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Making Reader's Notebooks Work

Responding to reading through writing is an expectation in many curriculums. And it can be a great way to process what we are reading! How we house these written gems is another story. One that has given me a headache for the past 3 years since having my own classroom. I've tried to find ways to make "reading notebooks" work for both me and my students. And each year was a dud (Ok- maybe I'm exaggerating. It wasn't all negative and troublesome, but it by no means was a smooth running machine for both my students and myself).

Year One: 

We did a packet that was turned in each unit. Students "coded" their jottings by skill. I liked it. It worked better for me than my students though. And it didn't allow for really in-depth work.

Year Two-Three: 


We did binders. I love hand outs/graphic organizers and I thought binders were my solution! I could put dividers in and it will be all organized I thought. Except it didn't work for my students. No matter how often we practiced being gentle when turning pages, more pages were falling out than staying in. One year I tried dividing it one way and that didn't work. So year 3 came and I tried to divide it by unit which I thought would be better, but that didn't work either. Plus, when I wanted to collect them- they were bulky. My whole thought originally was students would turn in just the task I wanted them to and then I would return it with feedback and they would put it neatly back in the right spot. A girl can wish, right? However, it just didn't work out that way. So then I would ask them to turn in their binders for me to check... not fun. Plus, it would stink when I didn't have things 3-holed punched.

Which brings me to year Four: 

And I think I'm on the right track. Believe it or not, I'm actually trying to use the notebook as my mode. Why was I so resistant to it before you may ask? They are called "Reader's Notebooks" after all and for 3 years you didn't try a notebook. Well, you see... I like structure. And notebooks are so- blank. But I combined all the things that didn't work before that I loved, to make this notebook thing work and so far, I think I have the Reader's Notebook that has worked the best for my students and for myself in four years.

Prepare yourself. They ain't too fancy.


What I stole from binders that I loved: tabs

I still divided my notebook up into 3 sections (only 2 tabs were put in at the time of this photo #reallife). I divided it differently though than I have in the years past.



In this section, students house their daily jottings whether they be on post-its, graphic organizers (that I just shrink down to composition size on the copier and we glue in) or hand drawn graphic organizers.

What I stole from the packet that I love: codes

I stole our coding idea from the packet in my first year and when they jot on post its (which so many of my students prefer after I conducted a little survey), they code it in the corner of their post it.


This chart is organized by depth of thinking (in my humble opinion). The goal is to get to the deep jottings, or the treasure jots. Thoughts and inferences are closets to this, followed by questions, interesting facts, feelings/reactions, and then connections. I added student examples of exemplars to the chart as well to give students an expectation.

The tab for independent reading also provides some prompts students can use in their longer written responses they may do.


This is a new section I added this year and I'm loving it. We do a lot of interactive read alouds where I do think alouds and students are turning and talking and jotting. I wanted this work to be separate to make it easy for us to find. On the tab, we are recording any read aloud that we do where we jot. After we are done reading, students give it a rating too. (Trust me, we have read more than 6 books... these are jus the ones we've done heavy jotting work around)

Depending on our unit, we might jot about different things. Below you can see a t-chart we did for inference and text evidence with Stone Fox. We also do boxes and bullets, character webs, etc.


Also, if I want to see student responses to a common text through read aloud to formatively asses a particular skill, I can easily find them in this section of the notebook. 

Teacher confession: I have this tab copied, but we haven't cut it out yet and glued it in yet. Oops. It's ok, it's still working. In this section, we actual work backwards. We started on the very last page of our notebook and when we got our first helpful handout, we glued it in the back. Whenever I have another handout I want them to keep, they go to the way back and just flip to next blank page. It's working.

Some of the resources we've added to the back have included this question matrix to help form strong questions. We used this in our character unit as well as our nonfiction unit. 
Another resource we added to the back is to help us with our conversation skills when talking about our reading. This worked well with our book clubs that we did earlier in the year and we will reference again later in our future book clubs. Not to mention, this has helped with our grand conversations during reading aloud too. 

Not pictured are our text feature flip flaps that we have been filling out with our nonfiction unit, main idea and details guided note page and more! We'll be adding a new one this week about post it jotting for new words. 

This space is meant for any hand out that doesn't have another "space" in terms of our literacy work. And it works out well because some students might get more than others based on needs. As long as I scale them down prior to printing, they will fit in our composition notebook without sticking out and getting all crumbled.

This has worked so far this year. When I collect notebooks (which I've done more this year than any other year before), I can easily find what I'm looking for after extensive modeling on how we date the page, how we organize our post its in it, go in order/don't skip pages, etc. There's a few that still need reminders, but for the most part, I can find what I'm looking for and give feedback to my students. 

Yes the tabs get mangled. A little tape and we are good to go. We are now in our 5th month and only 2 students have lost a tab (but we've been able to tape them back on). Pretty decent considering how much work they get!

Want these tabs? Click on the image below to download them!
How do you tame the jottings in your classroom?


Creating a Culture of Risk Takers

Happy New Year everyone! Were you ready for your little friends today [that's assuming you go back when I do]? There's something about the new year and how it makes us feel like a fresh start is awaiting us, even in the middle of the school year.

One thing that is always on my mind as an educator is how I can make my classroom the best environment for my students. There are many facets to it: social and emotional needs are met; students are able to access the content in a way that is supportive to their learning style; students feel safe enough to take the necessary risks to reach the next level of their learning.

Today's post is all about how I try to create a classroom environment where risks are welcomed and accepted in 5 easy steps. All you have to be is a little conscious of your language and the messages you are sending to your students on a daily basis.


First- let them know what you are looking for! See a student who raises their hand to share an idea or an answer? Let them know [and the rest of the class] you appreciate their effort. Hear someone disagree respectfully with a classmate during a small group discussion? Again, let them know that is something that happens during the learning process. If you use reinforcing language consciously and precisely, it can have amazing results. You'll see more students who want to try in hopes of getting that positive feedback from you. Don't be stingy! Share it out... and share it out often!


You might be thinking, "Duh. We're teachers. That's what we do." But do we really do this often and in a meaningful way to EVERY student EVERY day? More importantly, can our students tell we are sincere? I found the most successful way to do this is when it's personal- it's not broadcasted for the whole class to hear.


Just like the reinforcing language, I try to be specific when it comes to the skill we are working on. If I build them up and they know I'm rooting for them, they will give me their all. It's worth the time. Every time.


Not trying to be mean here, but it's necessary. This great article explains all the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone and I'll be incorporating it into a lesson during the first few weeks back about the importance of it. I also speak to it in this older blog post about why I think every teacher should play hockey. I think we forget as adults all the feelings that come with trying something new, difficult, or out of our comfort zone, yet it is necessary for growth.

When my students are starting to feel a little to comfortable in our room, I like to switch things up. However, first students need to feel safe with their classroom community and believe that everyone in that room is there to help each other succeed. If that isn't in place, they will be reluctant with changes that will push them out of their comfort zone. So we spend a lot of time first with building our classroom community as one that is supportive towards all. But I do a few things that force students to try and participate when for some, they'd rather be a bit more passive.

Grouping and Partners

One thing I do is change my groups... often. Like daily or nearly every other day. Specifically in math. We do a lot of math talk and discussions and it is essential that all students take stock in our learning through talking and sharing ideas. If we keep the same groups often, students slowly begin to assume roles... the kid who always talks first, the kid who doesn't share and just does things on their own, the kid who is desperately looking for help from their group, but is too shy to say something, the kid who wants to say something, but isn't assertive enough to do so... you get the idea. By mixing up the groups, students can't get comfortable in those roles. And because we have this culture where we believe everyone can learn and everyone can teach us something, we spend more time on working on those necessary communication skills around sharing the talking space.


I've found that this is also very beneficial for my ELs. Often times, they want to share their thoughts and ideas, but aren't given the opportunity. Do I expect them to share first? No, not always. But do I expect them to share? You bet. The more they practice both the social and academic language, the more confident they will be become and the stronger they will understand our content.


Come up with a few key phrases and cheers and repeat them often when a student stretches and reaches a goal. We do a lot of simple cheers to reinforce each other. Diary of a Teachaholic has a free set of classroom cheers in her store. It's fun when you do them as a class and the recipient is trying so hard to keep a straight face, but it's IMPOSSIBLE! They love it. 


But we also have phrases and cheers for our mistakes (which goes with #5 on this list). I love hearing my students encourage one another after a mistake with the words we've been practicing all year. They are now posted right under our SmartBoard so that when we are working on the carpet they are there to remind us.

This is something I've tried new this year and it has done wonders in terms of risk taking in our classroom. Students are literally changing their outlook on the learning process through this work. I wish I would have done it earlier in my career (well- let's face it, I'm still very new, but still!)

What I love most about it is that it helps ALL students. I have some students who do not like a challenge, or say things are too hard. I have others who say things are too easy and rush through giving mediocre work. Having this growth mindset has helped both walks of life stop and think about their effort and their work and think. And I can't help and smile when I hear them repeat these phrases during our learning time to each other.


With these simply things that we established early on in the year, students welcome challenges in their learning with open arms (for the most part) and are building important life skills.

Now- they are ready to tackle all that content and any challenge I give them! Right?

Making Habits Happen in the Classroom

I'm lucky to be at a school where they really support the social and emotional learning just as much as the academic learning that goes on in our classrooms. We have a lot of things on our plate as educators- standards, assessments, high stakes testing, pacing,......  But as many have said, the mental and emotional learning IS the plate. We can not pile on these other things if we are not taking care of our students social and emotional needs. That would be like bringing a paper plate that has gone through the dishwasher to a picnic with greasy chicken and baked beans on the menu... it'll just make a mess and lunch would end up in our laps.


At our school, we have a mixture of behavior/emotional supports to help our students learn how to be respectful, build social competence with their peers and adults, and express their feelings and emotions in healthy ways. We follow the common Responsive Classroom practices, have PBIS school wide incentives, use the Olweus Anti-Bullying program, and are a Welcoming School (check out their website if you are unaware of what that means). Even with all of these awesome supports in place, sometimes I still need a little extra something.

I wanted to give my students something new, something they haven't heard from kindergarten to give them purpose again. They've been hearing, "Show your CARES," constantly (which is an acronym from RC). I wanted to give them new language and a new focus to help them get to the next level.

Enter the Leader in Me website.

I would love to be in a school where this was actually adopted and used throughout, however, I'm starting small by using their website to help me make some small changes. I also found some great resources from others through Pinterest to help guide me with pictures books to use in my classroom to introduce some of the habits.

For most of these, we read a book or two and discussed what that habit really meant. We also discuss the "I-statements" for each one to help students understand what that might look like in our classroom. Before you know it, I have students who are reciting the "mantras" throughout the day.

Heck. I even had students make up their own call and response using the habits. Are you familiar with the song Radioactive by Imagine Dragons? Well students changed the lyrics to "Be Proactive" instead of Radioactive. Now, when I want their attention, I sing the, "Whoooa Whoooa"s and they say back, "Be proactive, be proactive." I kid you not- they came up with that all on their own. What I'm getting at is that these simple posters and I-statements began to give my students the language on what it meant to work towards being a leader.



And although those books and statements were awesome to introduce the habits to my students, I found that integrating it into our learning and daily work has had the biggest effect.


We do a lot of math talk during our math lessons. I really wanted to have all students share ideas and listen to ideas before solving a problem and to work together. This is a hard skills for kids across the spectrum- I've got my quiet souls who are very comfortable with simply sitting and listening, I've got my quiet souls who want to talk, but struggle with asserting themselves, and I've got my loud voices who always talk first and love to share.

So after I gave them a problem to work on during math in their daily groups (which I change often to make sure everyone works with everyone), I focused in on what I heard and what I saw in terms to the two habits we were focusing on during that time. After the problem was done and discussed, I took a survey to ask how many students listened to someone else's idea, how many students shared an idea, and how many students thought that everyone in the group balanced the two. We saw throughout the math lesson that as it went on, more people were sharing and feeling like the talking space was being shared.

One major success was with one student who flat out told me he did not like working with groups because he likes to "go fast." However, this student also sometimes makes sloppy mistakes. I coached him on how he could get others involved by questioning. He latched onto that and came up with some stellar questions to get other involved and to help others explain their thinking. I was really quite amazed at the sophistication he brought to his group and the smile that was on his face while he assumed the "teacher" role, as we talked that when I teach them, I often ask questions more than just telling answers... that's what teachers do!

I've been really impressed with the level of our group work and how students are really thinking about these habits throughout our learning time. I'm seeing strong voices speak up in a way to encourage others to share. I'm seeing quiet voices begin to see value in their comments and practicing the language and vocabulary in the lesson which is so essential to their learning. And even better, I'm doing less redirecting and a lot more reinforcing during group work time while my students are redirecting themselves and staying on task.

What do you use to help students build the necessary social skills?


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