Non-Fiction, Non-Problem Revisited

We were thrilled to see and reconnect with so many teachers and Chartchums followers at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Workshop 86th Saturday Reunion. We were inspired by Kathy Collins who reminded us that we are teaching children for life, not just for school and she suggested we find the simplicity, the essential elements that stand the test of time, like Shaker Furniture, in our teaching. We agree and try to do that with the charts we create. This week we are revisiting an earlier post on nonfiction charts that can support both reading and writing since many of you have told us you are trying to help your children actively read and write informational texts.

With the adoption of the common core state standards, many schools have seen an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading and writing. Many of the schools we work with across the country are beefing up nonfiction libraries, working on nonfiction writing year round, and incorporating plenty of nonfiction into their read aloud and shared reading time. What can happen when we teach nonfiction is that we get caught up on the content and forget the valuable reading skills that children can gain from reading informational books and will further develop through the reading of just right nonfiction texts. In this post you will find a variety of nonfiction reading and writing charts intended to support a classroom of second graders, but can easily be tweaked to support any grade level.

Reading:

A chart to support learning key details in nonfiction.

A chart to support learning key details in nonfiction.

This chart supports a classroom of children who, when asked, “What is this book teaching?” give the most basic and undeveloped of answers. You may teach, and subsequently chart, that the questions nonfiction readers ask themselves to make sure they are getting all the information the author is offering. The quick sketches could be from a read aloud that you did ahead of time, or you could even use the photos from that book. You may need to teach all of these questions, just a few, or maybe none at all.  As you may recall from a previous post, the magic number on a chart is four (+/- 1).  More than five things on any chart means that one thing is likely to be forgotten or never used. Sometimes less really is more. After teaching this big work, you may do what Alyssa did (our guest blogger from a few posts back) and make a smaller version of these questions for certain readers to keep with them at all times.

A chart-in-progress to support determining importance.

A chart-in-progress to support determining importance.

This is a chart that might be used to support nonfiction readers who hang on to the coolest fact as the most important one. You know the experience; after reading an entire book about sharks you ask about the most important information, and all you hear echoed back is the one line about how sharks can smell a drop of blood from miles away. (true- its why Kristine gets knee deep in the ocean and then runs back out). The tricky part is, for some children, that is THEIR most important part, but that may not be what the author was trying to emphasize. There are a few strategies listed to tie children back into the text. Depending on the level and style of nonfiction book your children are reading, these strategies may not work. If your children’s books have no headings, well then using the heading is going to be awfully hard. It is helpful to study your students’ materials before jumping into your teaching. Again, this chart would be stickier and stronger if the samples were from texts you read aloud or from leveled texts you used during your lessons.

When teaching any strategies around a big skill, it is helpful to think about teaching a few and then spending a day or two reminding children to use the chart and to choose whichever strategy will work for them in the book they are reading now.

Writing:

A chart to help students write stronger introductions.

A chart to help students write stronger introductions.

Starting in Kindergarten, children are expected to name a topic, then in first and second grade the CCSS talks specifically about children being able to introduce a nonfiction topic in their writing. It seems worth assessing if children can do this well. If not, you might teach, and then chart, some of the above strategies. This chart could look many different ways. This one lists the strategies out of context, but you could take a great nonfiction introduction from a read aloud, write it on chart paper, and mark the same things in context on that introduction. If one introduction doesn’t support the strategies you want to teach, you could mimic Rosie’s chart, “Leads to Hook Your Reader!” from “Checking in On Charts”  and replace the fiction mentors with nonfiction ones. Finally, you could use student work to show examples of what each of these things look like in action. There is a very fine line between inspiration and copying, and when children mimic examples that you have posted they are using them as a powerful scaffold. The next introduction they write may not need to lean so heavily on the models.

A chart to support elaboration in nonfiction.

A chart to support elaboration in nonfiction.

The standards for nonfiction writing mention “developing” your topic, which to us sounds like elaboration. For each strategy, there are multiple ways this can be done. For example, to give definitions you could: use a word box, a glossary, or an in-text definition. Even when something is named in the standard, like definitions, we want to give children choice in how they approach it in their own work. To make this more powerful, you could again use mentor texts that you have studied or samples from student work. There are countless ways to elaborate nonfiction writing, so the best place to start is with assessing the ways your writers use and don’t use elaboration strategies. You can scour nonfiction texts for examples to share and then put them on the chart with a descriptor so children will be able to recreate it in their own work.

Just like with the reading skills, when you teach a big skill like elaboration you may want to spend a few days teaching all the different ways, and then another day or two in using the chart to make smart choices in our own writing.

Remember Kathy Collins’s suggestion to find simplicity when teaching. Charts don’t have to be fancy or perfect, but they do need to be simple.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz


Transforming Charts into Tools

Class charts are just that – for the class, the whole class. They capture your teaching and provide a resource for children when they need a quick reminder, a guide for how to do something, or an exemplar to view as a model. We have talked about ways to make charts interactive with the use of post-its and making smaller table-top versions or individual copies for kids folders or book baggies. While all these options have been used successfully, there are always children who need something else, a variation, or a complete new kind of chart. Turning charts into tools that can match individual needs is one way to do this.

Marjorie recently worked with some first grade teachers at PS 256 in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn who were trying to figure out some ways to get the kids rereading their books repeatedly without just repeatedly reading each and every book in the exact same way. The whole purpose of multiple reads of a text is that both fluency and comprehension improve. In other words, the reading gets better. How to solve the problem then of when a small group of students don’t seem to understand the value in rereading their books multiple times and therefore not progressing as readers? For this small group of children something else was needed. The teachers and Marjorie came up with the idea of teaching the children a routine for rereading that laid out a different focus for each time a book was read.

They came up with five different ideas for rereading a book. A first read was usually figuring out the words, the second read was often to smooth out the reading, the third time was to look more closely at the pictures adding to their understanding of what the book was about, the fourth time was to read with expression, matching one’s voice to tone and mood, and lastly rereading to post-it important parts worth thinking and talking more about. Marjorie then sketched out a bookmark with these five ways to reread a book. The teachers immediately thought that all their students could benefit from such a support, but for some children, five ways might be too much. Variations were made by simply removing some of the options, so that there was one kind of bookmark that had only three ways and one that had four ways to reread a book.

Rereading Bookmarks

Also, how the children used the bookmarks could be adjusted depending on needs. For example, in one class there were a few children who would benefit from rereading each book three times in a row and using a paper clip to keep track and prompt them to keep going. Another class thought the sliding paper clip idea might work for all the children and make it feel like a game.

Individual bookmarks printed on card stock with paper clips that slide up and down.

Individual bookmarks printed on card stock with paper clips that slide up and down.

The bookmarks became helpful tools to put into each child’s hands and set them up to take on more ownership of their reading and responsibility for rereading with intention and purpose. And each bookmark could quickly and easily be adjusted depending on needs and reading levels. Any chart can be transformed into a tool and even more importantly, be customized for each student.

Happy charting!

Marjorie & Kristi


Charts as Pathways to Success

In the NCTE position paper on Formative Assessment (October 21, 2013) there is a handy list of ten elements that make up formative assessment. Number five on the list reads:

Requires development of plans for attaining the desired goals.

Hallelujah, we say! So often all we think about is what kids need, or what we need, without quite figuring out how to get there. Its like saying, “I need a million dollars” without having any actual plan to save money, increase your income, or play the lottery. Sad to say making a wish or stating a need alone does not get you the million dollars (but if it does, we will leave our contact information in the comments). Carol Dweck, author of Mindset (2007), and all around intellectual crush of Kristi’s and Marjorie both, speaks to this idea as well. She cites research from Peter Gollwitzer that finds just declaring you will change results in no change at all. Knowing how to get what you need is as critical as knowing what you need. More from Mindset:

                       What works is making a vivid, concrete plan: “Tomorrow during my break, I’ll get a cup of tea, close the door to my office, and call the graduate school.” Or in another case: “On Wednesday morning, right after I get up and brush my teeth, I’ll sit at my desk and start writing my report.” … Think of something you need to do, something you want to learn, or a problem you have to confront. What is it? Now make a concrete plan. When will you follow through on your plan? Where will you do it? How will you do it? Think about it in vivid detail….These concrete plans – plans you can visualize – about when, where, and how you are going to do something lead to really high levels of follow through, which, of course, ups the chance of success (Dweck, p. 228).

This, dear friends, is where charts come in!

Co-creating a personalized or class chart helps children visualize the attainment of whatever goal they have, which in turn will lead to increased follow through and success. We write down recipes and directions for a reason. It is not enough to know you want to make lasagna, you need the steps to be successful. Once your formative assessments have helped you and your students identify areas of need, charts help everyone get there, they provide the steps. We refer to these particular charts as process charts, and have more about them in our upcoming book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies.

Some Tips:

1. Use your goal (or destination) as your heading. This keeps the focus on the big idea, not the ticky tacky bits that make it up.

2. Use numbers or arrows when appropriate, these small reminders help children be organized in their thinking and their work.

3. Co-construct the chart so that the children visualize alongside you, using their language as much as possible to make the chart meaningful and personal.

4. Use visuals that break down the steps quickly and easily.

Some Examples:

Supporting an Individual  Child’s Growth in Reading

ncte blogpost2

Step 1: The Formative Assessment:

Kristi found that this student had a host of snap words he knew by heart in isolation, but when it came time to reading books, all that knowledge flew out the window. His running records showed many miscues for words that he knew on sight. Usage of these words as he read would help his comprehension and his accuracy. As an English Language Learner, this child was at a disadvantage in relying on his syntax, but sight words could be a strength for him to depend on.

Step 2: The Plan

Kristi sat with this child to explain the conundrum, ending with the reason why snap words matter to readers. It helps us understand and read the book, saving our brain energy for the tricky words. The child and Kristi co-constructed a plan: first warm up to remember all the words he knows, then take a book walk to see if he could find any of those words in the book he wanted to read, then read the book.

The when: Before you read

The where: On the snap word list, and in the books

The how: Warm-up and then go!

Supporting Whole Class Growth in Comparing and Contrasting

ncte blogpost1

 

Step 1: The Formative Assessment

Marjorie asked a group of students to compare and contrast two photos of classrooms from long ago and today and found that many children struggled. Some did not know what to write, some just wrote about one photo, some described what they thought was happening.

Step 2: The Plan

Marjorie designed lessons around the lenses children could use to look at photos, emphasizing that when you look between two items, you always want to ask yourself: what is the same? what is different?

The when: Whenever you have two things in front of you, it is a worthy endeavor to figure out out how they are the same and how they are different.

The where: In social studies, science, reading, writing, math – any of these times could work for comparing two things.

The how: Go slowly and systematically, when you try to see everything you see nothing. Choose one lens at a time and repeat the plan as needed.

Just One More Reason To Love Charts!

Charts are not just descriptive: here is how we did something, they can also be prescriptive: here is how to do something. In a classroom you may have charts that represent both ideas, but the important thing is that you have charts. Charts serve as a way to grow independence, but also as models of ways to achieve success. A thoughtful recording of the where, when, and how is a skill that will help children (and teachers!) for a lifetime.

Share your thoughts in the comments below! Happy Charting!
Kristi and Marjorie


Dear Chartchums: Queries, Questions, and a Few Answers, Too!

We love being part of a digital age that allows us to connect with teachers across the world via Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Besides the many notes of support and thanks sent our way, we also receive lots of questions sent by teachers who are constantly exploring ways to improve their practice in order to help their students become more knowledgeable and independent each and every day. This week’s blog attempts to answer some of these questions in the hope that these could be useful to most teachers out there in the world. Our thanks to all of your for your continued passion and commitment to what matters most – our students!

From Facebook:

“Trying to address all areas requested by admin…learning targets, essential questions, look fors???? Help!!!!”

It can be hard to balance the many demands placed on us as teachers. When it comes to charts, we have one clear answer: charts are for students first and foremost and be wary to clutter them with things children do not need. Something like an essential question can be posted in the same area as the charts. If it is an over-arching central question, then it can go on its own small paper using shared or interactive writing to compose it. Essential questions are what our teaching (and our charts) strive to help children answer, so having that posted and clear is helpful.

As for learning targets, those goals are often what inspire the headings on any one chart. If you have a learning target to help students write with sight words, spaces, and most sounds represented by a letter, then the chart heading will address that target: “I can write in an easy to read way!” and the bullets underneath address the specific ways to do that. You can always go to your administrator to show the ways you are co-constructing meaning and purpose with your students on your charts! If your administrator wants it written in fancy teacher language, you can always post a small sign outside your doorway which conveys this information to the adults entering the room. This will help clarify the difference between communications helpful to adults and communications helpful to children.

The chart below makes it very clear the focus being studied in this class. Using the title of a current unit of study is one way to satisfy an area that is often a “look for” when administrators visit a classroom.

The heading makes it clear what is being studied and the arrows help reinforce the ongoing process.

The heading makes it clear what is being studied and the arrows help reinforce the ongoing process.

How do I order the e-book version of Smarter Charts?

It can be ordered directly from Heinemann.com. To get it on an iPad you just have to download “Bluefire Reader” a free app.

Two questions from the Chartchums blog:

“I’d love to see a post on charting in the older grades. Many of our intermediate teachers struggle with this. Love your book…blog…everything!”

“Hi! I love the charts and I wanted to purchase your book. We transitioned to Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop this year. I teach 6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies and I wanted to purchase your book but I saw it’s for K-2. Is it still beneficial for 6th grade? If not, is there something that you can recommend I purchase. I love making charts, but I want to make sure that they are effective and I would love some guidance. Thank you!”

If there is one thing we have learned since the publication of Smarter Charts, it is that the principals of good charting hold true regardless of the grade or the age of the students.  This is because the principals are based not only on educational pedagogy, but on brain science, design theory, and advertising results; all having the overarching goal that information be presented efficiently and effectively in order to see results. The result we are all after is that what we are teaching (or selling) is remembered and used long after it has been taught (or sold).

What this means on a very basic level is that the effectiveness of a chart is directly related to its accessibility and its impact or use by the learner. What we sometimes see on charts as we travel up the grades is an increase of print and a decrease of visuals. There is very little research that supports this trend. All learning is aided by visuals. John Medina (Brain Rules, 2008) did studies where he gave adults a written  text and found that 72 hours later they recalled 10% of the information, but when he added visuals participants recalled 65% after 72 hours.

Below is a middle school chart created to support writing from an upcoming Middle School units of study book (Calkins, Ehrenworth, Minor, 2014). The visuals were carefully considered and only added to make the text more memorable. They were not added as mere decoration or to make the chart look pretty. The visuals incorporated were added to trigger students’ memory of the steps or the strategies they could draw upon if stuck or if they forgot what to do, efficiently and effectively. With use these strategies will become internalized and the chart will no longer be needed.

This editing checklist reminds students of critical points to attend to as they ready their pieces for publication.

This editing checklist reminds students of critical points to attend to as they ready their pieces for publication.

From the Chartchums blog:

I am interested in having my students participate more in the chart making. Right now they do a lot of suggesting in terms of content, illustrations, etc. But I think having their handwriting will make it more authentic and engaging. Suggestions/advice?

One idea is to create the chart through interactive writing where kids share the pen with you. This works well when you want the children to participate in the composition of the chart, have the kids’ hands show, but also want the conventions correct because the chart will be hanging up in the room as a model. You can also ask kids to make drawings to add to the chart or include copies of their work. This also contributes to students feeling empowered and known as those who can and do. Kids are drawn to emulate their classmates and quickly get the message that the classroom is full of teachers and models we can learn from. The chart below was written with students in Kristi’s classroom using interactive writing to highlight one student’s strategy for writing. Not only does the chart involve the students, but it makes a student famous by naming the strategy after him.

Alejandro's strategy is shared for all to try.

Alejandro’s strategy is shared for all to try.

How can we arrange for you to come to our school/district to present a PD day on charting?

We are available for full day author visits. You can contact Kathy Neville at Kathy@readingandwritingproject.com for pricing and availability.

Charting matters!

We hope these questions and answers help provide some direction and spark further ideas as to the many ways we can use charts to help our students learn what we are teaching, help themselves help themselves, and provide guidelines that will aid in developing realistic goals. Keep your questions coming and share your charting insights and solutions as well, so we can share again in the future.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi


Chart(chums) In Action

Hello Everyone!

As the deadline nears for our next book (working title: Smarter Charts, Too!) we find ourselves a little strapped for time! This does not mean we are not going to continue to bring you great resources for your classroom, but rather it may occasionally be in different forms. Here are some of the options for keeping up with the latest thinking in charts and tools for independent readers and writers:

Come See Us!

We (Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli) will be featured speakers  at the Literacy for All Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. If you will be in attendance, you can see us on November 4th and 5th. On Monday we will present a workshop titled “Visible Learning: Charts in Action” (which will be repeated on Tuesday) and then on Tuesday a workshop titled “Beyond the Basics: Optimizing Classroom Charts for Independence.” We hope to see you there!

We will also be presenting at the NCTE Conference on November 23rd in Boston, Massachusetts, with Maria Paula Ghiso and Patricia Martinez-Alvarez. Our workshop title is “Writing Workshop Is for All Students: Using Visuals, Oral Language, and Digital Tools to Maximize Success and Independence for English Language Learners.”  If you have never had the chance to attend a NCTE Conference, it is definitely worth investigating!

We will also be signing copies of Smarter Charts at both conferences.

Tweet With Us

Chartchums’ twitter account (@chartchums) has been busily tweeting away. We are in the middle of our Fall project: chart-a-day, in which we tweet or retweet particularly powerful classroom charts. Here is a little taste of what we have tweeted thus far:

ImageCharts that go across genres!

ImageCharts that have interactive components like moveable arrows!

Image

Growing charts across days!

We are 20 days in, which means 20 days of great classroom charts that can help you think (and rethink) about your classroom walls and resources. We hope you will join us on twitter and tweet your powerful charts at us, so we can share them with the world!

Now, back to our manuscript!

Happy Charting!

Kristi and Marjorie


Getting Off to the “Write” Start

In many writing classrooms the year starts off with children sharing personal memories and writing stories and teachers modeling how to find stories if stuck, how to tell a story sequentially, and how to elaborate a story using step by step actions and descriptive details. There are a few key charts you may want to consider making with your students to support this ambitious work – a writing process chart, a strategy chart, an exemplar chart, and a conventions chart.

Helping children understand that writing is a process is important work, especially at the beginning of the year. Donald Murray, author of A Writer Teaches Writing (1968, 2004), first described this process as a way of breaking down writing into understandable steps, to show how writing is made so he could teach others. Writers collect ideas, draft, revise, and edit. While there are many variations of the writing process this is a good basic one to teach our young writers. It lets them know that writing is not perfect the first time pictures and words are put down on paper, that it takes lots of starts and stops, trials and errors, before it ends up published. We typically show the writing process as a circle to emphasize its endlessness, although we know that that there are many times writers jump around for example from revising to editing, then back to more revising. The most important thing we want our student writers to know is that when a writer finishes one piece the cycle starts all over again. Below is a chart that Kristi made that continues to be a favorite of many teachers.

Kristi's writing process chart.

A possible writing process chart.

Another chart you will definitely need is a strategy chart, or what we now refer to as a repertoire chart. As we described in Smarter Charts, this kind of chart records a list of strategies for a big skill, which allows children to self-select the strategy that matches what they need to do. It also typically grows over multiple lessons. Increasing children’s skill of elaboration is one goal that encourages revision.

strategy chart

Setting clear expectations for what a well-written story looks and sounds like is best accomplished by showing children examples of books written by other children their same age. Then, by looking at the exemplar piece of writing together and naming what the writer has done to make it so good, can really underscore all that you have been teaching and even provide ideas for other things to teach and for students to learn. Once the piece of writing is annotated it becomes an exemplar chart that children can compare their own writing to or refer to when looking for other things they could try.

A writing sample that has been annotated with the students' noticings.

A writing sample that has been annotated with the students’ noticings.

Editing is an important part of the writing process because writing is meant to be read by others. This means that writers work hard to make their writing easier to read by trying to make their pictures clear with enough details to show what is happening and where. They also write in a way that makes the words easier to read, like using spaces, punctuation, and the best spelling they know how to do. Creating a chart that highlights strategies for these types of conventions will be a useful tool for all your students. This is the type of chart that is often turned into an editing checklist to be used regardless of genre.

This is a typed version of a chart that encourages children to make their writing easy to read.

This is a typed version of a chart that encourages children to make their writing easy to read.

When deciding which charts you will need it always helps to start with the big goals of your unit and to use these as your guide for selecting which charts might be needed most. Too many charts can be overwhelming and become more like print pollution than helpful scaffolds. And, as with any chart, make sure you and your students refer to each chart often, celebrating their use by all.

Happy charting!

Marjorie & Kristi


“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


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


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

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June 2013

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Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi


Charting Science Writing

We have received many requests from teachers looking for ways to use charts that reinforce their teaching of information writing, so when Katie Wears, a staff developer at the Reading and Writing Project, shared with us some photos of science writing charts her teachers at Kiel Elementary School in Kinnelon, New Jersey had made during their “Writing Like Scientists” unit, we immediately asked if they would share their process with all of us at here at Chartchums. They generously agreed and the following guest blog post is the result. Our thanks to Liz Mason, first grade teacher, Jenna McMahon and Nicole Gillette, second grade co-teachers, and to Katie Wears for bringing us all together!

We are honored to be contributing to Chartchums; a place where educators from all over come to collaborate and be inspired by Marjorie, Kristi, teachers, and the students they work with. Thank you for letting us share some of the things we have been working on.

When spring arrived, the teachers at Kiel Elementary School were excited to think more about science and science writing. We planned with each other and brainstormed many possibilities for the science units and how to inspire science writing and thinking. Currently, First Grade is finishing up their study of Properties of Matter and Second Grade is studying Forces and Motion.

One goal was to help students better understand the scientific process and be able to feel successful with this “new” kind of writing. We created these two charts to provide a scaffold for the students and to support independence with the scientific process and writing about science.

"The Scientific Writing Method" chart with a couple of close-ups to show the tips.

“The Scientific Writing Method” chart with a couple of close-ups to show the tips.

Introducing the scientific process with some prompts to use when talking and writing.

Introducing the scientific process with some prompts to use when talking and writing.

Exemplars were created to give the young scientists a vision of how their writing could go. This chart was created to support students with the procedure part of the lab report. It was exciting to see the children discuss the things they noticed in the exemplars and put those things into their own lab reports. The children were eager to use the exemplars as models for their own writing, to set goals, and to become independent. Young scientists looked at their own writing alongside the exemplars and used the exemplars to give their partners “stars” and “wishes” or compliments and tips.

This exemplar chart provides clear expectations and suggestions for including procedural writing.

This exemplar chart provides clear expectations and suggestions for including procedural writing.

Here are some other exemplars that were created during the first part of our units.

This exemplar has been annotated with the class' observations.

This exemplar has been annotated with the class’ observations.

Close-up of the annotations written on post-it notes.

Close-up of the annotations written on post-it notes.

This shows how technical drawings are labeled.

This shows how technical drawings are labeled.

Another goal of this unit was to increase academic vocabulary. These charts and tools give students the vocabulary they need to share their learning and thinking during discussions and through their writing. The vocabulary was introduced and reinforced through real alouds, shared reading, video clips, experiments and writing. The young scientists use these charts to show everything they know.

Two different ways to highlight  science vocabulary.

Two different ways to highlight science vocabulary.

Descriptive vocabulary to use when observing like a scientist.

Descriptive vocabulary to use when observing like a scientist.

We also wanted the young scientists to be able to use writing and the scientific process to be able to deepen their understanding and thinking. Scientists analyzed their results to draw conclusions and share their thinking. The writing on this chart was done with Jenna’s second grade class during shared writing. The chart was then created during writing minilessons when Jenna and Nicole were teaching students how to develop their conclusions and revise their thinking. They give students a model of how to share their learning through their writing.

Annotating the shared writing helps reinforce the teaching.

Annotating the shared writing helps reinforce the teaching.

Small versions of the charts were made and are available for the young scientists to use.

Another fun way to create table charts.

Another fun way to create table charts.

The young scientists are now using these charts and tools to support each other and work collaboratively in science clubs. In their clubs they make decisions, have different roles, formulate questions, and go through the process of gathering the materials to conduct experiments.

Science reading clubs came up with their own group names.

Science reading clubs created their own group names.

The prompts on the charts guide the students and help them have more meaningful scientific conversations about their learning and discoveries. As a result, each student has developed an identity as a scientist who is curious about the world and knows how to search for answers and share scientific results and thinking with others.

Best of luck,

Liz, Jenna, Nicole, and Katie


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