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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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Dear Chartchums: Queries, Questions, and a Few Answers, Too!

We love being part of a digital age that allows us to connect with teachers across the world via Blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. Besides the many notes of support and thanks sent our way, we also receive lots of questions sent by teachers who are constantly exploring ways to improve their practice in order to help their students become more knowledgeable and independent each and every day. This week’s blog attempts to answer some of these questions in the hope that these could be useful to most teachers out there in the world. Our thanks to all of your for your continued passion and commitment to what matters most – our students!

From Facebook:

“Trying to address all areas requested by admin…learning targets, essential questions, look fors???? Help!!!!”

It can be hard to balance the many demands placed on us as teachers. When it comes to charts, we have one clear answer: charts are for students first and foremost and be wary to clutter them with things children do not need. Something like an essential question can be posted in the same area as the charts. If it is an over-arching central question, then it can go on its own small paper using shared or interactive writing to compose it. Essential questions are what our teaching (and our charts) strive to help children answer, so having that posted and clear is helpful.

As for learning targets, those goals are often what inspire the headings on any one chart. If you have a learning target to help students write with sight words, spaces, and most sounds represented by a letter, then the chart heading will address that target: “I can write in an easy to read way!” and the bullets underneath address the specific ways to do that. You can always go to your administrator to show the ways you are co-constructing meaning and purpose with your students on your charts! If your administrator wants it written in fancy teacher language, you can always post a small sign outside your doorway which conveys this information to the adults entering the room. This will help clarify the difference between communications helpful to adults and communications helpful to children.

The chart below makes it very clear the focus being studied in this class. Using the title of a current unit of study is one way to satisfy an area that is often a “look for” when administrators visit a classroom.

The heading makes it clear what is being studied and the arrows help reinforce the ongoing process.

The heading makes it clear what is being studied and the arrows help reinforce the ongoing process.

How do I order the e-book version of Smarter Charts?

It can be ordered directly from Heinemann.com. To get it on an iPad you just have to download “Bluefire Reader” a free app.

Two questions from the Chartchums blog:

“I’d love to see a post on charting in the older grades. Many of our intermediate teachers struggle with this. Love your book…blog…everything!”

“Hi! I love the charts and I wanted to purchase your book. We transitioned to Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop this year. I teach 6th grade Language Arts and Social Studies and I wanted to purchase your book but I saw it’s for K-2. Is it still beneficial for 6th grade? If not, is there something that you can recommend I purchase. I love making charts, but I want to make sure that they are effective and I would love some guidance. Thank you!”

If there is one thing we have learned since the publication of Smarter Charts, it is that the principals of good charting hold true regardless of the grade or the age of the students.  This is because the principals are based not only on educational pedagogy, but on brain science, design theory, and advertising results; all having the overarching goal that information be presented efficiently and effectively in order to see results. The result we are all after is that what we are teaching (or selling) is remembered and used long after it has been taught (or sold).

What this means on a very basic level is that the effectiveness of a chart is directly related to its accessibility and its impact or use by the learner. What we sometimes see on charts as we travel up the grades is an increase of print and a decrease of visuals. There is very little research that supports this trend. All learning is aided by visuals. John Medina (Brain Rules, 2008) did studies where he gave adults a written  text and found that 72 hours later they recalled 10% of the information, but when he added visuals participants recalled 65% after 72 hours.

Below is a middle school chart created to support writing from an upcoming Middle School units of study book (Calkins, Ehrenworth, Minor, 2014). The visuals were carefully considered and only added to make the text more memorable. They were not added as mere decoration or to make the chart look pretty. The visuals incorporated were added to trigger students’ memory of the steps or the strategies they could draw upon if stuck or if they forgot what to do, efficiently and effectively. With use these strategies will become internalized and the chart will no longer be needed.

This editing checklist reminds students of critical points to attend to as they ready their pieces for publication.

This editing checklist reminds students of critical points to attend to as they ready their pieces for publication.

From the Chartchums blog:

I am interested in having my students participate more in the chart making. Right now they do a lot of suggesting in terms of content, illustrations, etc. But I think having their handwriting will make it more authentic and engaging. Suggestions/advice?

One idea is to create the chart through interactive writing where kids share the pen with you. This works well when you want the children to participate in the composition of the chart, have the kids’ hands show, but also want the conventions correct because the chart will be hanging up in the room as a model. You can also ask kids to make drawings to add to the chart or include copies of their work. This also contributes to students feeling empowered and known as those who can and do. Kids are drawn to emulate their classmates and quickly get the message that the classroom is full of teachers and models we can learn from. The chart below was written with students in Kristi’s classroom using interactive writing to highlight one student’s strategy for writing. Not only does the chart involve the students, but it makes a student famous by naming the strategy after him.

Alejandro's strategy is shared for all to try.

Alejandro’s strategy is shared for all to try.

How can we arrange for you to come to our school/district to present a PD day on charting?

We are available for full day author visits. You can contact Kathy Neville at Kathy@readingandwritingproject.com for pricing and availability.

Charting matters!

We hope these questions and answers help provide some direction and spark further ideas as to the many ways we can use charts to help our students learn what we are teaching, help themselves help themselves, and provide guidelines that will aid in developing realistic goals. Keep your questions coming and share your charting insights and solutions as well, so we can share again in the future.

Happy Charting!

Marjorie and Kristi