One of the tell-tale signs of a reading workshop classroom, particularly in the upper grades, is the presence of sticky notes peeking out from the pages of students’ independent reading books. Sometimes these are color coded, sometimes they are placed at the top or bottom of pages, or off to the side. They can be an invaluable tool to help students push their thinking about their reading, but learning how to do so takes time and instruction.
Certainly, when readers are first learning to use sticky notes to capture their thinking as they read, management issues often arise that lead some readers (and teachers!) to question their efficacy. Many readers jot nothing, or everything. Sticky notes end up all over the room. They slow readers down. There is a tendency to want to give them up altogether. But if teachers and students stay the course, and think about ways a sticky note can be as useful as possible, during its entire life cycle from initial jot to the final thinking that results, sticky notes can transform a classroom of readers.
At the beginning of the life cycle of a sticky note is making the initial jot. Readers often need some pointers on how to decide what is worth recording. Tracking something, perhaps a character in fiction or a main idea in nonfiction, is a helpful entry point. Once readers become more sophisticated, what they track can grow in sophistication. A fiction reader might track ways a character's perspective changes across a book, as she exposed to new people and circumstances. A nonfiction reader might track not only one main idea but several as well as their supporting details, and then she might rank the importance of details that support these main ideas.
Later in the life cycle of a sticky note is a reader’s second engagement with it. A sticky note isn’t worth much if a reader jots on it and never thinks about it again. One of the simplest and most powerful ways to encourage readers to revisit their sticky note jots is through a reading notebook. Even the act of removing notes from the pages of a book and placing them on a notebook page necessitates a second interaction. As readers become more skilled, they decide which notes will go in their notebooks, and how they will organize these notes. Readers might begin by choosing sticky notes that list a character’s traits. Then, they might sort these notes from strongest to weakest, or into two groups, internal and external.
Next in the life cycle is when a sticky note becomes a launching point for deeper thinking. A reader might choose a note from his book that seems like the start of a bigger idea, place it at the top of a notebook page, and write long about it, thus growing his thinking. Sticky notes can also launch deep conversations. To prepare for a book talk, whether with a book club or a partner, readers might skim though the sticky notes they jotted the night before, and choose the one that they think would lead to the best conversation. Readers could place these in the center of the group, and these could form the agenda for the book talk.
At this week’s TCRWP Twitter chat, Lizzie Petkanics and Kristi Guinness will lead a discussion on the management, functionality and benefits of helping your readers to build a richer sticky note practice. Don’t miss this chat that is sure to provide a wealth of specific ways to help your readers deepen their thinking with this simple and powerful tool.
Each Wednesday night at 7:30pm eastern, The Teacher's College Reading and Writing Project hosts a Twitter chat using the hashtag #TCRWP. Join @lpetkanics & @kristiguinness to chat about the life cycle of a sticky note tomorrow evening.
Not on Twitter? Take Heinemann’s free Twitter for Educators course here.
Anna Cockerille, Heinemann Editor and Coauthor of Bringing History to Life (Grade 4) in the Units of Study for Teaching Writing Series, was a teacher and a literacy coach in New York City and in Sydney, Australia, and later became a Staff Developer and Writer at TCRWP. She also served as an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College. Anna has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement (Heinemann 2012), and the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, Grades 3–5 series (Heinemann 2010). Anna is currently serving as an editor on the forthcoming Phonics Units of Study series for grades K-2, and previously served as an editor for the Units of Study for Teaching Reading, K–5 series.
Follow her on Twitter @annagcockerille