The Magical Art of Organizing Charts

As another school year begins, we are excited to return to our charting musings here at Chartchums. It was a busy year for both of us as we presented workshops and worked on multiple projects. Kristi published a book with Christine Hertz, A Mindset for Learning: Teaching the Traits of Joyful, Independent Growth (Heinemann 2015)  that was just released this month (Yay!) and then partnered up with Alison Porcelli and Cheryl Tyler to write a book on Play. You can look forward to that book sometime in the Spring. Marjorie wrote a book with Lucy Calkins and Christine Holley about Kindergarten reading called Becoming Avid Readers, which was part of the TCRWP Reading Units of Study series (Heinemann 2015) Marjorie also oversaw all the charts for the K-5 reading books, illustrating quite a few of them.

When projects come to an end and before new ones begin, starting off with a fresh clean start helps one move forward. Whether you have taught for one year or twenty, the amount of paper and stuff accumulated can become mountainous. Inspired by the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Ten Speed Press 2014) by Marie Kondo, who suggests discarding as the first rule of tidying, we thought about how we could apply this to charts so that we start off the year with a fresh and tidy start. Marie Kondo’s only rule about what to keep is to hold each item in your hands and to ask, “Does this spark joy?” For a teacher to be able to answer this question you need to also ask, “Can I use this again?” “Will this save me time?” “Will this engage my kids?”

Marjorie decided to try this out with her own collection of charts, which over the years had filled up several file folders, a few sketch books, and a couple of shopping bags. Kondo suggests gathering every item from the same category together in one place and literally pick up each item, holding it, and asking, “Does this spark joy?”

The idea of gathering everything together from a single category (in this case—charts) is eye-opening. Not only do you see the shear volume of stuff, but you realize how much stuff you had actually forgotten about, amount of stuff you haven’t used in ages. The example below shows a “bag-o-charts” that Marjorie admits she stowed away several years ago. There they were, rolled up, never touched since they were first created and used with children, forgotten.

Rolling up charts and putting them in a shopping bag is probably not the most useful storage method nor the best idea.

Rolling up charts and putting them in a shopping bag is probably not the most useful storage method nor the best idea.

Taking her next cue from Kondo, Marjorie unrolled one of the charts and asked, “Does this give me joy?” The answer was a definite “NO” as she looked at the wrinkled paper and the faded Post-it notes. Not only did it give no joy, it caused a little embarrassment that she had been holding on to it for all this time. Marie Kondo suggests we can deal with this feeling by thanking the item that has given joy or been helpful in the past before discarding it with a clean conscious. This actually works, so we suggest giving it a try.

Who knew even Post-it notes faded and discolored over time!

Who knew even Post-it notes faded and discolored over time!

Charts are meant to help make our lessons clear and for students to have tools at their ready to be independent problem solvers. Charts are often made or built with the kids using a combination of teacher-made parts and student-made parts. Interactive writing, photos, drawings, and computer-generated images can all be used. How to organize all these charts, especially for the charts that you know will be needed again and again is something to consider and plan for as your charting grows across the year. We have a few simple solutions that will help you organize your charts so they can be easily accessed by you and/or your students.

Many years ago our friend and colleague, Brooke Geller, shared with us her brilliant solution to the problem of not being able to lug around huge chart tablets as she traveled from school to school: a sketchbook! If you create charts using sticky notes or Post-it notes, an 11 x 14 inch sketchbook can be a great storage tool because it is big enough to store four 6 x 8 inch Post-its across two pages. It is also especially useful later on when you want to pull small groups who might need these charts as a refresher to strategies or processes they weren’t ready for when initially introduced.

Sketchbooks make charts portable and easily accessible.

Sketchbooks make charts portable and easily accessible.

Another storage tool is the ever-useful binder. Binders can house photos of charts that are used with certain units of study or the actual charts themselves placed in sheet protectors if you use the Post-it note-like charts. One of the advantages of binders is they can be stored vertically which makes them easy to store and access. As a side note: Marie Kondo discourages piling and prefers vertical storage as it makes items more accessible and visible.

Binders can be created and organized by unit, topic, or skill.

Binders can be created and organized by unit, topic, or skill.

Be conscious of clutter as your year begins, discard what is not needed or no longer “sparks joy” and plan for how to organize all the tools you and your students will be creating this year. Also, let us know what other ideas have worked for you by sharing here on the Chartchums blog or on Facebook.

As always, Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

Seeing the Matrix: The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo

There is a scene in the movie The Matrix, where Neo, played by Keanu Reeves, sees the “matrix” for the very first time. The codes and numbers that govern actions become transparent to him, and with ease he is able to deflect punches, fight bad guys, and gaze handsomely into the distance while doing so. (30 bonus points for anyone else who knows what “Keanu” means in Hawaiian.) The rules of the world have become visible, and with access to that knowledge, Neo becomes invincible.

There have been countless times when we have claimed to “see the Matrix,” learning to knit, figuring out a tricky yoga pose, finally assembling that blasted piece of ikea furniture. For many, “seeing the matrix” has become shorthand for suddenly understanding an underlying principal that had seemed magical, or in more common vernacular, for finally “getting it.” Now we have Jennifer Serravallo’s new book, The Reading Strategies Book (available here) to demystify what makes for powerful reading instruction, and make “the matrix” of teaching reading accessible to us all.

The cover and a sample from the table of contents

The cover and a sample from the table of contents

Jennifer’s book is as visually stunning as it is accessible. She outlines thirteen goals of reading instruction, from engagement to fluency, word solving to comprehension for both fiction and nonfiction, and lays out many many many many strategies to help any child, K-8, achieve each goal. Each strategy has its own page with tips on whom it might help, how you might teach it, prompts you might use, and even a visual cue for a child. Every. Single. One.

Have you wondered how to engage kids whose minds wander?

~There are strategies for that.

Have you wondered how to help emergent readers make sense of books when they can’t yet read   the words?

~There are strategies for that.

Have you wondered how to help children wrap their brains around the idea of synthesis?

~There are strategies for that.

Goal 2

We have been fortunate enough to work alongside Jennifer when we were colleagues at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The depth of her knowledge about readers and the art of reading always blew us away and left us often to exclaim, “I wish I could borrow your brain!”

That is exactly what reading this book is like: borrowing the brain of a master reading teacher, one who has an idea for every challenge, a possible answer for every question, and a good idea when you have none. Better yet, Jennifer’s book teaches you how to develop your own expertise. Jennifer’s book doesn’t just teach you about reading, it teaches you how to think about readers.

~The strategies are sound teaching.

~The suggested visuals are clear and engaging.

~The lay out is practical and accessible.

~The book is pretty much genius.

sample pages

Kristi says: I am entering my fifteenth year of teaching (while never aging a year–it’s miraculous, really) and I am a confident teacher of reading. Within the first 15 pages, I had already used 15 post-its to mark pages, jot thinking, and reflect. New teacher, seasoned teacher, teacher of reading, teacher of humans, this book is important and valuable for every single one of us. See the matrix, become a better teacher for the kids you see every day.

Marjorie says: As I read each strategy I thought of a child who would benefit, not only from the language of the lessons, but the visuals Jennifer has included as well. This book is going to become a permanent part of my conferring toolkit. The organization by goals also helps focus attention on readers, not levels, which makes this book a powerful teaching tool.

Once you have had the pleasure of reading The Reading Strategies Book, leave your thoughts in the comments below. We give it four thumbs up!

Happy charting!

Kristi and Marjorie


(Keanu means “wind over the volcano” and it must be true because I read it in Seventeen magazine 25 years ago ~Kristi)

Chartchums Live! (or as close as we can get)

We have received numerous requests to visit schools and to present workshops to school districts, but our day to day life in schools makes this difficult to happen as often as we would like. So we have joined with Heinemann to offer our workshops online as a digital course that anyone can sign up for anytime, anywhere, and access is good for one year from signing up.

The amazing team that brought this course to life!

The amazing team that brought this course to life!

We planned the course with the hope that it would help teachers deepen children’s engagement with charts by teaching how charts can build independence and agency, communicate information efficiently and effectively, and help in setting and achieving goals. There are numerous photos of charts and you can see us “live” through videos of us interacting with children and charts through minilessons, small groups, and conferring and the “pièce de résistance” (at least for us–Kristi and Marjorie) are the chats between the two of us that introduce each session.

Discover new ways to create and use charts with your kids that are based on the science of memory, moving your charting work from good to great.

The course explores the following:

  • Understanding the philosophy, theory, and research behind charting
  • Learning to plan and prepare different types of charts
  • Designing charts using language, visuals, and different tools and techniques
  • Teaching with charts
  • Exploring charting across the curriculum

To catch a glimpse you can view some short animated video clips through the following link: Chart Tips Live

The course can also be taken for CEU credit. You can go to the Heinemann website for further details: Smarter Charts

We can’t wait to interact with you through this Digital Campus course  and to continue to share all that we are learning with you.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi

Do Less to Do More

Hello Friends!

We hope many of you are enjoying the first bits of spring as they (finally) pop up. We find that when spring arrives, so does our desire to streamline, organize, and clear out our spaces at home and in school. In the spirit of mental spring cleaning, today’s post is centered around the idea of  streamlining the process of making charts with your students.


Each year we find we do less and less writing and drawing on charts than the year before. There is more student wording, writing, drawing and work captured on the charts hanging in the classroom. Charts are made by the class, for the class. Pulling this off can be tricky, and so we offer a few simple tips to get you started in this practice:

Tip One: Use all the times of the day to make parts of charts

Interactive and shared writing are two fundamentals of the balanced literacy classroom. That time can be leveraged into making charts, as well as pre-teaching or reviewing a concept or strategy. In Kristi’s room, she uses small group word study time as an opportunity to make parts of charts with small groups of kids. At the time when the chart is used, all the parts are put together for the community.



This doesn’t happen every day of the week in the word study, but when it happens it allows a small intimate group a chance to develop wording for a chart, practice their stretching of words, and practice with a concept or skill that they use at other times of the day, such as letter formation, spelling strategies, or punctuation usage.

Additionally, small groups during reading, writing and math, can be pulled to learn a new strategy or refine an existing one, and then afterwards make a chart for the entire community. In this way children get a little extra practice, as well as a feeling of ownership of an important skill or strategy.



Tip Two: See chart making as a time to teach organization, process, and note-taking

In NO WAY are we suggesting that you make every chart with every child. That is a sure fire recipe for disaster. However, making small parts of charts with small groups or in a whole class setting can be an effective and powerful tool for children. When children help to make charts, we have an opportunity to teach the rationale behind them (e.g., “Lets number the steps so we don’t get confused!” or “That part is important to remember, let’s change the color!”) Just as we want children to see us write and read so we can mentor them into being stronger readers and writers, making charts with children in an explicit, clear way you can mentor children into making organized plans for themselves. A share at the end of any workshop can be well spent recording new thinking and learning. Asking children, “What did we just learn? How should we record it so we remember to do it that way again?” helps children understand that part of learning is strategic recording to better help with memory.



Tip Three: Think of charts as disposable, not as artwork

When I need to leave myself a note, I jot it on a sticky note and put it on my laptop. I don’t get a 4X6 frame and hang it up on my wall. Charts are more akin to sticky notes than they are to laminated pamphlets. Freeing yourself from the idea that every inch of it MUST be perfect (that is a backwards B in the word number in the preceding chart), and instead focusing on whether children understand and use it, makes it much easier to ensure that children are engaged in chart making. (As an aside, another child fixed the B shortly after the picture was taken.) If a child draws something to represent an idea on the chart, it does not matter if the drawing makes perfect sense to me, it matters if it makes perfect sense to the children.

Moving forward into the final season of school, we encourage you to pull back the amount you do on charts to make more room for children’s voices. Whether you use small group times during the day or shares at the end of workshop, use the time to teach and reteach skills, mentor organization, and provide scaffolding for the power of a good reminder note.

As always, happy charting!
Kristi and Marjorie

Charting Conversations

Happy New Year! Welcoming the New Year involves reflecting on the past year and looking ahead to the year ahead. This usually means making a long list of resolutions for what we will do differently during the new year ahead. While made with the best intentions in mind, New Year’s resolutions are often lofty and ultimately unrealistic and by February many become history.

Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, the focus on reflection can be a much more powerful way to propel a person forward into the New Year. Reflection can highlight past efforts, challenges, and accomplishments, which can be built upon rather than starting completely over. We would like to suggest using the classroom charts to begin these valuable reflective conversations with your students about what was challenging, what they have worked hard to learn and what new challenges they are ready for. Talking about what has been hard or challenging can develop what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” and her research has shown that those with a “growth mindset” thrive on challenges and understand that even failure can be an opportunity for learning and growth (Mindset, 2006). People with a such a mindset are more flexible and less likely to give up or think less of themselves when something is difficult.

The charts in your classroom tell the story of the teaching and learning that has happened since the start of the school year, so offer the perfect way in to having conversations about the children’s efforts to date, their attempts, and their successes and what they might be ready for next. The new year is not for completely new, fresh starts, but a continuation of development and growth which can ultimately lead to a more successful year.

Start with deciding which subject(s) you want to focus on. We suggest looking at the Reading and Writing charts together to reinforce the reciprocity between these two subjects. Math might stand alone or be teamed up with Science. Or Science might be looked at with another inquiry subject such as Social Studies. Once you have decided on the subject(s) you are ready to begin charting conversations.

Then ask children to begin the inquiry by choosing a chart to read over, then they can ask themselves or each other, “What have I learned the most?” “What are some things I want to work more on?” or “What is still kind of hard?” As with any inquiry there are no right or wrong answers, just possible insights or further questions.

Standing back, taking a pause, taking a moment to reflect and ponder, can be a good thing for teachers and students both. This is often a sure-fire way to infuse some fresh energy and commitment to the challenges that lie ahead.

Wishing you all Happy Charting in 2015!

Marjorie & Kristi

Looking Back at NCTE14

There have been quite a few amazing NCTE reflection posts around the internet, and we here at chartchums would be remiss if we did not add ours in to the mix. There were so many things that made the NCTE convention special, not the least of which was the incredible community of educators we were among.

So much of our profession is about giving. We give time―to planning, to parents, to meetings, to a special lunch date with a kiddo. We give energy―to our students, to our schools, to our runs up and down flights of stairs. We give our hearts―to everyone. There comes a time when you can feel all given out―when you look around and think, “That’s it, I’ve got nothing left.” For Kristi, that was the week before NCTE. She was fighting a cold while trying to meet data deadlines, finishing up long nights of parent teacher conferences, and finalizing overdue writing projects. Kristi felt she had reached a point of tapping out. Going to a conference on literacy seemed about as desirable as sticking hot knives in her eyes.

Yet, she went. As did so many of you―just as tired, just as empty-feeling.

But here is the thing―every second of NCTE, whether listening to amazing and powerful presentations from people like Kathy Collins and Matt Glover, browsing the booths to see the latest and greatest books, meeting people you fell in love with over twitter (Hi Shawna!!!), falling in love with new people (Hi Katie and Sara!!!!), or seeing friends that fill you with hope and joy (Hi Kristin!!!), NCTE is about filling ourselves up. Filling ourselves up with knowledge, filling ourselves with hope, filling ourselves with joy and energy.

And it is important that we take time to fill ourselves back up, so we can give everything back once again.

Since all of you were not able to attend the conference, we are giving you a summary of our workshop, so you can virtually experience the benefits of NCTE, but as far as the laser light show and ice slide, that you will have to imagine!

The Art of Capturing the Story of Learning Through Teaching Charts – and Changing the Narrative of Children’s Learning in the Process

We (Kristi and Marjorie) were lucky to present with a brilliant writer, editor and friend, Zoe Ryder White. Zoe brought the critical (and sometimes overlooked) parent perspective to our work with charts, and shared how charts can empower children at home, as well as school.

Our presentation focused on the “meta” aspects of charting, specifically that charting is a way to teach types of thinking and that charts underscore a growth mindset.

We spoke about how we believe that certain types of charts help promote certain types of thinking:

  • routine charts promote organized thinking and problem solving
  • repertoire charts promote flexible, yet tenacious, thinking
  • process charts promote strategic thinking
  • exemplar charts teach that thinkers look to models and analyze them
  • concept charts promote the idea that thinking is grown and revised over time

Some questions we asked our audience, which we ask you also, is: What is the thinking that you demonstrate in your charts? Do you tend to show just one way? Or do you have a varied menu of ways of thinking that you are (implicitly or explicitly) teaching  children?

We also spoke a bit about how (smarter) charts are automatically oriented towards a growth mindset. By making and using charts with children, you are showing a path in which to grow. By encouraging goal setting and flexibility, you are helping children realize a positive association between effort and outcome.

Zoe shared some of the ways her child’s incredibly reflective teacher, Maureen Crowley at PS 29 in Brooklyn, has been sending charts home as part of her action research, and how those charts have created feelings of agency in children. No longer adrift with a pile of a books and general ideas, reading charts sent home can anchor children in the work of school, even when they are at home. Zoe also spoke about how the use of charts (and teaching children about the purpose and power of charts) has motivated her own child to create charts to help herself with challenges that arise at home―like getting everything done in the morning before school. Some ways to send charts home/share with parents:

  • tweet them out
  • post them on a class blog
  • add them to a class newsletter
  • put them in reading baggies
  • put them in folders: math, writing, homework
  • use them as shared reading

We hope this helps you in your charting journey and look forward to hearing from you as to the ways you are using charts to help your children think flexibly and independently.

Happy Charting!

Kristi and Marjorie, and Zoe, too!

Increasing the Life Span of Charts

The quote “Everything old is new again” could not ring truer for some of the charts in our classrooms. Charts that were hung up at the start of the year and still remain hanging, but are no longer relevant or needed, are simply old. However, so much of what we teach is meant to be carried forward, to spiral, as Jerome Bruner taught us so many years ago. And charts can help make this happen, by taking what was old and making it new again.

For those of you who have been following us for awhile and have read our books, Smarter Charts and Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies, you are familiar with the 3 R’s of charting: reposition, revise, or retire. We thought we would show you some examples of how charts can be revised over a few months and across changing units of study to remain pertinent and important to the students in your class.

We will start with a writing chart Marjorie made at the start of the year when introducing how the writing of personal stories can be generated and planned. One chart is a repertoire chart with strategies for remembering stories; the other is a process chart that reminds students the steps for planning out a story. Generating topics and planning are an important part of the writing process.

One chart shows a repertoire for generating story ideas, the other chart is about the process of drafting.

One chart shows a repertoire for generating story ideas, the other chart is about the process of drafting.

When a new unit started on writing How-to books, rather than making a brand new chart, Marjorie brought the original story chart back down to the easel and reminded the students of what they had already learned about writing books. She then shared with the children that even though they would be starting a different kind of writing, teaching others how to do things, the process was the same. They would still think, tell, draw and  write. All they had to do was revise the story chart to make it match the current unit. So the word story was changed to how-to, topic, and steps, depending on the step.

Strips of paper were used to cover the word "story"  to write the How-to words: "how-to," "topic," & "steps."

Strips of paper were used to cover the word “story” to write the How-to words: “how-to,” “topic,” & “steps.”

This leads to the other part of the quote from above, “Everything that is new is old.”

The next unit was an informational writing unit based on the book Kristi wrote with Barb Golub and Lucy Calkins, on Writing Information Chapter Books. The children were expected to write all about topics they had personal experience with, but even so, the writing process remains basically the same. So again, instead of making a brand new chart, Marjorie brought back the revised How-to chart and again showed the children that what they already knew how to do would help them with writing informational books too.

Again, the words are revised. Also some additional ways to plan are added (a web and a contents page).

Again, the words are revised. Also some additional ways to plan are added (a web and a contents page).

Helping children understand that everything that is old is new again and that everything that’s new is old can be a powerful step in understanding that all learning is about using what we know to grow new understandings and strengthen the skills we have learned. This idea works no matter the content being studied. If revision helps us see anew, revising our charts will help our children see that what they have learned will help them learn even more.

Until next time, Happy Charting!

Marjorie & Kristi










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