What do you do with all of those post its?

I’ve heard teachers ask this question a lot.  Heck, I’ve asked myself this question too.  So let’s think about this for a minute.  Post its are intended to be a record of a student’s thinking process.  We teach them to record questions, comments, inferences, connections, and other types of deep thinking. Sometimes we want students to organize their thoughts about a text so that they prepare for writing, look for themes, or analyze their own though process.

We want students to make their thinking transparent, because as developing readers, they are still learning how to think deeply about the text.  As teachers, we need someway to know what they are thinking and post its give us an additional piece of evidence to look at.  So what do we do with them?

  • Reflect: Sometimes I ask students to code all of their post its and reflect on the strategies from their “reader’s toolbox” that they are using.  A student who is only asking questions, but not holding them in their mind as they read may be missing the bigger picture or the text might be too challenging for them.  A student who is only making connections may be getting distracted while reading.  Are they valuable connections that enhance their understanding of the story or are they distracting?
  • Discuss: Post its are usually a starting ground for a great discussion.  They enable a student to reflect back on their thoughts, remember items they wanted to talk about, and track questions they had.  Whether it be a turn and talk, small group, or whole class discussion, I usually ask students to start with the tracks of their thinking…their post its.
  • Organize: Many times I model for students how to organize post it’s into a notebook.  I do this to look for themes in the story or a big idea.  I show how to discard post its that don’t apply to what I’m looking for.  This sorting and prioritizing is a valuable experience for students and I’ve found it to help them elevate the quality of thinking they write down.
  • Write More: Sometimes a few words can really hold the key to some great thinking.  Occasionally I’ll ask students to pull some post-it’s that they have more to say about, tape them in their notebook, and write more.  It’s easy to discount a “wow” post it as not holding a lot of deep thought, but a “wow” reaction sometimes has a very complex process behind it!

Some other post it questions I’ve been asked are:

Do you always use post its? No. I try not to always do anything.  I also use graphic organizers, think marks, and the students’ notebooks as places to record thinking about reading.

Do you look at every post it a student writes? Not always.  I’m reminded of something that Lucy Calkins said here. Something to the effect of, if I was able to look at every piece of writing my students were doing then they wouldn’t be writing enough.  I look at a lot of their work, but not every single thing every single time.  That’s why I teach them to organize, look for patterns, and determine which ones are worthy of sharing.  If the text is short then I usually look at everything.  But for book clubs or longer texts I ask them to preselect post its to be taped into their notebook.

Do you give feedback on post its? Yes. Students need feedback on their work.  I don’t comment on everything, but as I go through their notebook and look at pages where I’ve had them tape post its in or organize them for writing I make comments on interesting or brilliant thinking I see.  If I have a concern I might make an encouraging comment or I might just pull that student into a quick conference.

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