Bringing Charts Home

Creating and maintaining home-school connections is something most schools strive to put into place and keep going across the school year. Newsletters, memos, meet the teacher nights, conference days, report cards, and homework are some of the ways schools typically communicate with families. But even with all these efforts to partner with parents, parents can still feel sidelined, mere spectators in their child’s education. Helping parents communicate well with both their child and their child’s teacher is one way to invite parents into this world called school.

Learning the language of school is no easy task when you are not living and breathing it day in and day out. But guess who can be our home-school ambassadors? Our children! Yes, students can act as a conduit between what is going on in the classroom and home. And charts can help make sure this information is clearly transmitted. Charts can help parents learn the language of school.

Charts create a method of communication between teacher and parent as the child teaches the parent what the chart is about and what it teaches. Important vocabulary used in school is brought into the home so that a shared language and understanding can be developed. Not only do charts help familiarize parents with what’s going on in the classroom, they can provide specific strategies that parents can point to when trying to help their child with homework.

At PS 29 in Brooklyn, first grade teacher, Maureen Crowley, found that once she started sending copies of charts home her parents felt more connected and better understood what their children were learning as readers and writers. The charts provided a concrete tool they could draw upon when talking to their children about what they were working on in school. Instead of asking, “How was school today?” and getting the proverbial, “Nothing,” parents could now ask more specific questions, like, “Can you retell me one of the books you read today?” or “What did you do to revise your writing today?”

Photos of some classroom charts that Ms. Crowley sent home with her first grade students

Photos of some classroom charts that Ms. Crowley sent home with her first grade students

Another benefit of sending charts home with children is that it puts the child in charge of their learning. Each child becomes the expert, the one in charge of explaining and using the chart leading to increased agency. Charts sent home can anchor children in the work of school, even when they are at home. And charts provide children with a tool they can use to help themselves when stuck.

One way charts can become accessible in the home is to turn the refrigerator door into a bulletin board. Reading charts, writing charts, and personal word walls can be hung up with magnets. And since the kitchen is often the heart of the home it can spark some great conversations about what the child is working on in school.

The refrigerator makes a great billboard for charts

The refrigerator makes a great billboard for charts

Bringing charts home can also bring about other positive effects, such as children creating their own charts as needed. For example, when our editor, Zoe White’s daughter, Anna, was trying to get better at getting ready for school in the morning she decided to make a chart that she could use to make sure she didn’t forget anything in the often harried mornings before school. And the best part is that it worked!

Anna's homemade wake-up chart and checklist

Anna’s homemade wake-up chart and checklist

Some ways to send charts home to share with families:

  • Place charts in the homework folder
  • Puts charts in reading baggies
  • Add them to the shared reading folder along with the poems
  • Include them in the class newsletter
  • Post them on a class blog
  • Tweet them out

Teach parents that the purpose for using charts is to teach ways to think: how to organize, be flexible, to plan, to observe, and to use models or mentors. Reinforce the fact that using charts is an act of problem solving, not cheating, and encourages risk-taking and a “can-do” attitude towards any challenge faced by their child. Charts teach, charts support, charts can make you smarter.

Happy Charting! And hoping to see many of you at NCTE in Minneapolis!

Marjorie & Kristi

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)

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

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









Smarter Charts: Here, There, and Everywhere!

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.

Routines help insure that games are played well and for fun.

Routines help insure that games are played well and for 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.

The steps for using hand sanitizer also reinforce expectations.

The steps for using hand sanitizer also reinforce expectations.

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.

This chart reminds children of the steps for retuning books in a way that will help maintain the class  library.

This chart reminds children of the steps for retuning books in a way that will help maintain the class 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


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