As the new school year quickly approaches (or for some, has already begun), teachers are thinking and planning for those first weeks in school. Teacher stores are overflowing with welcome banners and signs announcing the arrival of caring kindergartners, stupendous second graders, or the next crop of quality first graders. In each of these cases the ultimate goal is to set the scene for creating a community of learners by labeling them in positive ways. The banner titles that keep popping into our heads have been influenced by the recent Olympic games and sound something like, Welcome World Class Students or Class 1-141 is Going for the Gold! or Meet the Next Dream Team! But there is more at play here than simply coming up with catchy titles or headings. The Olympics can provide a backdrop for what teachers always want for each year’s class: to become a great team and to aspire to be the best they can be.
The motto of these Olympics, Inspire a Generation, is one we can carry forward with us into this new school year. In event after event, what kept being highlighted was how, regardless of the sport, each participant had a passion that they pursued, saw in themselves potential and possibility, and with the help of others, persisted and practiced intensely. This combination of process and effort is what we want to instill in all young people. The 2012 Summer Olympics can help us do just that.
They are also called the Olympic Games and games are supposed to be not only challenging, but fun. One of the most memorable aspects of the games was the shear joy on the faces of so many of the athletes. Sports Illustrated (Aug. 13, 2012) even dubbed the women’s U.S. swim team “The Fun Bunch,” because they hugged and smiled before their races! They approached each race with “joy and camaraderie.” This may be an even more important lesson to learn from these games considering the current climate in education. Competition is tough and rough, but when done with joy and a positive attitude, it can also become a positive, life changing experience. Providing children with challenges to aspire to, while coaching them along every step of the way, and bringing some fun into the mix can change their lives as well. With this in mind, we will show you a few ways the Olympics have inspired our own joyfully made charts, that will hopefully inspire you and the students in your classrooms.
Last week we had the pleasure of working with teachers from around the world at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s August Reading Institute. Perhaps it was because the Olympics had just started and the games were playing in the background as we planned for our sections, but Olympic lingo kept seeping into our lessons and our charts. The first part of preparing a chart is to think about the big idea you want to teach and to find a heading that captures that idea. One beginning lesson was about encouraging readers to set themselves up for reading by getting their minds on fire. Watching the Olympic athletes prepare for their events, we noticed that they too got themselves psyched up. Michael Phelps put on headphones, hood up, head down. Jordyn Wieber acted out each move of her gymnastic routine prior to beginning. We want our readers to psyche themselves up in similar ways. This lead to the chart below with the heading, World Class Olympian Readers Psyche Themselves Up to Read! Now, rather than writing this heading in front of the students, especially if you want to include photos or pictures, you can prepare this part of the chart ahead of time. If you fear crooked writing and messy mistakes, you can also prepare the bullets ahead of time, as well, and then reveal the parts that match each day’s teaching point as you go along.
The next series of chart photos show how the chart was unveiled and used to reinforce the teacher’s teaching focus each day. It is important to point out that while the overall chart was prepared ahead of time in this case, it was not shown as a whole to the students. In fact, each bullet was taught into explicitly on separate days by breaking them down into steps.
Next, the teacher folds down the chart to reveal the first strategy she plans to teach for setting up to read.
The small sticky notes were added as the teacher demonstrated each step a reader goes through to prepare to read any book. For example, readers prepare by “thinking about the book right from the start.” They do this by first looking at the front cover, title, and back cover. Then they wonder about what will happen or ask questions. Finally, they read with their minds on fire. Notice how each sticky note reminds readers of these steps.
As the teacher explains how to think about a book right from the chart, she demonstrates how to do it with a book of her own, while adding the steps with icons onto sticky notes and putting those up on the chart next to the strategy. Each sticky note reinforces the teacher’s words and actions: look, wonder, read.
The rest of the strategies and the steps involved are unwrapped as each one is taught explicitly by the teacher. The second teaching point is to ask, “What kind of book is this?” This strategy is important at the beginning of the year when children are reading a variety of books with various forms and genres. “Finding time and space to read” is another important lesson when you are trying to set children up to read with increased stamina and independence. And all along you can emphasize that this is just like what Olympic athletes do to build stamina and independence.
Now, you won’t always prepare a chart ahead of time. You need to consider your purpose, all that you want to include on the chart, and how you will use the chart to support your teaching. You can always go back to a chart and add photos or have children illustrate pertinent parts. But back to our Olympic theme.
The Olympics can provide a fresh look at an old or familiar subject, such as partnerships. Partnerships take team work, and no place was that more obvious than at the Olympics. Whether you watched Beach Volleyball or Synchronized Diving you saw inspiring examples of athletes who worked together tirelessly and supported each other every step of the way. This is something our students can strive towards with their partnerships. This idea of teamwork came into play when creating a chart around reading partnerships.
The heading, “Partners work as a team!!!” is meant to excite and engage in the prospect of working together with a reading partner. Partnerships are often challenging, so anyway we can generate enthusiasm for this essential element of any workshop, the better. Photos of kids looking, listening, and talking to each other can add another dimension to the chart. During another lesson, some specific prompts kids could use when trying to “point out examples” was added.
In addition to the amazing teamwork seen at the Olympics, there were many individuals who achieved extraordinary results through hard work and strategic planning. Michael Phelps was one very familiar figure the world watched intensely. Seeing him come back again and again, even after a few disappointing events, made him the poster boy for resiliency. He did not give up, so we had to include him on at least one chart so he could inspire a few of our upcoming writers.
The 2012 Olympic Games provided us with two weeks of entertainment, but also showed us how to be in this world. The athletes approached each task as a challenge, saw failure as a chance to learn, and felt proud of their efforts that got them to London among all the other countries. Whether you use the Olympics or not, we know you will continue to find ways to inspire another generation of students excited to learn and try things out.
And as always, happy charting!
Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz
Welcome back! We hope you rested this weekend and are ready for the week ahead. By now, many teachers have established some basic routines and are looking towards the rest of the year. Of course, all routines will have to be practiced and revisited throughout the year, but most children know their spots, can locate their baggies and writing materials, and are ready to go! Now you need to teach them some things they can do in those spots and with their tools and materials. So in this post, we will explore some of the charts you might be making around the important work in reading that your children have begun. We have divided this by grade level, but you may see charts in other grades that speak to you as well. As always, we want you to look at these charts as inspiration for you, not as a product to copy. The best charts have your voice, and your children’s voices firmly implanted on them.
This first chart addresses what children are doing in reading workshop, when they may not yet be conventionally reading. Rather than letting children flip quickly through books, this chart accompanies a lesson that teaches how readers touch each thing in the picture and say what they see. This work is building a sense of story and developing young children’s oral language, both of which will support them as they move into more conventional reading. A few things to notice about this chart:
Amount of writing versus amount of visuals: Charts are meant to be used by the children in the classroom. If most children are not yet reading, charts with lots of words will be overwhelming and unused. The big strong visuals will remind children quickly and easily the job of readers during readers workshop. It shows, not just tells, in a way that is understandable to any child. When making charts consider the amount of print that your children will be able to reasonably handle.
Use of actual texts: Kindergarten children are nothing if not concrete. You may say they look like “a million bucks” and they will stare right back at you, as if you have spoken in another language. And, in some sense you have, until you explain the mysterious phrase. Using actual texts (these are just color copied on a printer from Mo Willems lovely book, Cat the Cat, Who is THAT? ) will not only draw attention to the chart, but will cement the skill in children’s minds. The teacher in this case used this text to demonstrate the skill of touching what was in the picture and saying what she saw, and then put the same page on the chart. Just like in the writing chart in the previous post that used the actual paper, consider if you can use the actual item on the chart.
A few posts back (Are You Ready for Reading Workshop?) we looked at a chart that recorded how children’s stamina was growing. As we all know, you can’t just will children to read longer. This chart shows some of the strategies the teacher taught over several days to build that stamina. A few things to notice on this chart:
Amount of writing versus amount of visuals: This first grade chart has more writing, but still a strong amount of visual support. The vocabulary is not overly complex, the phrases simple, and the separate strategies are divided by color to make the information on the chart easier to group.
There are steps: This chart could just have had three bullets that say: set a goal, make a plan, meet the book, and be done. Instead, this teacher felt that each of these ideas needed more development, so provided a series of steps for children to follow. When you are teaching something that feels complex, it can help to break it down into a few simple steps and record those on a chart. Try not to have more than four or five steps on any one chart, because more than that becomes hard to follow, and even harder to remember.
This second grade chart is teaching children ways to use post-its to record their thinking as they read. The 6 x 8 inch post-its used on this chart are the ones mentioned in a previous post (Shopping the Specials) which are not only large, but come in eye-catching, fluorescent colors. A few things to notice about this chart:
Amount of print versus amount of visuals: This second grade chart is much heavier on print, but the print is broken up in an accessible way. And it still has visual support. In general, we try to avoid charts that look like unbroken lines of print with tiny visuals. We want charts to work like billboards, where kids can get the meaning in a drive by way. In other words, in a split second the message is seen and understood.
It is growing: This chart has only just begun! The teacher will be adding additional strategies as she teaches them to the readers in her room. The nice thing about the large post-its used on this chart is that they allow the teacher to easily add on. Another lovely aspect is that children can take them off. If students need help with a particular strategy, they can pluck it off, put it near where it is needed, and then return it when they are done.
Some of you have asked about sending in your own charts! Please do! The best way to do this is to send photos in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We have already received some which have been posted, and others that we are holding on to until we have the perfect post for them. We’d also like to give a big THANKS to those of you who have been referring this blog to your friends and directing others to this site. Making powerful, effective, and accessible charts that support independence is not easy work. So we appreciate you taking this journey with us.
Until next time, happy charting!