You've Lost that Post-it Feeling. Whoah-oh that Post-it Fee-ee-ling.
If you are like most of us, your feelings about annotation waver between irritation, distain, and defeated resignation. I cannot count the times that a teacher I worked with, or a student, or the voice in my own head exclaimed - "I hate Post-its!" (usually followed by some kind of groan). (Blogger's Note: When we refer to Post-its, we mean any kind of annotation of thinking as we read. Could be another form. Notes in the margins, writing in a notebook, blogging, charting, super sci-fi brain scans - whatever you have going on in your classroom. We sometimes say "Post-its" because this is the easiest medium for most teachers to use to annotate text. )
Our relationship with annotation has hit a rough spot. With so many kids, not enough time, and rising standards, it is easy to think of the Post-it as a relationship gone bad, one that started off with such promise but then felt too tough to maintain. We may even be tempted to break up. To say, in the immortals words of Justin, Lance, Joey, JC, and Chris: "Bye, Bye, Bye."
They were the sages of their time.
But this is a good time to renew our vows. For our relationship to writing about reading is indeed a marriage. It is a commitment. One that will help us to grow, will give us a foundation to stand on, and one that will test our patience and adaptability.
Why work on our relationship to Post-its at all?
1. Because annotating our thoughts helps us (teachers) to see what they (readers) are doing as they read. It has been said many times: reading is invisible. And this is awesome, except when you want to help kids do better or assess where there is confusion and need. Then, you might need to get a few of those thoughts out somewhere. Talk often works even better than writing, but we find it pretty challenging to listen to every kid consistently. So, annotation.
2. Because annotating our thinking help us (readers) track, revise, and synthesize our thoughts. It's not just for teachers. When we as readers learn to find ways to capture the best ideas we are having as we read, we can then go back and reflect on old thinking, discover new ideas, and make connections. When kids get to talk about their reading, this works best. Talk = Instant Purpose.
3. Because it is very difficult to raise the level of any skill without showing our steps or progress along the way to a partner or mentor. When I went to a cooking class, the teacher did not just wait for me to make my gluten-free pizza and then evaluate me. She watched as I cooked, commenting on what I was doing along the way. If all of our kids love reading and are great at it, then great, no need for annotation. But for most of us, we want kids to know some next steps as readers and thinkers, and this will require us to see what is happening in real time.
So. In the spirit of saving our relationship to annotation, I lean on the ever-wise, ever-present Cosmo magazine's most treasured format and I give you :
Three Tips For Saving Your Relationship to Post-its
Step One: Re-evaluate How You Do Things. Are kids just annotating into the abyss, constantly adding more and more jots without ever really looking at them and thinking, are any of these worth the work? Maybe it's time to get a new system going. One that has worked for many colleagues over the years, and that I learned (in essence) from the brilliant Jerry Maraia, is to mark a day as your "Download Your Post-Its Day." Have kids go through their book, pulling out the interesting, wise, or incomplete ideas - and then get rid of the rest. That's right - all post-its are not created equal. Some just need to go. For the ones that kids keep - they can collect them on one side of a page in their notebooks. Like this:
Once you have this going, you can always easily take a next step - inviting kids to write long about their thinking. (Note I did not say "summarize their reading" - more on that in a future post). When readers find a thought that feels either incomplete, or ready for more, have them pull it, place it on the top of the next page, and write long.
Step Two: Keep the Spark Alive. Admittedly, this is tough when annotating a text. But readers often get bored with annotating because they are often doing the same thing over and over again - and often what they are doing is not that exciting in the first place. Helping your students to find new thoughts to annotate will help add variety, lift the level of the work they are doing, and may even make the whole thing a lot more interesting. Here are a few strategies I have used to help readers make their annotations worth hanging onto:
If kids think that annotating means saying "she is brave" over and over again, or if that is all they know how to do right away, then it is no wonder that the work loses meaning.
Step Three: Invention is the Mother of Romance. Or something like that. No matter what, kids will get sick of annotating, no matter what medium they annotate upon. Why not try letting the kids decide what they should do to catch their thinking? Talk to them about the purpose, and let them invent and experiment and fail and try again. I have seen third graders come up with crazy awesome ways to mark their ideas. Here is one example of the kind of "Page" I've seen kids make:
We need our kids to write what they are thinking as they read some of the time. But if they are only doing that to check off a list of demands from their teacher, the work won't be worth much. Think of your relationship to annotation as a relationship that will have its ups and downs, but that in the end is always worth the work.
(Big Idea: Writing About Reading/Accountability Tiny Detail: Making Post-Its & Annotations Worthwhile)
- Kate and Maggie