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
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
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.
Kristi and Marjorie, and Zoe, too!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Marjorie and Kristi
Wow! It is hard to believe that the 2014-2015 school year is already well under way. We at Chartchums have been busy getting back into the classroom, putting the final touches on a digital course about charting for the Heinemann Digital Campus, and welcoming our newest book, Smarter Charts for Math, Science and Social Studies: Making Learning Visible in the Content Areas into the world. This book is the perfect companion to our original Smarter Charts book where we first showed you the why of charts and the nuts and bolts of charting. It also continues the charting conversations we engage in here at Chartchums.
In our latest book we build upon our original charting foundation and go even deeper into the different types of charts and how they can support instruction, no matter what you are teaching. This book goes beyond literacy and will show you how to turn complex ideas into kid-friendly visuals, help children internalize complex processes, and even increase your instructional time, no matter what the content area or subject you are teaching.
In addition to the introduction, appendix, and bibliography, there are five sections that define and illustrate each type of chart and how it can be used to clarify and energize your teaching, showing you how you can . . . Make learning visible in the content areas!
Section 1: Routine Charts: Supporting the Engagement Necessary for Independent Functioning
Section 2: Genre and Concept Charts: Charts That Teach Beyond “Just the Facts”
Section 3: Process Charts: Every Strategy Has a Process Attached to It
Section 4: Repertoire Charts: Decision Making and Strategic Thinking
Section 5: Exemplar Charts: Bringing It Back to the Big Picture
This week we will focus on Routine charts since they are such an integral staple at the beginning of the year.
Section 1: Routine Charts – Supporting the Engagement Necessary for Independent Functioning
What is it? Why would I make it?
Routine charts make clear the expectations and help kids know what to do and how to do it in order to be productive, positive, and proud throughout each and every day.
For example, playing math games. Teaching the routine of deciding what to play, reading the rules, setting up the game so you can play, play, play, then not to forget the clean-up at the end. The chart helps remind children of the steps that will allow them to participate in math games smoothly, allowing more time for playing and fun.
What about the routines that have to do with the basic smooth functioning of the classroom and the maintenance of materials? Think about all the materials we put out for our students to use. How often do we assume our kids know how to use them, or better yet, know how we think they should be used. Instead of getting upset, plan on teaching into the ways we want to see these materials used. One typical routine often pertains to the use of the hand sanitizer. Every year we think we can simply put out this important sanitary tool and all germs will go away. What we often forget is that kids often see this gelatinous substance as a fun sensory thing worth experiencing ‘hands on’ and spreading the fun around. Teaching explicitly into how to use this key tool can save not only time but money.
Another routine that needs to be taught explicitly is how exactly to put materials away. Whether math, science, reading or writing, there should be a routine that helps everyone end the workshop efficiently and quickly. One important thing for students to learn is how to put books away, especially at the start of the school year. This chart was one Kristi created with her Kindergarten students for returning books to their proper homes in the library.
Routines may seem simple and easy, but routines only get that way by teaching each step explicitly, providing many opportunities for practice, and providing visual reminders of those steps. Routines, like anything important, are worth charting with the students in order to be for the students.
Until next time, Happy Charting!
Marjorie & Kristi