June 23rd, 2010


Sticky Note Madness

As I've been reading and thinking this summer about ways to improve my reading/writing workshop, I keep thinking about the ubiquitous sticky note and how kids use (and misuse) them to track their thinking about their reading.

Over the past five years or so, our district has stressed strategy instruction as part of our comprehensive literacy program.  From kindergarten on, students learn the language of the comprehension strategies, as described by Keene & Zimmerman in Mosaic of Thought.  Teachers have students annotate their texts, showing evidence of understanding and independent use of the strategy under study.  Often times, because the students are using school-provided, non-consumable texts, that annotation happens on sticky notes.  This is a practice that is common across the country; sticky notes are now a regular item on school supply lists.  So what's the big deal?

Here's my beef with the sticky note.... too many times, kids do the sticky notes because the teacher says they have to.  They'll ask, "How many stickies do I have to write for every chapter?"  They are focused on completing the assignment, not on pushing themselves to think deeper about text, which is the whole point of engaging those comprehension strategies. The sticky notes are the end, not a tool to help them become better readers.

Because thinking is not an observable behavior, teachers need some way to assess it that IS observable.  Marginalia is one way to do this, I get that, and yes, I, too, ask students to annotate the reading they do as part of a unit of study.  Because I teach seventh grade, and because I know that students in my school district have been working on these strategies for six years before they get to me, I often assume that they know how to write a "good" sticky.  Sometimes I need a reminder about the dangers of assuming anything.  I have to remind myself that I need to model, model, model what I expect the kids to do.  So when we are talking about WHY we annotate text, WHEN to annotate text, and HOW to annotate text, I'll be bringing in the books I've read this summer and share my annotations and the thinking behind them with the kids.  In addition, I'll be more deliberate in my think-alouds when demonstrating my own thinking about a shared text.

I'm also working on ways to take the thinking the kids capture on those stickies and incorporate it into their reader's notebooks.  That way, the thinking doesn't stop when the sticky gets stuck to the page.  By having the students go back through their text and choose the BEST examples of their thinking, they are being self-evaluative.  Asking them to think more about the subject, follow a train of thought or consider other options, gives them an opportunity to reconsider their reading and perhaps even go back into the text for a closer, second read.  I'm hoping that through the modeling and the opportunity to do something with those stickies besides stick-then-forget, students will see that they are a useful and simple tool for deeper thinking.

I guess this meandering rant about sticky notes is really about providing kids to be thoughtful and reflective about their reading, something that I know is best practice but often gets pushed to the side in the rush of all of the other things language arts teachers are supposed to do.  Just one more reason I need to figure out what of all of that "stuff" is really essential and what I can let go of.  Thinking through these tough subjects out loud on paper (or screen, really) is the whole purpose of why I set out to write this blog.