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

So your students are starting to read chapter books!…

We are so pleased to have the amazing Jennifer Serravallo back as a guest blogger this week sharing her expertise on reading comprehension with all of us. Jen is the author of the Independent Reading Assessment for grades 3, 4, and 5 in Fiction and Nonfiction (Scholastic, 2012, 2013) and of the Heinemann titles Teaching Reading in Small Groups (2010) and Conferring with Readers (2007). She’s a speaker and independent literacy consultant who worked for 8 years at the TCRWP. You can find her at or follow her @jserravallo. This week you can find her right here on chartchums! Welcome Jen!

So your students are starting to read chapter books!…

(But although it looks like reading, are they really getting it?)

It’s that time of year in many primary classrooms. The time when readers go from reading and re-reading stacks of short books at lower levels…and start reading (drumroll please) **chapter books!**

Kids wear this chapter book reading identity like a badge of honor. Teachers marvel at how many levels the students have progressed. Every line of students’ reading logs are filled with a single series being read at school and at home. And parents, with pride, buy their kid every book in the entire series he or she is obsessed with.

Can you tell what Luna's current reading passion is?

Can you tell what Luna’s current reading passion is?

BUT…. But now our conferences get trickier. We sit down, say “how’s it going?” and find that it’s harder to know – really know – if the student is getting it. In fact, what does getting it even mean now?

In this post, I’ll offer you a few tips to make sure that you’re supporting students’ comprehension in chapter books. Having a May and June of engaged readers and a summer of self-directed reading depends on it! (check out my friend Chris Lehman’s May 11 post on summer reading:

1.    Make sure you are looking at whole book comprehension

Those running records you did at pre-chapter book levels meant kids were reading the whole book before retelling and/or answering some comprehension questions. But now that they’re in chapter book-land, they’re likely only reading an excerpt or a constructed passage for a running record. Comprehension questions don’t look at what happens across 60 pages – so now you need a new way to do that.

Stop and reflect spots help assess understanding of the whole book.

Stop and reflect spots help assess understanding of the whole book.

Consider planting sticky notes inside of chapter books that ask children to reach back into earlier pages to demonstrate how well a reader is able to accumulate information from across many pages, synthesize that information, and make meaning. You can create a chart to share these questions with students as tools for them to self-monitor their own comprehension, too!

Questions to ask yourself to check your understanding.

Questions to ask yourself to check your understanding.

  • What is happening now? What caused this to happen?
  • Why is ______ acting like this?
  • How has the character changed from the beginning of the story until now?
  • What is a lesson you learned after reading the whole book?

2.   Make sure you know your library well enough to pull off your conferences

It’s impossible to expect that you’ll know every single book in your entire library. But the good news about early chapter books is that you don’t have to. Try to aim to know popular series and levels.

If you’ve read one Magic Tree House, you’ve read them all (sorry, Mary Pope Osborne). Early chapter book series are predictable on purpose: They are meant to support children new to stories of this length with characters they know and plots that feel startlingly similar one to the next. Try to read at least one book from of each of the popular series and you’ll feel like you know a whole section of your library.

Second, try to have a two-book-per-level touchstone text. Know two titles from each level and think about what makes that level more challenging than the one before it. I find it helpful to think in terms of four categories:

  • Plot and Setting – what’s new in this level about how many events happen within and across chapters? Is the plot linear? How familiar are the settings and how much support is there to know the settings?
  • Character – how well-developed are the characters at this level as compared to the prior level? What changes do the characters go through? How important are secondary characters?
  • Vocabulary and Figurative Language – how frequently will a reader encounter challenging words or phrases? How much support is there in the text to figure out their meaning?
  • Themes and Ideas – What are the messages and lessons a reader should take away from the text? How clearly does the reader understand these?

3.   Make sure your students have an image of what it means to really understand whole books. 

The intersection between text complexity (what’s hard about the book) and a reader’s skill lies in what it looks like for the reader to truly understand. I meet fifth graders every week who describe a character in a book at level U as “nice.”  To me, that’s level K work in a level U text. And that equates to not really getting the book.

We need to hold students to the expectation that they have to demonstrate their comprehension (whether written or oral) that shows they’re making meaning equivalent to the meaning that can be made given the level. For example, you can’t expect a reader to explain character change at level K where characters don’t really change. But if a reader at level N can’t articulate how the character’s changed, then he’s missing out on some meaning.

Consider describing for students what it looks like to really be “getting it” and then showing an example. You might read aloud a book such as Judy Moody, and co-create rubrics that show varying levels of understanding. Kids can then monitor, and mentor, responses to their own books to those on the charts.

Here’s one for Plot and Setting:

The sample post-its provide examples of  expectations.

The sample post-its provide examples of expectations.

One for Character:

Understanding Character rubric.

Understanding Character rubric.

An example for Vocabulary and Figurative Language:

Vocabulary and Language rubric.

Vocabulary and Language rubric.

And Themes and Ideas:

Themes and Ideas for Level M readers to consider as they stop and jot.

Themes and Ideas for Level M readers to consider as they stop and jot.

Here’s to deeper comprehension, you chapter book readers!

Thanks Jen!

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi