Charting Step by Step: Every Strategy Has a Process Attached to It

The heart and soul of teaching is all about breaking down complex skills into bite-size steps so that children can do them by  themselves. We often break skills down even further into strategies, and for each strategy there is a process, or a series of steps, that you go through to achieve a goal. Charting these steps ensures that children have a tool at hand should they forget what to do next. We call this type of chart a process chart. The beauty of this kind of chart is that it can help us think about our unique students and plan for what will help them best understand and do the skill we have in mind. To quote Confucius, “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Process charts provide such steps.

We devote a whole chapter to this important type of chart, the process chart, in our book Smarter Charts for Math, Science & Social Studies. Any process requires a direction, which often leads to steps. For example, scientists go through a process whenever they are going to explore something. The chart, “Scientists can…” reminds children of some helpful steps in the scientific process. First, look closely. Then ask questions. Next, make some theories, confirm or revise those theories, and then do it again and again.

This chart introduces the basic steps of the scientific  process.

This chart introduces the basic steps of the scientific process.

Teachers know that telling kids is not the same as showing them how to do something and then giving kids lots of opportunities to practice that thing. To quote another favorite Confucius seed of wisdom, I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand. Process charts help children see and remember so that they can do and understand.

In most classrooms, creating a community that works cooperatively and compassionately together is a big goal. But knowing how to socialize is a learned skill. With Confucius in mind, will telling kids to be nice make this happen? They need to see what this looks like and then do it themselves. The chart below is one example of how a process chart might go that hopes to help kids be able to develop some of their interpersonal skills starting in kindergarten.

Each step of the process is blocked out making each action clear and distinct.

Each step of the process is blocked out making each action clear and distinct.

The value of process charts is not only that they remind children of each step, but they illustrate how these steps are repeatable. For example, when children are beginning to learn to write words we want them to repeat saying the word, hearing the sounds, then writing the letters that match the sounds, then doing this with each sound and with each word the child tries to write. The simpler the steps, the easier to repeat. The chart below was created for some children who were working on hearing more sounds in words so that they would start writing more letters to go with those sounds. The simplicity of the chart also makes it perfect to make as a table chart or as an individual bookmark.

The icons provide quick visual reminders of the steps to follow.

The icons provide quick visual reminders of the steps to follow.

Process charts help teachers teach and help children learn. The key is keeping the steps explicit and clear, providing visual icons that are instantly recognized, and getting the kids to use the chart often. Eventually the children who are beginning to internalize the process can then use the process chart to teach any classmates who could also use the support. Talk about empowering kids!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli & Kristi Mraz

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Charts That Teach Beyond “Just the Facts”

Genre and Concept Charts – Charts That Teach Beyond “Just the Facts”

Routines were the main topic of our last post and aligned with the first section of our new book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies. We heard from many of you who agreed that routines were a key focus during the first weeks of school. The time spent early on developing expectations and creating community makes all the difference as the school year moves forward. We thought it would make sense to follow the path of the book and talk next about genre and concept charts – charts that teach beyond just the facts.

What is it? Why would I make it?

Charts that teach specific information about a genre or a concept are very much needed to remind children of key ideas, vocabulary, concepts, and other important information being studied. For example, shapes, colors, forms, techniques, and types are all concepts that can be explored through inquiry, discussion, and experience. Concept and genre charts capture and display this information for children to reference again and again in discussion, writing, and thinking. This can be a critical support in helping children learn and use content specific vocabulary actively and purposely across the day.

One example is the concept of question words. These are often taken for granted and simply referred to as “the five W’s.” The heading “Question words that help you think!” lets children know the purpose. The chart itself helps kids remember the words and the visuals help remind them of what each question word means and the type of answer it asks for. The chart was added to slowly so that each question word could be explored and practiced. Concepts are best taught one or two at a time and always in context. Concepts are also best learned when children have multiple opportunities to practice them in a multitude of different situations.

This is a finished concept chart of question words. The visuals help show what each word is asking.

This is a finished concept chart of question words. The visuals help show what each word is asking.

Concept charts in particular are often the type of chart most often bought ready made. Just look around your classroom. See that color chart? The shapes chart hanging in the corner? The money chart with each coin drawn larger than life? While these charts are often polished and shiny, they are also the ones that quickly become unseen and unused, like wallpaper. Why? Because it is like turning right to the last page of a book and reading “The End.” Nobody does that because they would miss the journey, miss all the fun, miss any sense of discovery and adventure. The most important thing in the making of a concept chart is the inquiry done by the kids.

Interactive writing was used to create this concept chart with the children.

Interactive writing was used to create this concept chart with the children.

Genres are another important concept we teach students through inquiry, charting their discoveries along the way. They are often created at the beginning of a unit of study and then added to as children make continued observations of the genre being studied. The example below was created with a class studying pattern books. The T-chart format allows for contrasts to be made between the characteristics of a pattern book versus a story book.

Using examples from the pattern books and story books the children have read increases the meaning the chart has for the kids involved.

Using examples from the pattern books and story books the children have read increases the meaning the chart has for the kids involved.

Genre and Concept charts are most useful when they are made with kids and are constantly being revised as children’s experiences grow and become more nuanced. They can be a vital tool and are fun to make too.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi