Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Still Learning to Read: Sticky Notes!

This is one of a series of blog posts that continue the conversation around Still Learning to Read--teaching reading to students in grades 3-6.  This series will run on the blog on Tuesdays starting in August 2016 and continue through the 2016-2017 school year.

This was my favorite weeks so far because routines are set and I am just beginning to confer with kids beyond the initial assessments and reading interviews. We are also starting to build routines around reading behaviors that are part of reading communities. I love this time of the year when I can slowly begin to teach based on some of the information I've gathered and think together about ways to move forward as readers. And it seems that we've already gone through our year's supply of sticky notes!

I had a conference with a student who was reading "fat chapter books". She told me that she knew they were just right because if she missed one word on the first page, the book was too easy, if she missed two words, the book was just right and if she missed three, it was too hard.  This is so typical in the upper elementary grades--readers thinking reading is about "getting the words right".  When I met with her about the book, even though she was halfway through, it was obvious to me that she struggled with comprehension since the beginning. I never "fix" things like this for a child because I am interested in helping the reader grow--I am not worried about whether they understand a specific book. I believe strongly in building agency and I know that if I swoop in in September and tell her the things she is misunderstanding, she will not build the skills she needs to build understanding herself. Instead I file the  information and know where my instruction needs to go. I kept my eyes open during independent reading time and a few days later she was ready to start a new book.  We conferred for the first two days of her reading the new book--one to preview and think about what we knew and wondered from the blurb, etc. Then she started reading with sticky notes placed every few pages to help her keep track of her thinking while she read. We talked about the need for readers to take their time during the beginning of a new book because there is so much to take in and understand in those first few chapters. We've met briefly a few times and this strategy is working well. It is slowing her down and also giving her a tool to hold onto a longer story over time (by rereading the stickies before she starts reading the next day). It is evident that she is comprehending better and she is in LOVE with the book and reading.  

Readers love to share books and some readers LOVE books that are "hot off the press". I am one of those readers. I love to get books the day they are released and I love to read them before anyone else. So when I saw Dog Man from Dav Pilkey was due out,  I preordered it so it arrived on August 30. I knew they would be excited about this book--even if they weren't familiar with Dav Pilkey, this cover and idea would draw them in. They'd know the excitement of getting a book the day it is released! I shared the book and the blurb with students during our mini lesson and everyone wanted to read it.  I typically have bookmarks  that kids can sign when they want to be on a list to read a particular book, but at this time in the school year, I am not that organized. So I grabbed a sticky note and introduced the idea of being on the wait list for a book and that it would make its way around our room. Currently we have 5 books with sticky notes just like this being read by someone.  This idea is one that caught on quickly and is building lots of conversations as kids pass books along.   (I may transition to what Stacey Riedmiller does --raffles off books to first reader of new books--you can read about that here.)

Finally, I discovered this strategy last year.  I met with a reader who was struggling with finding a book he loved and with sticking with a book once he found one.  Sometimes kids are overwhelmed by the choices they have and they have trouble sticking with a book because (in the midst of reading) they see another one that they might like better.  I've found that it's sometimes helpful to plan with the child and to use sticky notes as visual reminders. Many of our kids don't have "next read stacks" as we do and they aren't thinking that maybe they can read a book that looks good in the near future. A simple sticky note on the front of the book with a number, helps students like this prioritize reading and begin to finish books. By deciding which book to read 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th, the child can commit to finishing one book, while taking comfort in the fact that the others can be read soon afterward.

Really, what did we do before sticky notes!  Even with all the digital tools my students will use for thinking and annotating, sticky notes are still the most important tool in our classroom.

(You can follow the conversation using the hashtag #SLficuciaryTRead or you can join us for a book chat on Facebook that began this week by joining our group here.)

Our new edition of Still Learning to Read was released last week!  

You can order it online at Stenhouse!



  1. I appreciate your points about the beginning of the book being challenging. My middle school students rush that stage and get frustrated; this article helps me to unpack that a bit so I can be of more help.

  2. I have always loved sticky notes as a teacher and have taught many students to use them diligently while reading. However, I really liked the new ideas you presented here. Thank you for sharing, I can't wait to share these ideas with my students.


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