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.
Once everyone had a goal (a 2-3 day endeavor) we revisited the path of the Jedi:
We received a little inspiration from the Master himself:
And, of course, light sabers to help us on our quest:
Everything in the unit was themed to Star Wars, including the strategies:
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.
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:
Within three weeks, all the children were able to teach their goal to someone else clearly and had earned their Yoda ears.
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
In the sports world this month may be referred to as March Madness, but in the world of schools it is March Marvels. March is a marvelous month for children and teachers alike because this is the time of year we traditionally see great spurts of growth in our children, both physically and academically. They are taller, speak more eloquently, and can read, write and compute at new levels of achievement. And teachers can marvel that all their efforts are paying off. With this in mind we thought we would share some charts that celebrate effort and expectations as we head forward towards Spring.
For most teachers increasing children’s reading stamina is an ongoing goal because of its importance in strengthening their reading abilities and fluency. In fact it is often something that was fussed over quite a bit at the beginning of the year as routines and expectations for reading workshop time were set up. We saw many a stamina reading chart hanging up in classrooms during these beginning months of school. But, as with most charts from the beginning of the year they were replaced by more current charts that focused on critical reading strategies and skills. But as students are preparing to read more difficult and varied texts the issue of stamina is one worth revisiting. Making a chart that records the increasing time spent reading (or writing) announces to the world that this is something important and increasing the time reading books is worth striving towards as a class.
Below we show some examples of charts that celebrate the effort being put forth by classrooms to increase their time reading books. Again, the message being put forth is that this is something important and that together we can accomplish great things and we thank the amazing teachers, Jung Choe, first grade, and CTT team Sarah Carolan and Lindsay Brickell, at PS 59 for sharing these with us.
This first chart shows a delightful bear on a bicycle riding on a meandering path. The markers show the times achieved, the current reading times, and the times the class hopes to reach. This chart did not just arrive one day because it was cute and fun. This CTT/Inclusion class spent time talking about their reading, how long they used to read for, how long they can now read for, and what it was like to keep reading even when they got tired or distracted. Together they decided to try to increase their time reading like they try to ride for longer times on their bicycles in the park.
In another first grade classroom the teacher used a favorite character, Pigeon from the Mo Willems series, to pump up her children’s enthusiasm for the challenge ahead – to read longer without stopping. Again, the goals were developed with the children and they took turns keeping track of their reading stamina. This is a chart that is referred to often and steps moved up when the class is able to maintain the increased time consistently for the week. In other words, this is not something we do once, give a shout out, and call it a day. This is something that will take time to become a habit, to reach a goal. It requires effort.
Kristi also found a need to increase reading stamina among her students, so she created with her class of Kinders a plan that increases stamina by reading in increasing increments of time by including independent reading, partner reading, and library reading time. By providing varied opportunities to read in various situations, the children are encouraged to keep reading for increasingly longer periods of time. Again, the more children read, the longer they read for, and this increases their ability to read successfully and well. It also allows the teacher increased time to confer and teach small groups.
These are but a few examples of how teachers are setting challenges and celebrating effort in order to help their students, not only set goals, but develop agency and a ‘can do’ attitude that will be a life skill that each and every child can carry with them throughout their life. Let us know what other ways you are sparking your students to increase effort and drive to accomplish set goals.
Until next time, happy charting!
Marjorie & Kristi
Happy New Year! It’s been a while, we know, but we are back and so appreciate your sticking with us through our absence! As happens, life happened, and the hiatus gave us a chance to get some things in order. Actually, it was because of life that Kristi had to miss a few days with her kindergarten class which got her really thinking about how important independence, routine, and expectations are for children. No one loves the day after a substitute, and that feeling forced Kristi to ask: “What do I ‘own’ in the classroom and what do the children ‘own’?” This lead her to explore this question with her colleagues and we are all the fortunate recipients of all they tried.
Charts and tools are one way we look to transfer ownership over to children, as well as to provide opportunities for self-reflection and goal setting. The teacher can not be the regulator, corrector, and director at all times. Children learn to become responsible when given responsibility. With this in mind, Kristi and her colleagues dove in using that idea as a guiding principle. Below are some of the things that resulted from this inquiry.
Helping Reading Workshop Become More Independent
Self-assessment is a tricky thing – for adults too! – and so creating a rubric that would help kindergarten children assess their reading time seemed like a daunting challenge. Kristi first tried this:
Almost every child immediately selected “Superhero,” with a few exceptions who labeled themselves as strong. Kristi realized that self-assessment without some practice was going to be hard, so then she created this chart with her class:
To make it even more concrete, the class decided that more than 3 reminders from the teacher to read books would make it an “okay” day. Between 1 and 3 teacher reminders would make it “strong” and no reminders would make it a “superhero” kind of day. Alongside this chart was a chart that listed ways to stick with reading even when you felt tired or hungry. After a week or two of group assessment, children were ready to self-assess with more honest, reflective results.
This time of year is also the time when many teachers are working on partnerships. The always wise team of kindergarten teachers that Kristi works alongside at PS 59 in Manhattan developed some playful tools to help partners be productive and stay engaged.
The folder made partnerships feel a bit like a game and the partner activities inside were taught a few at a time, then the process of working with a partner was revisited throughout the unit.
Helping Writing Workshop Become More Independent
Kristi’s mom, who was a teacher for many years, always advised her to “teach yourself out of a job”. It is a beautiful concept, but one that can feel frustrating when you have 24 five year olds clamoring for your care and attention. Kristi used her all about unit in writing (a genre many of her children had been dabbling with since September) to teach towards independence. This happened in several ways. First, Kristi stopped teaching children how to write, and started teaching them how to teach each other. Children who had experimented with something that would be great for the whole class to know were invited to teach alongside Kristi during some minilessons. Then the class reflected on who they learned from, what the apprentice teachers did to teach them, and how they did it. The chart below shows how Kristi made this public with her students.
After that, Kristi started getting children ready to lead small groups. She selected a few children who had something they could teach and met with them in a small group. The first step was to identify HOW to teach. The children thought through WHEN writers should do what they did and HOW to do what they did. Then the other students signed up for these student led seminars (keep in mind that these are Kindergarten students).
The “teachers” showed their own work and taught the others how to do it. Kristi coached in to the seminar teachers with prompts like, “Ask her to try it” and “Say your steps again.” It was incredible to see how the children rose to the occasion of being teachers, and how much more likely children were to use what they were taught when it was presented by a peer. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but it was a start. Kristi is planning to do student-led seminar workshops every Friday, starting with writing and extending to reading and choice time over the next month. She’ll keep you posted on how it goes!
Making Choice Time Matter
Kristi’s brilliant assistant principal, Alison Porcelli, wrote the book on choice time – literally – with Cheryl Tyler. It’s called Language Acquisition in the Choice Time Workshop and everyone should buy it and read it RIGHT NOW. One BIG idea in the book is that children should be setting goals and reflecting on them within choice time. Since Kristi’s kindergarteners are staying in the same centers for 3-5 days, they were ready to take this on. First planning a project was modeled, and then the children took it on. Goals ranged from building on to a city in the block center to throwing a wedding in the drama center. Art center caught wedding fever and decided to spend the week making decorations, cakes, and clothes for the event.
This hung in their center while they worked. At the end of the week they told Kristi what to take a picture of to show how they had met their project goal.
Kristi’s next step is to hand the camera to the children so they can capture the work they did that meets their project goals.
A Final Word
This has all been messy and, at times, terrifying – but it has always, always been fun. Kristi’s colleagues at PS 59 have put their brains together to develop ideas, put themselves out there to try it, and laughed when the results were a disaster (most of the disasters were happening in Kristi’s room). Kristi cannot say enough about the brilliant team she works with: Kathryn Cazes, Valerie Geschwind, Mollie Gaffney, Katie Lee and Andrea Mackoff who are incredible teachers and incredible people. Anything you see here that catches your eye was always the result of a team effort, and Kristi wishes to thank them for letting her share them all with the world. Thanks guys!
Grab your team close and dive in! Until next time, Happy Charting!
Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli
Here at Chartchums we are excited once again to have a guest blogger. This week we will hear from Bianca Adamo Lavey, a staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, who works with the teachers at Holbrook Elementary School in Long Island, New York. She and the second grade teachers had been doing a lot of work this year on developing children’s independence and were inspired by last week’s blog to make this work not only visual, but also interactive. What follows is her description of what the teachers thought and did as they continued this pursuit.
I am so excited to share how teachers at Holbrook Road School were inspired by the idea of goal setting and rubrics written about in the Chartchums blog post, Goals, Rubrics, and Bears…Oh My! posted last week. It struck a cord because they too had been thinking about ways to help their students reflect, self-assess and set goals, but weren’t quite sure how best to go about it. The charts and rubrics shared by the teachers at PS 277 and PS 109 were just the thing to get all of us thinking and talking about how we might create some versions that would work with our kids. The second grade teachers, along with the help of reading teachers, Jen DeHayes and Jen Groen, got together and began to articulate their wishes and wants for the students under their care.
One big goal the teachers had this year was getting the kids to make the best use of partnership time and seeing this time not just as a place to give your ideas, but as a place to get and grow ideas. The teacher in this classroom, Julie Kelly, outlined some of the big goals her class has accomplished so far this year and then explicitly told kids what she’s noticed as possible next steps. Readers first reflected on what partnership time was like for them, asking themselves what they felt like they were doing well and what they felt like they could work on, looking to the goals chart for help. Partners also provided some feedback to each other and many kids decided to set partnership goals for them to work on together, rather than set different individual goals. Then her teaching assistant, Arlene Leporati, helped organize this information on a chart so it was clear and easily accessible.
Julie then looked to the chart as a way to form some small groups. She realized that although many of the readers in her class were quite aware about what things they needed to work on, they probably didn’t know exactly how to work on them. The strategy card above was given to the readers who wanted to work on “keeping the conversation going” during partnership time. Before partnership time they reflected on which of these strategies they had used in the past and made a plan for which ones they wanted to try today. During partnership time, they took the card out and referred back to it for tips.
Another goal the 2nd grade teachers had centered around getting kids to think in more sophisticated ways about their books and to show these thoughts with their jottings on sticky notes. So, we decided to look to what kids were thinking and jotting, create a rubric designed to help the kids work in more sophisticated ways, and then have kids look to their sticky notes to reflect and set goals. You’ll see from this chart that it is designed in a way to make it easy for the kids to think about where they are on the rubric. It also makes it easy for the kids to learn ways to move up to the next level. Once they match up their post it to the one on the chart, they can look to the next level and read the strategies listed to learn how to deepen their thinking and even set new goals. I feel honored to share what these awesome, thoughtful teachers are doing to create such reflective, involved students.
And we are honored to hear from all of the teachers out there who are doing so much to make teaching matter. We are also thinking about how the above ideas can easily be applied to other subject areas where children talk with partners and create goals for themselves like, math, social studies, gym, art, music, science . . . the list is endless.
Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Charting!
Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli