Method to Our (Charting) Madness

Hi there! Greetings from the snowy, ice covered reaches of New York! We hope today’s post finds you ensconced in covers and drinking the hot beverage of your choice if you are in one of the colder areas of the world. And if you are in Hawaii, well, don’t tell us if you are in Hawaii.

We chartchums have been busy writing, writing, writing and are happy to report that Smarter Charts 2 is now in the hands of the supremely dedicated and talented folks at Heinemann. We will keep you posted on its progression, and have one small teaser to unleash now… it is even better than the first book. Our brains have grown, our community has grown, and it has resulted in something we are both incredibly proud of.

Now onto the short term! January is a time of resolutions, new beginnings, and the reversal of clutter. As Kristi sets forth on launching a new writing unit, she is going to take you on a tour of her streamlined planning/charting process. Pack your bags folks, because here we go:

First things first, look honestly at what your students have learned, not what you have taught

On-demands are one of our favorite ways to launch units. Though the results may not be pretty, they are honest, and you can only get to your destination if you know where you are…

Kristi launched her kindergarten story on-demand with the following language: Today you guys have a pretty exciting job ahead of you! You are going to fill up the pages of your 5 page book with a story of something that happened to you! We have read a lot of stories so you know how they usually start and some of the things they have in them – like talking and feelings. When you have a story idea in your mind, go and grab a special yellow* book from the writing center!”

* Kristi learned this trick from a literacy coach, if you make the on-demand book a different color it is easier to find it. She chooses a different on-demand book color for each unit.

Then, Kristi sat down with the on-demands and her end of unit checklist. The headings at the top are strongly influenced by her work with the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Workshop Narrative Writing Continuum and the Common Core State Standards. She will be teaching story multiple times throughout the year, so these are not the ONLY things she is teaching in narrative writing this year.

Kristi's check off sheet

Kristi’s check off sheet

A few notes:

  • the first column indicates on how many pages out of the 5 children were able to hold onto the same story
  • the stretching column indicates what sounds children are representing (Beginning, Middle, End)
  • the final column gives a rough estimate on when children stopped working

After looking at the work, Kristi came up with 4 main goals (in no particular order):

  1. Build stamina to 30 minutes
  2. Develop more elaborated drawings
  3. Develop more elaborated writing
  4. Increase the clarity and readability of the writing

There are some obvious small groups that pop up: children who need more work with stretching a story across pages or sequencing, coming up with topics, or children who had less than the average amount of stamina.

Now that you know where you are, plan to move onward!

At this point, Kristi grabbed four pieces of white printer paper and wrote the goals across the top (one goal per page). Kristi usually plans for 1-2 weeks of focus around each goal, but will probably only teach 3 or 4 things within that time to support the goal. This allows time for children to learn the new thing, practice and reflect on it.

Below is the planning page for goal 1: Staminaphoto 1    On the left hand side there is space to generate teaching points, on the right hand side is a mock up of what the chart will probably look like. At the top of the chart there will be a stair of increasing minutes to record the growth in stamina. Underneath is the likely heading for the strategies to support increasing stamina. One can not just write longer by sheer force of will, it helps to have some techniques to help you stay at something.

photo 2These are the strategies Kristi will likely teach, though she has since added: be optimistic, say, “I can do it” and add to your words. These are culled from a variety of sources: Teachers College Reading and Writing Project curricula, the second bullet comes from our resident occupational therapist, the newly added “be optimistic” comes from some of Kristi’s professional reading on growth mindset and grit. These are written in shorthand and will be mulled over to find the perfect language and the perfect method of delivery, this is the broad strokes of instruction. Next she translates her short hand into a further developed chart sketch.

photo 3Note the reduction of language, the selection of a consistent visual, and the decision to use two colors to help children see what the strategy may look like in their own work. Next to the second bullet, stretch, Kristi has made a plan for the two photographs she needs to take. Two children that regularly receive additional OT services will serve as the models, mentors, and instructors for that lesson. Much of this sketch is just that, a sketch, much like when baking soda meets vinegar and the substance changes, when chart ideal meets child there must be room made for their influence. Some of this may be made during interactive writing, the work on the right hand side will be selected from students, and the strategies may change based on their accessibility and success. Kristi always, always, always leaves room for the innovation of her class.

Let’s see it again, shall we?

The second goal is elaborated drawings. Again, Kristi went to the white paper and thought about a variety of sources: mentor texts for illustration, Katie Wood Ray’s professional text In Pictures and In Words, resources from the art teacher, etc.

photo 4On the left hand side, Kristi has written some language she intends to teach the children, e.g. for drawing characters asking, “Who else was there?” Additionally, Kristi has decided to make this chart an annotated exemplar, meaning that she will use a mentor text, a piece of children’s work, or her own illustration and mark it up for the specifics that make it a successful elaborated illustration. As a stand in, Kristi has decided to sketch her own picture:

photo 5Kristi chose an annotated exemplar as the way to display this, as opposed to a list of strategies as the stamina chart will be, because she wants the children to see the big picture (no pun intended) of illustration. It is as much the way the parts work together, as the parts themselves, that make such impactful pages in picture books. Kristi will likely blow up both a piece of student work and a page from a Marla Frazee book to serve as mentors for the class.

Kristi went through the same process for her remaining two goals, making both a list of possible teaching points and a possible chart for each goal. With all planning, one must be prepared for detours, delays, shortcuts, and running out of gas. Though she is planned, the plans are not poured in cement.

The key to planning, in Kristi’s mind, is clarity of mission. If she can tease out 3 or 4 big goals, she likely has her charts. She often asks herself: what is reasonable in the amount of time allotted in this unit? She gives herself time to revisit teaching with her students, and tries to remember what really matters in writing: active problem solving, clear communication, joy, and ownership.

As far as the charts, the key is remembering they are billboards or fliers for your teaching, they are not the teaching. Door to door salesman leave pamphlets, companies run commercials and print ads, people take notes from a workshop. The charts need to jog your students memories, not create them, so making them with your children is key. Less is almost always more, and pictures are worth a thousand words.

We hope this helps to keep your new year clutter free, and as always, we look forward to hearing your comments!

Happy Charting!
Kristi and Marjorie


Winding It Down While Ratcheting It Up

 

As you sat back and enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend, you probably could not help thinking about all that is left to do as the current school year begins to draw to a close. Relax. The most important thing you can do now is to help your students review all they have learned, strengthen what is needed, and celebrate how they have grown. Charts can help you do each and all of these things. Charts are like a scrapbook of the journey you and your students have traveled since the beginning of the school year. Like a scrapbook, there is much joy in revisiting each and every page. In this week’s post we revisit the idea that a picture is worth a thousand words and that charts can act as models and mentors.Back in the Fall we talked about teaching by example and using charts to create visions for what is possible, followed by models kids can strive towards and mentor themselves to while working in the writing workshop. Teaching by example helps review, reinforce, and highlight what is important to learn and know in each and every genre.

In many schools and throughout many grades, the spring season brought about science based studies and inquiries that inspired children to become curious scientists actively exploring their world. These “inquiring minds” questioned, wondered, experimented, explored, manipulated, and maneuvered in an attempt to find answers and open up further questions. As scientists they needed to record their questions, their findings and then write about their discoveries, so as to present to other scientists in the community. Writing well becomes very important in reaching this goal. In addition to pulling out craft charts from previous units of study and showing how these moves can be just as useful when writing about science topics, there are a few charts that can be created that show specific examples of how science writers teach about their topic in clear and concrete ways.

One question that came up as we visited school after school was the issue of children writing less as scientists than as narrative writers. This worry was exemplified by the fact that it was one of the last units of study and was to measure all the kids had learned. The following charts were created in response to this concern, revisiting the idea that charting can create visions for what is possible.

This chart highlights the questions science writers might answer and points to specific examples from a published text.

Elaboration continues to be a concern, no matter the genre, no matter the grade. Charts such as this give concrete examples of how writers can elaborate on ideas and knowledge by explicitly annotating the questions and providing examples from a published text. Keeping the five W’s, plus the How, in mind makes it much easier to elaborate because it gives kids possibly six ways to elaborate each and every time.

A closeup of the Questions chart that shows examples for the questions How? and Where?

Another goal for this unit was to teach children how to write well about their science topics. Writing was not just to record the results of experiments, but to turn this newly found knowledge into writing that would encapsulate all that was learned and could teach lots of folks about the topic. Once again, turning to mentor authors helps insure there is a clear vision of what is possible and how one might go about getting there. Yes, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

This chart annotates examples from published texts that can act as models for student writers.

The purpose of this chart is to provide clear examples, while also setting clear expectations of what science writers should include when writing texts designed to teach. The next step will be to have kids use this chart as a way of comparing their own writing to the writing on the chart. They can write their names on post-its and put them next to the types of craft moves they have tried. Teachers can also photocopy student examples and hang these next to the published authors, which furthers children’s sense of competency and accomplishment.

Close-up of Write like a Scientist chart

Close-up of Writing like a Scientist chart

This is an example of a chart that was created with students based on what they had noticed as they studied mentor texts. It also specifically highlights craft moves that have been taught and makes clear expectations for what writers should include in their own writing. It also provides multiple entry points for crafting writing. In other words, there is something for everyone. When asked to place their name next to strategies tried, everyone will be able to feel successful.

These types of charts can be used for any genre, any subject. If you are planning to end the school year with a unit on poetry, for example, you can imagine some poems you might annotate with the kids. You might highlight topic, title, line breaks, repetition, word choice, punctuation, last lines, and so on. This type of chart has endless possibilities, as do teachers!

Happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

 

 


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