Visit a classroom with a strong reading workshop, and chances are you will find students' books filled with Post-its. Kids stop and jot notes to themselves often as they read, as way to make their reading work visible, to stretch their ideas, as reminders, and as tools for preparing for conversations.
But sometimes, things can go astray. Sometimes, kids aren't using notes to mark their thinking--they're doing it to please the teacher. Sometimes, kids aren't sure what else to be doing, so they jot note after note, without any sense of purpose for all those notes. Sometimes, kids are spending more time writing during reading time then actual reading. Yikes.
If you've ever looked around your classroom during reading workshop and seen the floor littered with lost Post-its, and discovered kids' books filled with so many Post-its they look like feathers, you are not alone. But these are not reasons to give up on using Post-its (or a reading notebook) as a tool for making thinking visible.
In fact, if your kids are struggling with jotting notes that are purposeful, that's all the more reason to work on it.
Here a few predictable problems and possible solutions:
TOO MANY POST-ITS (AKA FEATHERS) OR TOO MUCH WRITING IN THE READING NOTEBOOK
Too many Post-its (or pages of note-taking during independent reading that is supposed to be "just-right") is a sign that kids aren't sure how to determine importance. When a student is Post-it'ing anything and everything, you might confer with her. You might teach her that readers don't usually just jot notes because they have to -- we usually have a clear purpose for jotting notes -- to prepare for a conversation with a reading partner, or to keep track of confusing parts, or interesting ideas in the book. You could make a terrific chart titled Reasons to Use a Post-it, and then create it together with your students (including picture clues), based on the work they encounter in their books .
You might also need to physically demonstrate taking Post-its out of your own book, thinking aloud as you go about the reasons why you don't need this one--but yes, you do want that one.
NO POST-ITS, NO NOTES AT ALL IN THE READING NOTEBOOK
Zero Post-its, or zero reading notebook notes might be a sign of either a) a disengaged reader, b) a mismatch between the complexity level of the book and the work the reader is working on, or c) a reader who doesn't have plans or goals for his reading. Every kid is different of course, but a child who hasn't felt the need to record even one idea, or interesting quote, or even a question or idea to talk about with a reading partner... this might be a sign of something bigger. The question to figure out is WHY. You might do some research to see if the student is choosing books that are a good match for him (or even, does the student have any choice in books at all?). You might research further using a running record, or an in-book assessment, to find out what comprehension work the student excels in, and what work would make sense as an area to improve in. Then match the note-taking strategy to the needs of the student (if note-taking even makes sense).
JUST DOESN'T WANT TO POST-IT
"Do I have to? It gets in the way! Argh!"
If you have ever had a student say this to you, you are not alone!
Some kids (often the most avid readers in your classroom) do not want to slow down their reading to stop and jot. Understandably so! The point is not to force all kids to jot Post-its. The point is to provide kids with many choices of strategies that will lift the level of their thinking. Some kids (many) will benefit from stopping and thinking regularly as they read, and Post-its are a concrete reminder/tool/visual aid for doing that. Other kids might benefit from reading longer stretches of text, stopping at the end of each chapter instead of each page, or stopping a handful of times in a book to use jotting as a tool for monitoring their own thinking and pushing themselves to think more deeply.
IN CONCLUSION, LESS IS PROBABLY MORE
I'm always wary of any reading strategy that takes me more than a few minutes to wrap my head around, or requires a significant amount of teacher preparation just to make it go smoothly. Sometimes, the strategies for using Post-its can become so multi-stepped, so elaborate, that I have to wonder: If a kid has to do all that just to understand and find meaning in her books (that she herself has chosen), I have to wonder if those books are at her independent reading level. Maybe, sometimes, the best thing to do is to just pick a better-fitting book!