We’ve often talked with colleagues about how reading feels much more challenging to teach than writing:
It’s so hard to know what’s going on in their heads as they read.
Are they getting everything from the book they should be?
How am I supposed to know what they need as a reader?
It boils down to reading being a mostly invisible skill. It’s made visible only through talking or writing. Because it’s our job to help our students move as readers, we have to be sure that they are making their thinking around their reading visible to us regularly.
One way that we’re able to quickly capture student thinking to inform our instruction, without having to collect or flip through notebooks, is by using our jot lot:
Our jot lot is in our meeting area, in a central place that our students pass by as they gather on or leave the carpet. We first learned about jot lots from Shana Frazin, a staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.
The jot lot is a laminated piece of chart paper divided into enough sticky-note-sized squares (we use the larger, 4-by-4-inch sticky notes as templates for our squares) for all the students in our class. In our classroom, each square has a student’s initials. Middle school teachers in our school who have more students than we do assign a number to each square on their jot lot and each student in their sections a number to match. We ask students to write their initials or number on their sticky notes in case they fall off the jot lot before we get to them, and also so that we’re able to look at them easily later, when we’ve taken them off the jot lot.
Here is a jot lot in a middle school classroom, using numbers rather than initials since multiple students share the same box. This class calls their jot lot “Show What You Know.”
Using a Jot Lot
After a small group or conference that provides students with guided practice of a strategy, we’ll leave them to try the strategy again independently and ask them to leave their work for us on their square on the jot lot. Similarly, we might wait a day or two and ask the students from the small group to try the strategy during their just-right reading and leave it for us on the jot lot. In both cases, their jot lot sticky note will provide us with information about who is independently applying the strategy to their reading and who might need to have additional support in a conference or another small group.
During read-aloud, students record their thinking around a prompt and leave their sticky note on the jot lot as they leave the carpet. As a performance assessment at the beginning and end of our nonfiction reading unit, for example, we ask students to write a sticky note to show the main ideas with supporting details from an article that we read aloud. We sort their main idea writing into categories to create small groups, which is done easily since the writing is on sticky notes and can be moved around.
The jot lots above are a nonfiction performance assessment done during read-aloud—the assessment before the unit is on the left, and the post-assessment is on the right.
Rather than doing a turn-and-talk, students stop and jot to record their thinking and leave it on their jot lot square as they transition from the minilesson. We can then look at the sticky notes right after the minilesson and make some-on-the-spot plans for conferences and small groups based on what we see.
As students are reading independently, we’ll ask them to leave a jot lot sticky note before the end of their independent reading time that captures the best work they’re doing within our current unit as a formative assessment. For example, if we’re working on inferring about characters, their sticky notes reflect the work they’re proudest of related to inferring about characters.
This is a “show what you know” for finding the central idea in a section of text. The number on the sticky note correlates with the number on the chart in case the sticky note falls off.
This is a sticky note showing a student’s thinking after noticing a signpost in narrative text.
Students often leave a reflection on their jot lot sticky note. It could be a reflection to show what they’ve been working on as a reader (What strategies are the tried-and-true ones you tend to use over and over again?), habits that they have as a reader (What nonfiction notetaking strategies did you use as you were reading today?), or goals they have for themselves (What’s something you’re working toward doing as a reader?).
For us, these are the two greatest benefits of the jot lot: (1) It’s not cumbersome. We can stick all the sticky notes to a single piece of paper to sort through later if needed. No need to always collect a stack of reader’s notebooks! (2) It provides quick feedback—we can make decisions right then to inform our instruction.