Teaching by Example

In many classrooms, as the leaves are turning, teachers feel as if they are turning a corner. The Fall rituals and routines have been introduced and the management is firmly in place. Now our focus can really shift to the curriculum, the fun part of teaching and learning. As a new month approaches, teachers are ending some units of study, while preparing to begin others. This leads to wondering how do we insure the children hold onto what was taught and also introduce them to what’s coming up. If you’re one of our regular subscribers you probably know what we are going to say. Yes indeed – turn to charts to help do this work.

This week we will focus on creating charts that use examples to review, reinforce, and highlight previous teaching and learning, as well as those that introduce new genres. In a previous post we talked about the value of putting up exemplars in the classroom to provide models children can strive towards and mentor themselves to while working in a reading or writing workshop. Show don’t tell is the key to writing and it is also the key to memorable teaching.

The first chart below started as a shared writing piece co-created with the children in a First and Second grade bridge class, after a very long field trip the class had experienced, during a narrative writing unit. The story then became a piece where the children practiced various strategies taught during several lessons. As the teacher prepared to bring the unit to a close, she decided to use this practice piece of shared writing as a way to reflect on all the class had tried and learned during this writing unit of study. The teacher annotated the text by writing explanations on post-its as the children shared out what they had done to craft this story, and then putting these up around key examples of craft, revision, and editing found in the text.

An example of how shared writing can be turned into a chart by annotating key parts of the text .

For example, the revised title is highlighted to show how changing a title can change the meaning or tone of a story. The title is underlined and the post-it, with the explanation, has an arrow pointing to the title, drawing the eye back towards the title. Other craft moves annotated around the chart include examples of “show don’t tell,” step by step actions, conversational dialogue,  using a repeating line, and using more specific vocabably, with arrows pointing to the place in the text these revisions can be found. The second page also highlights some editing moves the teacher wants children to contiue to use, like using a carrot to insert missing words, phrases or sentences. Other things could have been highlighted, but it is always wise to limit the number of points on any chart to no more than five key bullets. In this case they are not literally bullets, but post-its on which the key points are written. Using a shared reading text also provides a context for when and where these revision and editing strategies can be used.

This is the second page of the class' shared story which highlights further revisions and edits.

The next chart is a genre chart put up at the start of a reading unit on character. In this class the teacher had started the year off with the song, “Getting to Know You” from The King and I, as an invitation to everyone in the new community to get to know all about each other. When she was thinking about how to introduce the character unit to her first graders the song, “Getting to Know You” immediately popped into her head. So she pulled out the song and wrote the first two lines on the chart as her heading in preparation for her lesson. When the time came for the lesson to begin, all she did was hang up the chart with nothing but the song heading on it and the children immediately started singing. This lead to the connection that just like the children got to know each other at the beginning of the year, they were now going to be getting to know lots of different characters found in books, getting to know all about them.

The heading comes from a familiar song and the examples come from a favorite book.

Charts that use examples usually need to be prepared ahead of time. In this case the teacher chose one of her class’s favorite characters, Piggy, from the Piggy and Dad series (BrandNew Readers, Candlewick Press) and found excerpts that illustrated the strategies she wanted to teach. These were then photocopied, cut out, and taped to the 6″ x 8″ post-its on which she had written each strategy for getting to know a character, plus one to illustrate the heading. Then as she taught each strategy she put up the example on the chart. This move physically emphasizes each point being made. And it always grabs the children’s attention. And the use of a well-loved character engages all the children, which ultimately is what makes a lesson memorable.

So if you want to insure the children in your classroom hold onto what was taught, and also introduce them to what’s coming up, you might try teaching by example. Let us know what some of the ideas are you try and, as always, happy charting!


The Power and Possibility of a Post-it

Hello again! If your weekend was restful and filled with apple-picking and pumpkins, you weren’t one of the 3500 teachers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Saturday Reunion this past Saturday.  This semi-annual event invites participants of past summer institutes to reconnect with colleagues and reinvigorate themselves while in the midst of the realities of day to day classroom and school life. We each presented a workshop on charts, one focused on reading, the other on writing. Thank you to those of you who have already responded with feedback and encouragement. One question was, “When is the chart book going to be published?” We are working with Heinemann and shooting for late 2012 or early 2013. We also encouraged all our participants to share their charting experiences and examples so that we might share them with all of you.  Now onto today’s post…

Today we are going to explore the way post-its can celebrate student learning, while also holding students accountable for the work you have been teaching and charting in your classroom. We first saw this idea in an earlier post (The Seasons, and The Charts, Are Changing) as a way to support children as they move through the writing process. The post-its are a concrete, physical way for children to interect directly with the chart and begin to internalize the learning that is taking place. The following examples look at variations in reading and in writing.

First Grade Reading:

Building Stamina

This chart shows a strategy to help first grade readers read longer (We can read looong and strong!). The steps are clearly set on the left, and a teacher sample from the minilesson is on the large green post-it in the middle. The students set their own goals (ranging from 3 to 10 to 110) and then set off to read, with their goals in mind. As the teacher conferred with children, she was able to use these goals as an entry way into a conversation about each child’s reading. When the class reconvened for the share session at the end of the workshop, the students reflected on what they had accomplished. Many had met or beat their goals and the post-its were put on the chart to celebrate. For the few over ambitious readers, they revised their goals to more realistic ones, once they saw that this was not just some pie-in-the-sky enterprise. The teacher’s plan is that the next day these post-its can be used to set new goals in the interest of increasing stamina, volume, and engagement in her young readers.

BONUS: This next set of pictures is from a fourth grade classroom!

The chart before the lesson

The chart after the share session

Zoom-in on the center column

Zoom-in on the final column

This chart comes courtesy of Bronny Roberston, an incredible literacy coach at an American school in Bucharest, Romania. Bronny was teaching fourth graders about the important work of visualizing your character as you read. The interesting thing here is the way she held students accountable for trying the strategy by post-it-ing names under “Who Tried It”. When we teach a workshop and we offer an invitation to try something, it sometimes feels as though no one ever does…. Bronny has celebrated the children who took on the work she taught, therefore inspiring others to do the same. In the final column she gives a purpose to doing this work. Rather than telling the children outright what to say and how to say it, she let them explore the strategy, and then took their language as a way to explain to others why you would want to use this strategy. Using children’s language is always a smart way to make charting stick.

First Grade Writing:

Interesting Beginnings

Jess Greer, an incredibly lovely and thoughtful first grade teacher in Orinda, California, took the post-it approach to help writers name what kind of writing work they had been doing. Jess taught several ways to start a story and children post-ited the ones they tried. Jess can take one look at the chart and VOILA! ready-made small groups! She can gather children who started with action and think about how they can make that work even stronger. She can also use the children’s post-its to see which craft techniques no one is using and go back to reteach these particular strategies. After teaching several strategies, it is a smart move to ask children to reflect on which ones they often use and which ones they rarely use. This will help you reflect on your teaching, and help students reflect on their learning.

Enjoy exploring the use of post-its on your charts as a tool for accountability, self-reflection, and independence, and let us know how it goes. Until next time, happy charting!


A Classroom Snapshot

Hello everyone, we hope you had a restful Columbus Day! We are back here at Chart Chums after spending some time with family and friends, and ready to think more with you about everyone’s favorite topic: charts and tools to help make independent readers and writers!

This week’s post involves one of our favorite activities- checking out classrooms!  Today we are going to look at what Ivy Cole, a very generous second grade teacher at PS 109 in the Bronx, has been working on to create an environment designed to energize and excite her children about reading and the reading workshop.  Below are some pictures from her classroom.  We think you, like us, will be blown away by the highly engaging charts and how clearly they support the teaching of reading.

Ivy's Interest Library

This is Ivy’s interest library. The bins have both a title and a picture to support all readers in finding the books they want to read.

Just Right Library

This is Ivy’s “Just Right” library. You can see she has readers ranging from levels E-N. It is divided into fiction and non-fiction. It is clearly labeled and attractive which invites children to shop independently.

Chart to Support Fluency

 All of Ivy’s charts are hanging above her classroom library. This is a great support and similar to the classroom we showed earlier in the Classroom Makeover post. This chart uses images from a book read with the class: Yo! Yes? By Chris Raschka. The use of a read aloud text as the visual makes the chart  more memorable and user friendly. In your own charts, consider a read aloud that can serve as a concrete visual reminder of what you want your children to try and do as they read on their own. Photocopying some actual excerpts from a familiar text provides a context that gives meaning to what is being taught.

Partnership Chart

Next up we see Ivy’s partnership chart. You can see clearly what goals she has for her students. Fluency is one, as seen above, but also the routines of partnership time and how partners can organize their time together. It is clear and engaging, and the use of color makes certain elements stand out for children, like the order of the steps. In your own charts, think about using color purposefully to identify key ideas.

A Chart in the Beginning Stages

Ivy is also working on teaching children how to tackle tricky words, using a favorite fall football metaphor to bring home this idea. You can see by the placement of the one post-it affixed to the chart that this will be a chart that is added to as additional strategies are taught.  The message is that this work is still growing in the classroom. Two charts that were made earlier in the unit hang off to the side, and the one that she is now growing as she teaches is front and center. As you create your own charts, think about which ones will grow over time, and how you will manage the addition of new teaching. Ivy uses large post-its (As seen on the earlier post: Shopping the Specials), but the restickable glue stick works just as well!

Thanks to Ivy for letting us show off her room, and serving as an inspiration to teachers everywhere!

Until next week, Happy Charting!


Charting Visions for What is Possible

Just a few days away from the classroom to relax and regroup, but thoughts and ideas still have a way of percolating, creating a full, steaming cup of ideas to warm the soul. We hope you enjoy every cup.

We often put photographs or drawings up on our charts to give children a picture of what certain behaviors look like, such as sitting hip to hip or looking at your partner. Pictures offer children clear examples of the steps it takes to move from the table to the meeting area; from the table to the door. These are the kinds of charts we often create during the first days of school. But now that we have these basic routines and rituals in place, the time has come to look closely at the actual work our children are producing each and every day, which leads to the question: Do our children know what is possible? What is within their grasp as young readers and writers?

We recently attended a workshop presented by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project in New York City where the presenter, Amanda Hartman, shared her insights on ways to provide supports that will aid our students’ writing progression across the year. What really struck home was when she asked the question, “What is on your chart that you expect your students to do?” Then she added, “What do we want our kids to reflect on and work on?” This lead to a discussion of the importance of providing children with exemplars that show what is expected (also making customized exemplars for outliers, so all children have a vision of what is possible for them). The quote we took away from this day was, “All kids need a vision of what we are making.”

When we think about reading and writing expectations we can think about: How many? How much? How often? How many books will you read or write? How long will you read for? How many sentences/pages will you write? Will you read in school and at home for 30 minutes each day? Will you write daily for at least 30 minutes a day? These kind of questions often lead to setting aspirations and goals. But what do these things look like? We realized that one thing we can do to make sure these “visions” are clear is to include actual examples on the charts we create. For writing, these examples can be pieces you have written, pieces written by children, or pieces written by published authors. Choose examples that are within, what Vygotsky called, your children’s zone of proximal development. In other words, examples that are within their grasp.

But children don’t always know what is within their grasp unless they see others doing it or what others have already done. We have all experienced seeing one child making perfect copies of Power Puff Girls and then, within a month, it spreads like wild fire; everyone in the class has replicated the huge eyes and action outfits like cartoon pros. If imitation is the kindest form of flattery, then as teachers we want to be flattered all the time. Why not use our charts to create images that can be used to encourage, imitate, and inspire in ways that ignite fires in our classrooms.

Children now know that the charts hanging up in our classrooms are to help them when they get stuck or forget what to do. Now we can teach them that they can also look to charts for inspiration and for examples of what is possible when they are writing. We call these charts “exemplar charts,” because they provide a visual example of what is possible and what is expected. The charts below illustrate two different ways teachers can tuck in exemplars into their lessons.

                                                          This is a process chart that includes examples.

The first chart is a writing process chart created for a Kindergarten classroom. The basic process is there: think, draw, write, do it again. But in this case the teacher decided to include visions of what each part of the process might look like. Think and draw are pictured simply. But the “write” part of the process shows very high expectations, while also showing options for what it means to “write.” One picture shows lots of labels, including basic words like, ‘me’, but then also shows the addition of high frequency words, ‘my’ mom, ‘my dad, ‘the boat.’ It also gives an example of labeling actions with the fish, ‘jumping.’ You can also imagine labeling feelings and setting. While the chart is a process chart, it embeds very ambitious examples of what children can include as they write their books.

The second chart is a volume/stamina chart created to encourage second graders to consider what they have been accomplishing and to make goals for what they might do to write, “more, more, more.” Our colleague, Shanna Schwartz, sings this song to kids, adding: How do write it? How do you write it? In this classroom, the teacher has included very specific examples of what it means to write “more, more, more.” More books, more sentences, more revision. These are very important messages to send to our young writers and makes it very clear what we mean when we say, “write more.” The chart also provides a measure upon which children can hold up their writing to and self-reflect on what they have done and not yet done. In other words, they have an exemplar that leads the way and sets very clear expectations of what is possible. Knowing what is possible opens up a world never before considered. How exciting is that!

Continued Happy Charting!


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