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


15 Comments on “Method to Our (Charting) Madness”

  1. What a lovely planning method, thanks for sharing! Typically in my planning, I will write titles of potential charts but I never thought to actually sketch the charts. That is brilliant. I can see how those sketches would act as a guide for my planning and teaching. I will certainly share this. Thanks Kristi and Marjorie!

  2. Karen Keller says:

    Could you please define “on-demands.” And give an example??? Thank you!

    • Marjorie says:

      “On-demands” are a form of writing assessment where the teacher asks the students to write a story (or a how-to, information book, etc.), gives them a certain amount of time to do this in, and then assesses all that they can do on their own without any teacher prompting or help.

  3. Krista D says:

    This is a wonderful post that I will share and revisit. I love seeing the thought process behind the planning of others!

  4. Sally says:

    I have an on-demand planned for my students to do tomorrow, the first day back after our Winter Break as I prepare to launch the Fiction Writing Unit of Study in my 4th grade class using The Arc of the Story from the new kit. This post came at just the right time! I plan to follow it to really name what my students are doing and then plan MY teaching moves based on exactly what they can and can’t do. I also love the idea of watching and recording how long they write as stamina is so important (in K and in 4th!) I so appreciate you naming your thinking step by step so others can learn and try your ideas. As an aside, I visited your room (thanks to your intern, Grace) and your documentation means even more since as I read it, I can see your students, Grace, and you interacting! Know that I now am saying “How can we solve this? Let’s be flexible!!” Your spirit is in my 4th grade class in VA!! Thank you!

  5. Michelle says:

    Happy New Year! I enjoyed this post. What are some of the hand exercises you teach your students to do during the stamina lesson?

  6. Sheila Ash says:

    How would you do this process for reading? What on-demand do you use for that? Thanks for sharing!

    • Marjorie says:

      One idea is to have children stop and jot during a read aloud responding to the teacher’s prompts. The kids can do this on post its or just divide a piece of paper into fours. Each prompt can be designed to assess a skill you are curious about like inferring, cause & effect, synthesizing, predicting, etc. Collect these and look for patterns of thinking.

  7. I really like this way of analysing student pre-assessments. These types of charts should be made as a unit is written to help clarify what we want expect students to be able to do by the end of unit(s). Thanks for sharing!

  8. Reblogged this on Sandwich Literacy and commented:
    Teachers… On demand writing before teaching a unit in writing to help in your goals for learning.

  9. Such an efficient way to pre-assess the students’ writing and then set your teaching goals. The idea of meeting your writers where they are at makes your planning so much more child centered…”teaching the writers not the writing!” I have re-blogged for the teachers that I coach. Thank you!

  10. barbara knapp says:

    Thank you for this post. I did my On-Demand yesterday and found the checklist really helpful when analyzing the students work last night.

  11. Your means of telling everything in this article is actually pleasant, all be able to simply understand it, Thanks a lot.

  12. Currently it sounds like Drupal is the top blogging platform out there right now.
    (from what I’ve read) Is that what you are using on your blog?


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