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

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

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

This chart introduces the basic steps of the scientific  process.

This chart introduces the basic steps of the scientific process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Charting!

Marjorie Martinelli & Kristi Mraz

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

Method to Our (Charting) Madness

Hi there! Greetings from the snowy, ice covered reaches of New York! We hope today’s post finds you ensconced in covers and drinking the hot beverage of your choice if you are in one of the colder areas of the world. And if you are in Hawaii, well, don’t tell us if you are in Hawaii.

We chartchums have been busy writing, writing, writing and are happy to report that Smarter Charts 2 is now in the hands of the supremely dedicated and talented folks at Heinemann. We will keep you posted on its progression, and have one small teaser to unleash now… it is even better than the first book. Our brains have grown, our community has grown, and it has resulted in something we are both incredibly proud of.

Now onto the short term! January is a time of resolutions, new beginnings, and the reversal of clutter. As Kristi sets forth on launching a new writing unit, she is going to take you on a tour of her streamlined planning/charting process. Pack your bags folks, because here we go:

First things first, look honestly at what your students have learned, not what you have taught

On-demands are one of our favorite ways to launch units. Though the results may not be pretty, they are honest, and you can only get to your destination if you know where you are…

Kristi launched her kindergarten story on-demand with the following language: Today you guys have a pretty exciting job ahead of you! You are going to fill up the pages of your 5 page book with a story of something that happened to you! We have read a lot of stories so you know how they usually start and some of the things they have in them – like talking and feelings. When you have a story idea in your mind, go and grab a special yellow* book from the writing center!”

* Kristi learned this trick from a literacy coach, if you make the on-demand book a different color it is easier to find it. She chooses a different on-demand book color for each unit.

Then, Kristi sat down with the on-demands and her end of unit checklist. The headings at the top are strongly influenced by her work with the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Workshop Narrative Writing Continuum and the Common Core State Standards. She will be teaching story multiple times throughout the year, so these are not the ONLY things she is teaching in narrative writing this year.

Kristi's check off sheet

Kristi’s check off sheet

A few notes:

  • the first column indicates on how many pages out of the 5 children were able to hold onto the same story
  • the stretching column indicates what sounds children are representing (Beginning, Middle, End)
  • the final column gives a rough estimate on when children stopped working

After looking at the work, Kristi came up with 4 main goals (in no particular order):

  1. Build stamina to 30 minutes
  2. Develop more elaborated drawings
  3. Develop more elaborated writing
  4. Increase the clarity and readability of the writing

There are some obvious small groups that pop up: children who need more work with stretching a story across pages or sequencing, coming up with topics, or children who had less than the average amount of stamina.

Now that you know where you are, plan to move onward!

At this point, Kristi grabbed four pieces of white printer paper and wrote the goals across the top (one goal per page). Kristi usually plans for 1-2 weeks of focus around each goal, but will probably only teach 3 or 4 things within that time to support the goal. This allows time for children to learn the new thing, practice and reflect on it.

Below is the planning page for goal 1: Staminaphoto 1    On the left hand side there is space to generate teaching points, on the right hand side is a mock up of what the chart will probably look like. At the top of the chart there will be a stair of increasing minutes to record the growth in stamina. Underneath is the likely heading for the strategies to support increasing stamina. One can not just write longer by sheer force of will, it helps to have some techniques to help you stay at something.

photo 2These are the strategies Kristi will likely teach, though she has since added: be optimistic, say, “I can do it” and add to your words. These are culled from a variety of sources: Teachers College Reading and Writing Project curricula, the second bullet comes from our resident occupational therapist, the newly added “be optimistic” comes from some of Kristi’s professional reading on growth mindset and grit. These are written in shorthand and will be mulled over to find the perfect language and the perfect method of delivery, this is the broad strokes of instruction. Next she translates her short hand into a further developed chart sketch.

photo 3Note the reduction of language, the selection of a consistent visual, and the decision to use two colors to help children see what the strategy may look like in their own work. Next to the second bullet, stretch, Kristi has made a plan for the two photographs she needs to take. Two children that regularly receive additional OT services will serve as the models, mentors, and instructors for that lesson. Much of this sketch is just that, a sketch, much like when baking soda meets vinegar and the substance changes, when chart ideal meets child there must be room made for their influence. Some of this may be made during interactive writing, the work on the right hand side will be selected from students, and the strategies may change based on their accessibility and success. Kristi always, always, always leaves room for the innovation of her class.

Let’s see it again, shall we?

The second goal is elaborated drawings. Again, Kristi went to the white paper and thought about a variety of sources: mentor texts for illustration, Katie Wood Ray’s professional text In Pictures and In Words, resources from the art teacher, etc.

photo 4On the left hand side, Kristi has written some language she intends to teach the children, e.g. for drawing characters asking, “Who else was there?” Additionally, Kristi has decided to make this chart an annotated exemplar, meaning that she will use a mentor text, a piece of children’s work, or her own illustration and mark it up for the specifics that make it a successful elaborated illustration. As a stand in, Kristi has decided to sketch her own picture:

photo 5Kristi chose an annotated exemplar as the way to display this, as opposed to a list of strategies as the stamina chart will be, because she wants the children to see the big picture (no pun intended) of illustration. It is as much the way the parts work together, as the parts themselves, that make such impactful pages in picture books. Kristi will likely blow up both a piece of student work and a page from a Marla Frazee book to serve as mentors for the class.

Kristi went through the same process for her remaining two goals, making both a list of possible teaching points and a possible chart for each goal. With all planning, one must be prepared for detours, delays, shortcuts, and running out of gas. Though she is planned, the plans are not poured in cement.

The key to planning, in Kristi’s mind, is clarity of mission. If she can tease out 3 or 4 big goals, she likely has her charts. She often asks herself: what is reasonable in the amount of time allotted in this unit? She gives herself time to revisit teaching with her students, and tries to remember what really matters in writing: active problem solving, clear communication, joy, and ownership.

As far as the charts, the key is remembering they are billboards or fliers for your teaching, they are not the teaching. Door to door salesman leave pamphlets, companies run commercials and print ads, people take notes from a workshop. The charts need to jog your students memories, not create them, so making them with your children is key. Less is almost always more, and pictures are worth a thousand words.

We hope this helps to keep your new year clutter free, and as always, we look forward to hearing your comments!

Happy Charting!
Kristi and Marjorie

What’s Play Got To Do, Got To Do With It? (Answer: Everything)

Chartchums is usually written by Kristi Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli and represents our two voices, and the voices of the teachers we work with. Today a third voice is joining the chorus: Christine Hertz. Christine is an exemplary teacher, and a recent graduate of the Literacy Specialist Program at Columbia University. Christine worked with Kristi in her kindergarten classroom this year, and the post below is a result of their joint collaboration around increasing metacognition, independence, and student ownership in the classroom. The “we” voice will be used to represent the voice of Christine and Kristi.

We are on our third try at the opening paragraph of this post, and the proper beginning still remains elusive. Instead of a clear starting point to the work we did in kindergarten this year, its seems like it started in a million places, like strands of hair, before it gathered into the braid of the post below. So perhaps the best way to start, is with the strands first.

We, as educators and lifelong learners, were worried. New standards, new tests, new materials, new initiatives, new everything it seemed! As we looked between the standards and the children in front of us, some clear areas of need arose. Our children needed increased independence, the ability to think about their thinking, and above all the ownership of their process if they were to navigate their way through increasing sophisticated standards. We knew what we wanted, but as we watched these four and five year olds make meaning in writing, knock over blocks and build them again, and be entranced by a window washer during a particulary well planned standards based lesson, we got even more worried. How does one achieve rigor responsibly? How does one make sure children meet standards joyfully? How do you help children achieve all that they can, all that is asked, without sacrificing the fact they are children?

The standards are here, and children are going to always be children. How do we reconcile seemingly disparate ideas? We cannot will them away, nor can we ignore them, nor can we make children miniature adults by taking away time to play and talk. Rather we have to utilize the very thing that makes childhood special to meet these standards: play.

In our classroom, there was a particular buzz around Star Wars. Choice Time play often involved reenacting of the movies, Lucas-ian plotlines permeated writing workshop, look book time found boys and girls alike huddled around Star Wars books. Simultaneously, the class was nearing a reading unit that focused on using meaning, structure, and visual cues to read books. (A requirement of the Foundational Standards, and also some of the Reading Standards).

In the classroom, we had already begun work around student-led small groups. Students who felt they had achieved expertise in something would offer to hold a small group and children could sign up for it. Through her masters work, Christine had discovered that for children to increase their metacognition and ownership over a skill– for example when to employ a certain strategy– they needed to take on the role of the teacher and control someone else’s use of that same strategy. (This is not a new discovery, but rather follows Vygosky’s theory of the development of self-regulation). We realized that for children to gain an independent mastery of the standards, they needed to be able to teach them to others. And they needed to do so in a imaginative, playful way.

And then it hit us…. like Yoda. We wondered, would it be possible to merge the two things? The love and constant role play of Star Wars and the work these young readers needed to meet the kindergarten standards?

We started the unit solidifying and making public knowledge some very specialized Star Wars information: There are people called Jedis and they train and train and train to become Masters. Some even become so wise that they teach others, like Yoda. Then the path was set  – we would work to become Reading Yodas and we would teach others all we had learned.

We assessed readers prior to the unit, and determined what a reasonable goal might be for each child to achieve in a 3-4 week unit. We then met with the students to set goals, using the child’s language to help him or her begin to own the

Once everyone had a goal (a 2-3 day endeavor) we revisited the path of the Jedi:


We received a little inspiration from the Master himself:

And, of course, light sabers to help us on our quest:


Everything in the unit was themed to Star Wars, including the strategies:


And as children became more and more proficient at the skills needed to reach their goals, they moved to become Yodas. To complete that transformation, the students had to create their own “how-to” around their goal and teach it to us. Once they had successfully taught us their goal, they earned their Yoda ears, and any Jedi could come to learn from them. And, of course, every time the newly-eared Yodas taught a Jedi, they solidified their own mastery of their skill.


Here is one Yoda teaching another student about how you have to use the pictures and the words to really understand what is happening in the book:


Within three weeks, all the children were able to teach their goal to someone else clearly and had earned their Yoda ears.

image_3The time had come to celebrate, and celebrate we did with a phone call from Yoda himself:


We wrapped with a party and everyone took home their Yoda ears and a Star Wars book, but what remained was a very particular stance towards reading. Weeks after the unit ended I heard one student say to another, “It’s like Yoda said, do hard things you can.”

Within the unit a few things struck us:

– Engagement: there was no lag between minilesson and independent reading time. Students rushed to read and were emphatic about practicing their goals. By the end of the unit, the goal sheets were tattered and ripped from use, which is a good thing.

– Ownership: there was an increased confidence in students around their particular skill, and a sense of others having skills you could learn from. In shared reading, one student shouted out, “Yoda Jacob should chop that word – he’s the expert!”

– Joy: Yes, it was a word solving unit, no, no child realized that. There were no dittos to fill out or graphic organizers, rather there was the unadulterated pleasure of role playing being a Jedi, and later being a Yoda who taught others.

– Movement between levels: Not surprisingly, within this unit 18 out of 24 students moved up one reading level. They read and they worked passionately, without complaint – because they thought they were playing.

For your class it may be Star Wars, or Angry Birds, or Dora, but there is SOMETHING that your class is passionate about. Something that permeates the culture of your class and seeps out at choice time or around the lunch table or on the playground. It is our job as educators to find the joy, the play, and the access point for young children to achieve sophisticated standards. Our kids can do all that is asked of them and more, but only if we are creative and passionate enough to hold on to play and to redefine rigor.

Happy Charting, and Happy Playing!

Kristi, Christine, and Marjorie

Charting Celebrates Effort

In the sports world this month may be referred to as March Madness, but in the world of schools it is March Marvels. March is a marvelous month for children and teachers alike because this is the time of year we traditionally see great spurts of growth in our children, both physically and academically. They are taller, speak more eloquently, and can read, write and compute at new levels of achievement. And teachers can marvel that all their efforts are paying off. With this in mind we thought we would share some charts that celebrate effort and expectations as we head forward towards Spring.

For most teachers increasing children’s reading stamina is an ongoing goal because of its importance in strengthening their reading abilities and fluency. In fact it is often something that was fussed over quite a bit at the beginning of the year as routines and expectations for reading workshop time were set up. We saw many a stamina reading chart hanging up in classrooms during these beginning months of school. But, as with most charts from the beginning of the year they were replaced by more current charts that focused on critical reading strategies and skills. But as students are preparing to read more difficult and varied texts the issue of stamina is one worth revisiting. Making a chart that records the increasing time spent reading (or writing) announces to the world that this is something important and increasing the time reading books is worth striving towards as a class.

Below we show some examples of charts that celebrate the effort being put forth by classrooms to increase their time reading books. Again, the message being put forth is that this is something important and that together we can accomplish great things and we thank the amazing teachers, Jung Choe, first grade, and CTT team Sarah Carolan and Lindsay Brickell, at PS 59 for sharing these with us.

This first chart shows a delightful bear on a bicycle riding on a meandering path. The markers show the times achieved, the current reading times, and the times the class hopes to reach. This chart did not just arrive one day because it was cute and fun. This CTT/Inclusion class spent time talking about their reading, how long they used to read for, how long they can now read for, and what it was like to keep reading even when they got tired or distracted. Together they decided to try to increase their time reading like they try to ride for longer times on their bicycles in the park.

The road represents the journey the class is traveling.

The road represents the journey the class is traveling.

In another first grade classroom the teacher used a favorite character, Pigeon from the Mo Willems series, to pump up her children’s enthusiasm for the challenge ahead – to read longer without stopping. Again, the goals were developed with the children and they took turns keeping track of their reading stamina. This is a chart that is referred to often and steps moved up when the class is able to maintain the increased time consistently for the week. In other words, this is not something we do once, give a shout out, and call it a day. This is something that will take time to become a habit, to reach a goal. It requires effort.

The combination of the wrestling pigeon and the staircase reinforces the goals being set forth.

The combination of the wrestling pigeon and the staircase reinforces the goals being set forth.

Kristi also found a need to increase reading stamina among her students, so she created with her class of Kinders a plan that increases stamina by reading in increasing increments of time by including independent reading, partner reading, and library reading time. By providing varied opportunities to read in various situations, the children are encouraged to keep reading for increasingly longer periods of time. Again, the more children read, the longer they read for, and this increases their ability to read successfully and well. It also allows the teacher increased time to confer and teach small groups.

This chart reminds children of their intermediary goals as they continue to read during reading workshop.

This chart reminds children of their intermediary goals as they continue to read during reading workshop.

These are but a few examples of how teachers are setting challenges and celebrating effort in order to help their students, not only set goals, but develop agency and a ‘can do’ attitude that will be a life skill that each and every child can carry with them throughout their life. Let us know what other ways you are sparking your students to increase effort and drive to accomplish set goals.

Until next time, happy charting!

Marjorie & Kristi

A New Year, A New Start

Hello Everyone!

Happy New Year! It’s been a while, we know, but we are back and so appreciate your sticking with us through our absence! As happens, life happened, and the hiatus gave us a chance to get some things in order. Actually, it was because of life that Kristi had to miss a few days with her kindergarten class which got her really thinking about how important independence, routine, and expectations are for children. No one loves the day after a substitute, and that feeling forced Kristi to ask: “What do I ‘own’ in the classroom and what do the children ‘own’?” This lead her to explore this question with her colleagues and we are all the fortunate recipients of all they tried.

Charts and tools are one way we look to transfer ownership over to children, as well as to provide opportunities for self-reflection and goal setting. The teacher can not be the regulator, corrector, and director at all times. Children learn to become responsible when given responsibility. With this in mind, Kristi and her colleagues dove in using that idea as a guiding principle. Below are some of the things that resulted from this inquiry.

Helping Reading Workshop Become More Independent

Self-assessment is a tricky thing – for adults too! – and so creating a rubric that would help kindergarten children assess their reading time seemed like a daunting challenge. Kristi first tried this:

IMG_0505(For all the inquiring minds – the hamburger in the speech bubble represents talking about lunch during reading workshop!)

Almost every child immediately selected “Superhero,” with a few exceptions who labeled themselves as strong. Kristi realized that self-assessment without some practice was going to be hard, so then she created this chart with her class:


To make it even more concrete, the class decided that more than 3 reminders from the teacher to read books would make it an “okay” day. Between 1 and 3 teacher reminders would make it “strong” and no reminders would make it a “superhero” kind of day.  Alongside this chart was a chart that listed ways to stick with reading even when you felt tired or hungry. After a week or two of group assessment, children were ready to self-assess with more honest, reflective results.

This time of year is also the time when many teachers are working on partnerships. The always wise team of kindergarten teachers that Kristi works alongside at PS 59 in Manhattan developed some playful tools to help partners be productive and stay engaged.

Front cover with pictures of the partners. The partners are either apples or bananas to help with turn taking.

Front cover with pictures of the partners. The partners are either apples or bananas to help with turn taking.

Inside of folder with options for partners. One side says: to do, the other says: "done"

Inside of folder with options for partners. One side says: to do, the other says: “done”

The folder made partnerships feel a bit like a game and the partner activities inside were taught a few at a time, then the process of working with a partner was revisited throughout the unit.


Helping Writing Workshop Become More Independent 

Kristi’s mom, who was a teacher for many years, always advised her to “teach yourself out of a job”. It is a beautiful concept, but one that can feel frustrating when you have 24 five year olds clamoring for your care and attention. Kristi used her all about unit in writing (a genre many of her children had been dabbling with since September) to teach towards independence. This happened in several ways. First, Kristi stopped teaching children how to write, and started teaching them how to teach each other. Children who had experimented with something that would be great for the whole class to know were invited to teach alongside Kristi during some minilessons. Then the class reflected on who they learned from, what the apprentice teachers did to teach them, and how they did it. The chart below shows how Kristi made this public with her students.


After that, Kristi started getting children ready to lead small groups. She selected a few children who had something they could teach and met with them in a small group. The first step was to identify HOW to teach. The children thought through WHEN writers should do what they did and HOW to do what they did. Then the other students signed up for these student led seminars (keep in mind that these are Kindergarten students).


The “teachers” showed their own work and taught the others how to do it. Kristi coached in to the seminar teachers with prompts like, “Ask her to try it” and “Say your steps again.” It was incredible to see how the children rose to the occasion of being teachers, and how much more likely children were to use what they were taught when it was presented by a peer. Was it perfect? Absolutely not, but it was a start. Kristi is planning to do student-led seminar workshops every Friday, starting with writing and extending to reading and choice time over the next month. She’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Making Choice Time Matter

Kristi’s brilliant assistant principal, Alison Porcelli, wrote the book on choice time – literally – with Cheryl Tyler. It’s called Language Acquisition in the Choice Time Workshop and everyone should buy it and read it RIGHT NOW. One BIG idea in the book is that children should be setting goals and reflecting on them within choice time. Since Kristi’s kindergarteners are staying in the same centers for 3-5 days, they were ready to take this on. First planning a project was modeled, and then the children took it on. Goals ranged from building on to a city in the block center to throwing a wedding in the drama center. Art center caught wedding fever and decided to spend the week making decorations, cakes, and clothes for the event.


This hung in their center while they worked. At the end of the week they told Kristi what to take a picture of to show how they had met their project goal.



Kristi’s next step is to hand the camera to the children so they can capture the work they did that meets their project goals.

A Final Word

This has all been messy and, at times, terrifying – but it has always, always been fun. Kristi’s colleagues at PS 59 have put their brains together to develop ideas, put themselves out there to try it, and laughed when the results were a disaster (most of the disasters were happening in Kristi’s room). Kristi cannot say enough about the brilliant team she works with: Kathryn Cazes, Valerie Geschwind, Mollie Gaffney, Katie Lee and Andrea Mackoff who are incredible teachers and incredible people. Anything you see here that catches your eye was always the result of a team effort, and Kristi wishes to thank them for letting her share them all with the world. Thanks guys!

Grab your team close and dive in! Until next time, Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli

Oh My! More Ideas About Goals, Rubrics, and Groups

Here at Chartchums we are excited once again to have a guest blogger. This week we will hear from Bianca Adamo Lavey, a staff developer at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, who works with the teachers at Holbrook Elementary School in Long Island, New York. She and the second grade teachers had been doing a lot of work this year on developing children’s independence and were inspired by last week’s blog to make this work not only visual, but also interactive. What follows is her description of what the teachers thought and did as they continued this pursuit.

I am so excited to share how teachers at Holbrook Road School were inspired by the idea of goal setting and rubrics written about in the Chartchums blog post, Goals, Rubrics, and Bears…Oh My! posted last week. It struck a cord because they too had been thinking about ways to help their students reflect, self-assess and set goals, but weren’t quite sure how best to go about it. The charts and rubrics shared by the teachers at PS 277 and PS 109 were just the thing to get all of us thinking and talking about how we might create some versions that would work with our kids. The second grade teachers, along with the help of reading teachers, Jen DeHayes and Jen Groen, got together and began to articulate their wishes and wants for the students under their care.

One big goal the teachers had this year was getting the kids to make the best use of partnership time and seeing this time not just as a place to give your ideas, but as a place to get and grow ideas. The teacher in this classroom, Julie Kelly, outlined some of the big goals her class has accomplished so far this year and then explicitly told kids what she’s noticed as possible next steps. Readers first reflected on what partnership time was like for them, asking themselves what they felt like they were doing well and what they felt like they could work on, looking to the goals chart for help. Partners also provided some feedback to each other and many kids decided to set partnership goals for them to work on together, rather than set different individual goals. Then her teaching assistant, Arlene Leporati, helped organize this information on a chart so it was clear and easily accessible.

Julie then looked to the chart as a way to form some small groups. She realized that although many of the readers in her class were quite aware about what things they needed to work on, they probably didn’t know exactly how to work on them. The strategy card above was given to the readers who wanted to work on “keeping the conversation going” during partnership time. Before partnership time they reflected on which of these strategies they had used in the past and made a plan for which ones they wanted to try today. During partnership time, they took the card out and referred back to it for tips.

Another goal the 2nd grade teachers had centered around getting kids to think in more sophisticated ways about their books and to show these thoughts with their jottings on sticky notes. So, we decided to look to what kids were thinking and jotting, create a rubric designed to help the kids work in more sophisticated ways, and then have kids look to their sticky notes to reflect and set goals. You’ll see from this chart that it is designed in a way to make it easy for the kids to think about where they are on the rubric. It also makes it easy for the kids to learn ways to move up to the next level. Once they match up their post it to the one on the chart, they can look to the next level and read the strategies listed to learn how to deepen their thinking and even set new goals. I feel honored to share what these awesome, thoughtful teachers are doing to create such reflective, involved students.

And we are honored to hear from all of the teachers out there who are doing so much to make teaching matter. We are also thinking about how the above ideas can easily be applied to other subject areas where children talk with partners and create goals for themselves like, math, social studies, gym, art, music, science . . . the list is endless. 

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Charting!

Kristine Mraz and Marjorie Martinelli