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

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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

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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

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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