Answering Readers’ Questions

Hello Dear Readers,

We here at chartchums are developing more consistent features to our blog. To support the requests of all of you we will be approaching each month in the following way:

- one post addressing a popular reading or writing unit

- one post that highlights relevant work from our archives

- one post that addresses readers questions

- and one post that looks at charts in a classroom setting

This week we are tackling some of the most popular reader questions of the past two weeks, which we have collected from comments, @chartchums, and chartchums@gmail.com. Here are some answers to those wonderful questions…

Can Kristi share her chart font?

As much as Kristi would love to, the whole idea of the chart font is that it match the pictures you put on your own charts, otherwise it becomes another form of clip art. If you are intimidated by drawing your own chart font, we suggest taking a look at our previous posts about drawing, found here and here or by looking at Make a World by Ed Emberley. Another idea Kristi tried was to have the students make some of the symbols.

Do you do seminars?

We do! We have presented from Texas to Connecticut and many states in between! If you are interested in having us work with you, please direct inquiries to chartchums@gmail.com.

Here is sample of what you can expect when you get a day with the chartchums:

Want the secret to jump-off-the-wall charts that stick with kids? Then you’ll want to meet Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli, co-authors of Smarter Charts, who will share not only ways to create great charts, but the best practices that will make your charts more powerful and effective than ever. In this one-day workshop Kristi and/or Marjorie will share tips on design and language, instructional use, and self-assessment. You will learn strategies that deepen engagement, strengthen retention, and increase independence—all by involving students in chart making. And you will even learn how to draw!

I am swimming in charts! How many charts should I have up?

At this time of year there are so many charts for routines, it can feel like you are going to use an entire chart pad by the time the month is over. One suggestion to minimize the “print pollution” is to take your routines charts and bind them together with a simple binder ring. Another is to use a sketch pad for these routine charts. Both these strategies allow you to flip to the chart you need at the time you need it. Unlike a “Stretching Words” chart that children may use across the day, a “Setting up For Writing Time” only needs to be seen in that brief window of set-up time. On average, most classrooms have 3 or so charts up for each major subject area.

Book shopping is a routine that needs only the occasional reminder.

Book shopping is a routine that needs only the occasional reminder.

What is “chart-a-day”?

Chart-a-day is an initiative we have started on twitter (@chartchums) to tweet one smart chart every school day. Send us one of yours and we will retweet it to the world!

Feel free to send us your questions, we will answer them again next month! Until then, happy charting!
Kristi and Marjorie


“I’m done!” Planning for the Predictable

We know from experience that teaching revolves around the seasons like the earth revolves around the sun. At the start of each school year we resolve to make it the best ever, using all we have learned over the summer and the years past. The challenge is knowing what to continue and what to change. What seems to work year after year? What seems to need revising based on each new group of students entering our classrooms? These questions are what make teaching so invigorating and challenging. It is what keeps us going forward with energy and excitement.

As we began this new school year we found ourselves anticipating some typical scenarios that happen during a writing or reading workshop each and every year. Very quickly we came up with the standard lament heard across the world, “I’m done!” How many of you have already heard this lament? How many times so far? As teachers we have two choices. We can tear our hair out at the instantly greying roots or we can take a breath, smile knowingly, and pull out some full proof plans that have worked again and again in years past.

Well, that is what we have done here. We have taken a breath, smiled knowingly, and pulled out a previous post that deals with this very predictable dilemma that occurs each and every year. “I’m done!” Well, to quote Lucy Calkins and Leah Mermelstein, “When you are done, you have just begun!” Specifically, when it comes to writing it is important that children understand that writing is a never-ending process. This week we revisit Tricia Newhart’s workshop classroom where writers think and plan, sketch and write, and revise with joy! She shows that charts are never static, but grow and change over time. Thank you Tricia for continuing to inspire us all!

Charts, like all living documents, need to be created with your classroom community and grow as you teach more, or as classroom needs change. Below is a series of photos from a first grade classroom that records how the writing process chart grew and changed over the first few days of school. These photos come from the incredible Tricia Newhart, who teaches in Orinda, California. A word about Tricia- when we close our eyes and imagine the ideal “workshop classroom”, Tricia’s room comes to mind. Her responsiveness to children, knowledge about reading and writing, and her absolute fearlessness and bravery in trying new things makes her an inspiration to all!

The Writing Process

Here is Tricia’s writing process chart at the very beginning of school. You will notice that she has photos up of children actually doing each part of the chart. Like concrete samples, photos are a great way to capture complex ideas in an accessible way. It also makes the chart tailor-made to each classroom and much more engaging to children. We all tend to look more closely at things when we have been ‘tagged’ in the picture!

Children’s Names Added

At this point, each child has his or her name on a post it, so that they can mark which step of the writing process each child is on. This is a great technique for any chart. Children can put their names on post-its for strategies they want to try, or as Tricia did, to keep track of where they are in a multi-step process.

Students Making Plans

Here we have that very idea in action!

Student Samples are Added

Here you can see the chart in its final stage stage. Now that children are close to revising, Tricia has added some student work with the actual revisions highlighted in yellow and annotated with sentence strips. If you have been looking close, you will see that the bulk of children moved from planning into the sketching and writing. Tricia is well aware of where they are and taught the next thing that MOST children would need.

Slowly building the chart as needed makes each part more accessible and memorable for children. It also keeps students from getting overloaded from day one. Tricia painted the big picture of the process on day one, but introduced parts more specifically (using post-its to make a plan, ways to revise) as the children needed it.

And one last lovely idea from Tricia:

Story Idea Spot

Here Tricia gives some space for children to put story ideas that pop into their heads during the day. Children can go back to access this during writer’s workshop. Again, the interactive nature of Tricia’s room shows the amount of independence she expects of children and the honor she gives to their thinking and writing.

Enjoy the week ahead and let us know the ways you deal with the expected and the unexpected challenges of teaching and learning!

Until next time, happy charting!

Marjorie and Kristi


Technologically Speaking

Hello again!

If you are like us, you are probably a little dust covered from working in your classroom and excited/anxious to meet your new students. As Kristi situated her rug in close proximity to the smart board, she was reminded of the many thoughtful questions teachers have been raising about technology and charting.

Can I display charts on the smart board to save wall space?

We discourage the display of charts on the smart board for a few a reasons. Yes, it saves space. And yes, it is neater, but it is difficult to display several charts at once. Children will all be working at their own pace on different aspects of reading and writing (and math and social studies and so on…) and will need information that is on a chart that is not just displayed on the smart board. Some children may even want to reference charts outside the time you display them on the smart board. Many a child looks to the “Stretching Words” chart in writing workshop, but also during math, and during inquiry time, and really anytime they have a pen to paper. When we choose which single chart to display the classroom is subject to our whim of what we think children need, but in a true workshop children will need diverse charts. We recommend displaying the chart for the units in a variety of ways: across one board if you have the space, and in smaller sizes if you don’t. The smart board does have powerful uses during reading and writing time, often as a way to prompt for behaviors and help kids track time. There are lots of downloadable times that you can use on your smart board. Pair this with a slide show of students reading and writing for a powerful reminder of what the time is for!

Smartboards, when paired with document cameras, can be a great way to look at student work up close.

Smart boards, when paired with document cameras, can be a great way to look at student work up close.

Make space for charts to hang during the unit, so that children can reference the chart THEY need when they need it!

Make space for charts to hang during the unit, so that children can reference the chart THEY need when they need it!

 

What if I make them on the smart board and print them out?

One amazing aspect of smart boards is that you can co-construct in real time and hit print. This can be a great way to add strategies onto an already existing (and growing) chart. You can use photographs from the classroom and choose the language together during a minilesson or share on your laptop. Once you hit print, you can attach the strategy to the chart you have hanging in the classroom. We do have just one hesitation in this being the ONLY way you add strategies to charts. Teachers in the primary grades can model a great deal implicitly when they hand write in front of their students: letter formation, basic drawing, resilience in the face of trouble. When you make charts with marker on paper, you are more closely modeling what they do in their independent time.

A chart on the Smart Board to support routines and behaviors during independent reading time

This can be printed out and added to a chart about behaviors during independent reading time

Should I copy and make charts for kids to paste into a notebook or keep in a folder?

The value of technology is that it makes replication easier. If I can print one, I can print thirty. We would advise you to print 30 of anything with caution. The one large chart (or smaller table ones) are meant to support the whole class. Giving a child a copy of every one can make materials management difficult for children. Instead we recommend taking a picture of, or printing, a chart that a certain child needs close at hand.

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Recommend any apps to make charting easier?

Can we ever! If you are lucky enough to have a smartphone or an ipad, you can download and use the following. We are sure there are more, so please feel free to leave suggestions in the comments!

Snap:

Snap allows the user to take a picture and annotate it (there are other apps that do this, Kristi just happens to use Snap). You can hook your iphone up to your smartboard with a VGA cable and do it with your class, or load it to your laptop and print from there.

This picture was made in snap to remind a small group of writers to use a two finger space when writing.

This picture was made in Snap to remind a small group of writers to use a two finger space when writing.

Pix Stitch:

Pix Stitch allows the user to combine a series of photos into a sequence. This app is useful when you want to show multiple images together. The free version lets you combine up to 5 photos at once. The app is intuitive and simple to use.

This grouping of photos reminds a child that when he is writing he should: plan, use a 2 finger space, and reread with a partner.

This grouping of photos reminds a child that when he is writing he should: plan, use a 2 finger space, and reread with a partner.

QRafter/Audioboo:

Chartchums has written extensively about this here.

iFontMaker:

iFontmaker (ipad only) allows users to design their own fonts for use on any type of computer. Kristi used this app to create a library of common chart images, so she can use them as she types in Microsoft word.

Kristi's "chart art font" as seen in ifontmaker.

Kristi’s “chart art font” as seen in ifontmaker.

Let us know how technology makes your charting more powerful!

Happy (techno)charting!
Kristi and Marjorie


Tools of the [Chart] Trade

Yes, it’s that time of year again when the Sunday papers are twice as thick due to all the Back to School advertisements and circulars to excite and entice students, teachers, and parents alike. There’s nothing more satisfying than a shiny new binder, a brand new pencil case, and never before used pens, pencils and markers, especially for teachers. These are the tools of our trade. So as you are clipping coupons, marking your calendars with Teacher Appreciation events, and calling everyone you know to pick up a dozen one cent pocket folders (because that’s the limit per person), we thought we would share with you a few of our thoughts about the tools you will need to make the best charts ever this year.

One of the most important tools is the invaluable felt-tip marker. When shopping for markers there are a few things to consider:

A chart for teachers on choosing markers.

A chart for teachers on choosing markers.

The type of tip you choose will depend on some personal preferences, like how it fits in your hand. After all you will be holding these markers all day, every day.  Marker tips also come in several different shapes. For example, if you like your printing to have a calligraphy-type look, then a chisel point or a brush tip might work best. If you worry about how your handwriting looks, try a bullet tip marker because this kind of tip has a more consistent line and the thickness makes the writing stand out. If you tend to press down really hard as you write then a pointed hard tip might work best. Also, markers that have intense, rich, ‘juicy’ color that does not bleed through are always desirable, as are ones that last a long time. Another suggestion is to stock up on black and blue markers because these are the ones we recommend using for the bulk of the writing on any chart, which means they will tend to run out more often. The other colors are used more for accents or highlights, so last longer. As for price, shop the sales and clip those coupons.

The other tool chart makers will need is paper. For those of you who have been following us for awhile, you know that in addition to the classic chart paper pads (both lined and unlined, white and colored, full-size and half-size), we often use large florescent colored sticky notes which allow us more flexibility in how we build charts with students. Ready made 6” x 8” post-its come in neon green, orange, yellow, pink, blue, and red and are available in many office supply stores, retailers and on the internet. But, we also love being able to turn any piece of paper into a sticky note with the use of a repositionable or restickable glue stick. What’s nice about this favorite tool is we can purchase multi-colored 8-1/2 x 11 copy paper and use this to make our charts. Besides being able to be used over and over again, there is no sticky residue left behind. Below is an example of a chart that used both the ready-made post-its and the self-made sticky notes.

On the left are 6x8 Post-its and on the right the sticky notes are made from 8-1/2 x 11 copy paper using a repositionable glue stick.

On the left are 6×8 Post-its and on the right the sticky notes are made from 8-1/2 x 11 copy paper using a repositionable glue stick.

Lastly, children love seeing themselves on the charts hanging around the room, so plan on having some kind of digital camera, smart phone, or tablet that will allow you to take snapshots of your students in action as they follow the strategies and steps you have taught. Together you and the children can choose which photos are the clearest examples and add them to the chart to remind and reinforce the problem-solving stance that will help everyone become more independent and resourceful as learners. If you adhere these photos to the charts using a repositionable glue stick it will make it easier to change and update the photos as needed. Remember, the more you touch a chart and revise it, the more likely the children will pay attention to it and actually use it!

Kristi used photos of some of her students and added speech bubbles to show what they said about their theories.

Kristi used photos of some of her students and added speech bubbles to show what they said about their theories.

Have fun shopping and let us know if you have any other must-have tools in your chart-making toolkit.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi


Working Smarter Not Harder

Hello Everyone!

Hopefully wherever you are in the world, you are staying cool and relaxed this summer! If you are like us, and we think you are, now is the time when seed possibilities for next year are blossoming and growing into actual ideas. In the interest of self preservation and having a life, all the ideas we are growing are bound by one rule: does it take the same amount of energy (or less) but create something better? We would love to share what we are thinking with you, in the hopes that you will share yours with our community, and provide feedback and variations in the vein that many heads are always better than one. Below you will find some of the grumbles of the year in bold, and our thoughts of revision below that.

Morning meeting always takes so looooooooong, but I believe in the community building it provides!

Kristi tried a morning meeting and an end of day meeting when they revised the daily news, but always ran out of time. This year she is going to try two meetings: morning meeting- conquering some of the necessary (but time eating) routines: greeting each other, counting the days, reviewing the schedule, then segue into shared reading. Then the class will have an afternoon meeting right after lunch, the focus of this meeting will be TALK: whole class conversations about “news”, a chance to work on oral storytelling, and a review of the afternoon schedule. Daily whole class conversations helped Kristi’s class tremendously with language and listening skills, but it was often cut short – an afternoon meeting protects this time, and also allows for some social skills work since much of the news after recess will be drama filled!

Daily news revised at the end of the day, then edited the next day during shared reading.

Daily news revised at the end of the day, then edited the next day during shared reading.

I love sharing with parents but compiling the letter takes a long time, and gets exhausting!

Twitter offers restricted accounts, which means you approve who can join and who can see your tweets. This year I am opening a classroom twitter account for families. It takes two seconds to tweet a photo, and Kristi’s goal is to tweet a daily picture. Less work for her, but more consistent interaction for the parents. A picture is worth a thousand words, so the 140 character limit is a little misleading.

Tentatively, Kristi is also thinking of a monthly twitter chat for families. Topics like: reading at home, helping with spelling, math games…These chats are becoming more and more mainstream, and all a parent needs is a smart phone (which is sometimes more prevalent in homes than a computer).

She is also planning on  a shared google calendar.  She keeps one for herself, why not share it with families? It can have publishing parties, birthdays, trips, and parents visits in a place that everyone has access to. Not only that – it sends alerts!

Urg…grammar….

That incomplete mental thought is typical of many primary teachers’ feelings about grammar work. We know workbooks don’t work, but when are we working on these important skills? Here are a few low key thoughts that integrate grammar into daily routines:

  • Revise the morning message written in the beginning of the day at the end of the day. (We will go to gym becomes We went to gym)
  • Play with grammar in shared reading: which animals are male and which are female in Mrs. Wishy Washy? The only way you know is by the he or she used in the line “Oh lovely mud” said the _____ and he/she rolled in it.
  • Read aloud more books that deal with grammar, like the excellent Exclamation Mark by Amy Rosenthal (available here)
This chart uses some very familiar characters to help remember pronouns.

This chart uses some very familiar characters to help remember pronouns.

What are you puzzling through this summer? What lightening bolts have struck you? We would love to hear it! You can tell us in the comments, @chartchums (twitter), @MrazKristine (twitter) or chartchums@gmail.com.

Happy (thinking about) charting!
Warmly (figuratively and quite literally),

Kristi and Marjorie


Charting the Past: A Table of Contents

With the official arrival of summer and the 4th of July already come and gone, we here at Chartchums began to reflect on the past year by looking back over the 30 posts since the publication of our book Smarter Charts (Heinemann, 2012). We feel so fortunate to have so many supporters and to have met so many of you this year. We thought it might be fun to have a “Top Ten” list of favorite posts or  to do a “Best Of” chart photos, but as we continued to think what would be most useful to teachers we came to the conclusion that simple might be best. A simple Table of Contents to help you find what you need when you need it, just like a good chart. We hope you agree and we definitely hope you find it helpful.

Chartchums 2012-2013 School Year Table of Contents

August 2012

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September 2012

October 2012

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November 2012

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Schedule4

December 2012

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January 2013

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February 2013

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stamina

March 2013

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April 2013

Words are like a paintbrush

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May 2013

photo-87

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June 2013

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Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi


The Upside of Downtime

Hi Everyone!

As the days get longer, many of you are transitioning from the hectic day to day of school to a new summer routine. During the school year it can be easy to let less urgent things slip to the side: from doctor’s appointments to reading that book everyone is talking about. The summer is the time to rejuvenate yourself as a person, and as a professional. Here are our suggestions to make the most of these restful days:

1. Read. Correction, read EVERYTHING: The best teachers of reading are readers. Challenge yourself to read in a genre you have often shied away from or try to balance your reading diet with a steady mix of fiction and non-fiction. Apps like “indiebooks” and “goodreads” can get you pointed in the right direction, as well as a talk with your neighborhood booksellers.

Here are some of our favorites:

Fiction:

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Fun Home (Graphic Novel) by Alison Bechdel

Fantasy:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Science Fiction:

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The City and The City by China Mieville

Non-Fiction:

Sugar Salt Fat by Michael Moss

How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

Professional Texts:

Already Ready by Katie Wood Ray and Matt Glover

Young Investigators by Judy Harris Helm and Lillian Katz

Opening Minds by Peter Johnston

Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz (c’mon! We had to!)

Common Core Aligned Units of Study for Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins and others (including Marjorie and Kristine, you will see our charts sprinkled across the books, as well as in our books: Grade 1: Writing Information Books (Kristine) and Grade 3: Crafting True Stories (Marjorie).

2. Use this time to get smarter about technology,

BLOG! Start one or read them:

We recommend checking out: twowritingteachers.wordpress.com, christopherlehman.wordpress.com, kateandmaggie.com, investigatingchoicetime.com, and www.heinemann.com/digitalcampus

Blogs (like this one) tend to be bite sized and easily digestible. Reading a few can inspire you to start your own (and let us know so we can follow you!)

TWEET! Or just follow along!

Kristine thought twitter was just a way to find out what Kim Kardashian was doing on a minute by minute basis, but it is actually so much more! There are chats almost every day talking about important educational topics. You can rub elbows with the celebrities of education: Kathy Collins, Kylene Beers, Seymour Simon, Fountas and Pinnell, and so many more!

If you would like to get your feet wet with twitter chats, you can check out one at 8:30 PM est on Monday June 17. Kristi will be hosting one that discusses building strong relationships with parents. She will be tweeting as @MrazKristine, Kristi and Marjorie will also be participating in the chat as @chartchums. Just type in #tcrwp to find the talk, or sign up to follow us!

Check out podcasts: for pleasure and for professional growth!

Podcasts can be a great way to pass a workout or long car ride. You can listen to ones on a myriad of topics and tune into ones that speak to your interests in particular. One we love (and will be featured on in the late summer) is the Choice Literacy podcast. You can find out more about this great resource at http://www.choiceliteracy.com/articles-popular-category.php?id=10018

3. Write: One can write for pleasure or for purpose, but it is essential that teachers of writing write as much as they can. You can join a writing club, start a blog, or pick up that diary that is dusty in your drawer. For a treasure trove of inspiration and models of writing, visit www.brainpickings.org . You will find advice from writers like Kurt Vonnegut, a description of James Joyce’s writing routine, and Joan Didion’s reasons for keeping a notebook.

You may not have much opportunity for charting over the next few months, so in the interim: Happy learning and happy resting!
Kristi and Marjorie


Whether Gearing Down or Revving Up…Setting kids up for independence

For some of you the 2012-2013 school year has come to a close, for others this week will be the last, and here in the northeast many schools won’t finish until the end of June. And then there are the many year-round schools across the country and lastly, summer school. So whether you are gearing down or revving up, here are a few ideas to encourage your students to practice what they have learned with increased independence using charts and checklists to help them along.

Setting kids up to have the mind frame that they can be in charge of their own learning and can help themselves solve problems as they arise is a life skill that will carry them far. At PS 176, an amazing school in Brooklyn where the majority of students are ELLs, Marjorie set the first graders up in Valeria’s class to ask themselves questions whenever they got stuck or weren’t sure how to solve a problem when reading and to use the charts and other resources in the classroom, not only as needed, but with flexibility as well. Bringing some of the strategy charts down and putting them back in front of the children also helps children reorient themselves to what you have taught. At this time of year, it is not so much new learning, as it is maintenance learning and review.

The left side highlights the questions, the right is one of the reading strategy charts.

The left side highlights the questions, the right is one of the reading strategy charts.

This idea of asking questions was extended to the writing workshop and used when the children were given a checklist to reflect on the poems they had written. The two key questions were “What have I learned about writing poems?” and “What do I still need to work on?” Putting the questions inside of speech bubbles was a visual reminder that these were questions that were to be spoken both to themselves and to their writing partners. The checklist includes examples and space for children to make tally marks each time they find a poem where they have used one of the strategies on the checklist. Rather than one “check and I am done!” it becomes “look how many times I have used repetition!”

Questions to ask when using a checklist.

Questions to ask when using a checklist.

Close-up of the checklist.

Close-up of the checklist.

Another area to build independence is with book clubs and conversations. Setting up a checklist to remind club members of how to get ready for a conversation and then to keep it going is one way to do this. In Florence’s first grade class at PS 176 Marjorie showed the children a system to get their talk going by having each child choose one of their big idea post-its and put it on a talk mat (in this case it was just a piece of paper with a star drawn in the middle). Then the club decides on which idea they want to start with and moves that post-it to the middle of the star. The goal is to talk as long as they can about this idea before moving on to the next big idea. The photo below shows what it looked like at the end of the lesson once the children had tried this out on a shared class book, Worm Builds by Kathy Caple (Brand New Readers). Some of the ideas generated by the class were, “Worm used to be worried, but now he is confident,” “Worm learned not to give up,” and “Friends should say sorry,” which they chose as the one to start the conversation with. Each club was then sent off with their own star talk mat and checklist to remind them of the steps without the need for a teacher nearby. The children in each book club were focused and intent, the talk energetic and dynamic.

Make your book club ROCK!

Make your book club ROCK!

In Pamela’s kindergarten class at PS 176 she was revving her children up for first grade by showing them ways they could post-it in their books during their final unit of study on character. The first lesson Marjorie taught was on noting character feelings and when a character’s feelings change. Once again she used some of her favorite books from the Brand New Readers series to model and practice with (Worm Builds and Piggy and Dad “Play Ball!” by Frank Remkiewicz). The photo below shows the beginning of a strategy chart. The chart includes not only visuals, but some sample post-its kids can refer to as examples. Pamela did a follow up lesson on revising some of the feeling words that were very general like “happy” and “really, really happy” since one of the goals of this unit was increasing vocabulary for her large percentage of English Language Learners. Another follow-up lesson was on using the post-its to do inferential retellings of stories.

Post-its help track when a character's feelings change.

Post-its help track when a character’s feelings change.

We hope this helps whether you are gearing down or revving up for the days ahead!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi


So your students are starting to read chapter books!…

We are so pleased to have the amazing Jennifer Serravallo back as a guest blogger this week sharing her expertise on reading comprehension with all of us. Jen is the author of the Independent Reading Assessment for grades 3, 4, and 5 in Fiction and Nonfiction (Scholastic, 2012, 2013) and of the Heinemann titles Teaching Reading in Small Groups (2010) and Conferring with Readers (2007). She’s a speaker and independent literacy consultant who worked for 8 years at the TCRWP. You can find her at http://www.jenniferserravallo.com or follow her @jserravallo. This week you can find her right here on chartchums! Welcome Jen!

So your students are starting to read chapter books!…

(But although it looks like reading, are they really getting it?)

It’s that time of year in many primary classrooms. The time when readers go from reading and re-reading stacks of short books at lower levels…and start reading (drumroll please) **chapter books!**

Kids wear this chapter book reading identity like a badge of honor. Teachers marvel at how many levels the students have progressed. Every line of students’ reading logs are filled with a single series being read at school and at home. And parents, with pride, buy their kid every book in the entire series he or she is obsessed with.

Can you tell what Luna's current reading passion is?

Can you tell what Luna’s current reading passion is?

BUT…. But now our conferences get trickier. We sit down, say “how’s it going?” and find that it’s harder to know – really know – if the student is getting it. In fact, what does getting it even mean now?

In this post, I’ll offer you a few tips to make sure that you’re supporting students’ comprehension in chapter books. Having a May and June of engaged readers and a summer of self-directed reading depends on it! (check out my friend Chris Lehman’s May 11 post on summer reading: http://christopherlehman.wordpress.com/)

1.    Make sure you are looking at whole book comprehension

Those running records you did at pre-chapter book levels meant kids were reading the whole book before retelling and/or answering some comprehension questions. But now that they’re in chapter book-land, they’re likely only reading an excerpt or a constructed passage for a running record. Comprehension questions don’t look at what happens across 60 pages – so now you need a new way to do that.

Stop and reflect spots help assess understanding of the whole book.

Stop and reflect spots help assess understanding of the whole book.

Consider planting sticky notes inside of chapter books that ask children to reach back into earlier pages to demonstrate how well a reader is able to accumulate information from across many pages, synthesize that information, and make meaning. You can create a chart to share these questions with students as tools for them to self-monitor their own comprehension, too!

Questions to ask yourself to check your understanding.

Questions to ask yourself to check your understanding.

  • What is happening now? What caused this to happen?
  • Why is ______ acting like this?
  • How has the character changed from the beginning of the story until now?
  • What is a lesson you learned after reading the whole book?

2.   Make sure you know your library well enough to pull off your conferences

It’s impossible to expect that you’ll know every single book in your entire library. But the good news about early chapter books is that you don’t have to. Try to aim to know popular series and levels.

If you’ve read one Magic Tree House, you’ve read them all (sorry, Mary Pope Osborne). Early chapter book series are predictable on purpose: They are meant to support children new to stories of this length with characters they know and plots that feel startlingly similar one to the next. Try to read at least one book from of each of the popular series and you’ll feel like you know a whole section of your library.

Second, try to have a two-book-per-level touchstone text. Know two titles from each level and think about what makes that level more challenging than the one before it. I find it helpful to think in terms of four categories:

  • Plot and Setting – what’s new in this level about how many events happen within and across chapters? Is the plot linear? How familiar are the settings and how much support is there to know the settings?
  • Character – how well-developed are the characters at this level as compared to the prior level? What changes do the characters go through? How important are secondary characters?
  • Vocabulary and Figurative Language – how frequently will a reader encounter challenging words or phrases? How much support is there in the text to figure out their meaning?
  • Themes and Ideas – What are the messages and lessons a reader should take away from the text? How clearly does the reader understand these?

3.   Make sure your students have an image of what it means to really understand whole books. 

The intersection between text complexity (what’s hard about the book) and a reader’s skill lies in what it looks like for the reader to truly understand. I meet fifth graders every week who describe a character in a book at level U as “nice.”  To me, that’s level K work in a level U text. And that equates to not really getting the book.

We need to hold students to the expectation that they have to demonstrate their comprehension (whether written or oral) that shows they’re making meaning equivalent to the meaning that can be made given the level. For example, you can’t expect a reader to explain character change at level K where characters don’t really change. But if a reader at level N can’t articulate how the character’s changed, then he’s missing out on some meaning.

Consider describing for students what it looks like to really be “getting it” and then showing an example. You might read aloud a book such as Judy Moody, and co-create rubrics that show varying levels of understanding. Kids can then monitor, and mentor, responses to their own books to those on the charts.

Here’s one for Plot and Setting:

The sample post-its provide examples of  expectations.

The sample post-its provide examples of expectations.

One for Character:

Understanding Character rubric.

Understanding Character rubric.

An example for Vocabulary and Figurative Language:

Vocabulary and Language rubric.

Vocabulary and Language rubric.

And Themes and Ideas:

Themes and Ideas for Level M readers to consider as they stop and jot.

Themes and Ideas for Level M readers to consider as they stop and jot.

Here’s to deeper comprehension, you chapter book readers!

Thanks Jen!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi


What’s Play Got To Do, Got To Do With It? (Answer: Everything)

Chartchums is usually written by Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli and represents our two voices, and the voices of the teachers we work with. Today a third voice is joining the chorus: Christine Hertz. Christine is an exemplary teacher, and a recent graduate of the Literacy Specialist Program at Columbia University. Christine worked with Kristi in her kindergarten classroom this year, and the post below is a result of their joint collaboration around increasing metacognition, independence, and student ownership in the classroom. The “we” voice will be used to represent the voice of Christine and Kristi.

We are on our third try at the opening paragraph of this post, and the proper beginning still remains elusive. Instead of a clear starting point to the work we did in kindergarten this year, its seems like it started in a million places, like strands of hair, before it gathered into the braid of the post below. So perhaps the best way to start, is with the strands first.

We, as educators and lifelong learners, were worried. New standards, new tests, new materials, new initiatives, new everything it seemed! As we looked between the standards and the children in front of us, some clear areas of need arose. Our children needed increased independence, the ability to think about their thinking, and above all the ownership of their process if they were to navigate their way through increasing sophisticated standards. We knew what we wanted, but as we watched these four and five year olds make meaning in writing, knock over blocks and build them again, and be entranced by a window washer during a particulary well planned standards based lesson, we got even more worried. How does one achieve rigor responsibly? How does one make sure children meet standards joyfully? How do you help children achieve all that they can, all that is asked, without sacrificing the fact they are children?

The standards are here, and children are going to always be children. How do we reconcile seemingly disparate ideas? We cannot will them away, nor can we ignore them, nor can we make children miniature adults by taking away time to play and talk. Rather we have to utilize the very thing that makes childhood special to meet these standards: play.

In our classroom, there was a particular buzz around Star Wars. Choice Time play often involved reenacting of the movies, Lucas-ian plotlines permeated writing workshop, look book time found boys and girls alike huddled around Star Wars books. Simultaneously, the class was nearing a reading unit that focused on using meaning, structure, and visual cues to read books. (A requirement of the Foundational Standards, and also some of the Reading Standards).

In the classroom, we had already begun work around student-led small groups. Students who felt they had achieved expertise in something would offer to hold a small group and children could sign up for it. Through her masters work, Christine had discovered that for children to increase their metacognition and ownership over a skill– for example when to employ a certain strategy– they needed to take on the role of the teacher and control someone else’s use of that same strategy. (This is not a new discovery, but rather follows Vygosky’s theory of the development of self-regulation). We realized that for children to gain an independent mastery of the standards, they needed to be able to teach them to others. And they needed to do so in a imaginative, playful way.

And then it hit us…. like Yoda. We wondered, would it be possible to merge the two things? The love and constant role play of Star Wars and the work these young readers needed to meet the kindergarten standards?

We started the unit solidifying and making public knowledge some very specialized Star Wars information: There are people called Jedis and they train and train and train to become Masters. Some even become so wise that they teach others, like Yoda. Then the path was set  - we would work to become Reading Yodas and we would teach others all we had learned.

We assessed readers prior to the unit, and determined what a reasonable goal might be for each child to achieve in a 3-4 week unit. We then met with the students to set goals, using the child’s language to help him or her begin to own the work.photo-87

Once everyone had a goal (a 2-3 day endeavor) we revisited the path of the Jedi:

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We received a little inspiration from the Master himself:

And, of course, light sabers to help us on our quest:

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Everything in the unit was themed to Star Wars, including the strategies:

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And as children became more and more proficient at the skills needed to reach their goals, they moved to become Yodas. To complete that transformation, the students had to create their own “how-to” around their goal and teach it to us. Once they had successfully taught us their goal, they earned their Yoda ears, and any Jedi could come to learn from them. And, of course, every time the newly-eared Yodas taught a Jedi, they solidified their own mastery of their skill.

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Here is one Yoda teaching another student about how you have to use the pictures and the words to really understand what is happening in the book:

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Within three weeks, all the children were able to teach their goal to someone else clearly and had earned their Yoda ears.

image_3The time had come to celebrate, and celebrate we did with a phone call from Yoda himself:

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We wrapped with a party and everyone took home their Yoda ears and a Star Wars book, but what remained was a very particular stance towards reading. Weeks after the unit ended I heard one student say to another, “It’s like Yoda said, do hard things you can.”

Within the unit a few things struck us:

- Engagement: there was no lag between minilesson and independent reading time. Students rushed to read and were emphatic about practicing their goals. By the end of the unit, the goal sheets were tattered and ripped from use, which is a good thing.

- Ownership: there was an increased confidence in students around their particular skill, and a sense of others having skills you could learn from. In shared reading, one student shouted out, “Yoda Jacob should chop that word – he’s the expert!”

- Joy: Yes, it was a word solving unit, no, no child realized that. There were no dittos to fill out or graphic organizers, rather there was the unadulterated pleasure of role playing being a Jedi, and later being a Yoda who taught others.

- Movement between levels: Not surprisingly, within this unit 18 out of 24 students moved up one reading level. They read and they worked passionately, without complaint – because they thought they were playing.

For your class it may be Star Wars, or Angry Birds, or Dora, but there is SOMETHING that your class is passionate about. Something that permeates the culture of your class and seeps out at choice time or around the lunch table or on the playground. It is our job as educators to find the joy, the play, and the access point for young children to achieve sophisticated standards. Our kids can do all that is asked of them and more, but only if we are creative and passionate enough to hold on to play and to redefine rigor.

Happy Charting, and Happy Playing!

Kristi, Christine, and Marjorie


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