I don’t know about you, but I am a list person. In fact, I adore lists in all their splendor: lists on sticky notes, on notebook paper, on whiteboards, and even on digital devices. Why do I love them so? For me, lists provide a sense of purpose for my days. I do not view them as “to-do” lists of chores that must be grudgingly completed, but as opportunities to accomplish something, whether it be related to the classroom or to finally getting around to doing my laundry at home.
Lists provide me with a sense of control. My list of tasks might be long, but acknowledging them and their importance to my day inspires me to complete them. Crossing the items off my list when they are completed gives me a sense of satisfaction. In fact, when I complete activities that were not on my list, I have been known to write them down just so I can cross them off. I imagine many of you can relate. So, when I started seeing students in our after-school literacy club struggle to stay focused and motivated for our work together, I turned to lists in hopes that they would have the same effect on my students as they did on me.
Our after-school literacy club invites kindergarten through second-grade students to engage in additional reading and writing support. As you can imagine, after a long day at school, these students are often tired and less inclined to read and write than they are to head to the playground and play with friends. Even after ensuring that the students were working at just the right instructional level with activities best suited to their interests and goals as learners, some of them had difficulty staying engaged throughout the session, often complaining they were tired or just didn’t want to engage.
I tried a little experiment with one of these students and introduced a personalized checklist into her sessions. I created a list of activities that we would complete for the afternoon, in order, and started the session with a clear explanation of what we were going to do that day and why. Here is a re-creation of the list:
I showed her the list of accomplishments she would have the chance to complete and put her in control of crossing off the items as we completed them. The results were astonishing. By clearly understanding the session activities, knowing the order of completing them, and looking forward to crossing off the items on the list, she put herself in control of her own afternoon, something she had clearly felt was lacking but had not known how to express. She took great joy in showing her parents the list and the bright pink lines through the tasks she had completed. We did not get through all our plans that day, but she was motivated to cross all the items off her list in the next session, which she did. Inspired by the success of the list, I tried it with other students and saw positive results demonstrating the potential to use personalized lists in literacy intervention. Here is what I learned:
Choose a list format based on what you know about your students. Some might like a list with icons of things that interest them on the border. Yet others might be distracted by these extraneous items and need a simple list instead. Some students might like their list on a sticky note to bring home, whereas others might like it written on the whiteboard since they love using dry erase markers.
Allow students to mark completion of the activities in a way that works best for them. Some students love to draw a heavy line right through the activity, and others prefer a simple check mark or smiley face next to the item. Still others like to erase the task from their memory by erasing it on the dry erase board.
Make it yourself and personalize the lists for each student. Most adults I know do not download their to-do list from a pre-created database online, and the same goes for our students. Create the list from scratch based on the unique strengths and needs of each learner. Clearly list each task and pair each with a picture icon to help younger readers read the list.
Take time to reflect and celebrate. I love the look of a crossed-out list at the end of the day, because it forces me to stop and acknowledge the work that I accomplished. If we really think about it, our students are bombarded with tasks to complete each and every day, yet we rarely take the time to celebrate their daily accomplishments. Talk with students about what they did as readers, writers, and thinkers and what they are most proud of.
Using checklists in literacy intervention settings can focus students on their work, provide motivation for them to do their best, and give them a sense of accomplishment. By adding a personalized list to your literacy intervention routine, you are setting students up for success that can fuel future learning. I hope you will give it a try!