education. Does a master’s degree certify a teacher as a master? Diane and I both have many years of experience, a master’s degree, multiple certifications, and we have racked up an incredible number of post-graduate hours. Are we master teachers?

Even after years of experience, continued education, professional development and reading, we are always learning, growing, and cultivating our craft. In our profession, I truly believe that master teacher is not a destination, where one day we will land, but a realization that there is no end to our learning and growing. Instead, master teachers are continuously spiraling through Hall and Simeral’s Continuum of Self-Reflection that includes the stages of unaware, conscious, action, and refinement.

Our recent collaborative efforts brought us to waning student engagement. Diane asked me to come in and collect data on her students during recent mini lessons. Looking at the data, we were able to discover the need for minor tweaks and adjustments, but the most recent tweak brought us to a screeching halt. While Diane was doing a turn and talk refresher lesson, the engagement spiked, but when she had the students reflect afterwards, we heard again and again that students were bored talking about what their teacher told them to talk about. That’s when it hit us—Diane and I were not practicing what we preach!

We recently ran part of a professional development day at our local intermediate unit, so the concept was fresh on our minds. We had the group participate in a spider web discussion, a method that comes from the work of Alexis Wiggins where students determine what they will discuss. Just like that, Diane and I realized that while we were concerned about waning student engagement, we were really sitting in the unaware stage of the continuum and suddenly we were thrown into the second stage, the conscious stage.

That’s when we realized we often present to teachers using spider web discussions—putting our learners in the driver’s seat. After every presentation, we are thanked time and time again by teachers who suddenly feel empowered to put their students in the driver’s seat as well. So why were we not using this same tool with students? There’s no easy answer, but it was apparent that we needed to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

This new awakening brought me back to thinking about the master teacher.  It is the master teacher who realizes we are never going to be forever in the stage of refinement—we will always have something to learn and so much to improve. I, for one, think our students deserve to have teachers who are masters of self-reflection and learning.

We are now on a new journey, one that will foster student engagement. Our goal is to share our discoveries—through reflective practice and learning—along the way.