Getting To The Chart of The Matter

(Can’t stop, won’t stop making chart puns!)

Ahhh, October. For some this means country walks and apple cider, for others Halloween decorations and sweets galore, but for teachers, October means that school is really in session. Routines are getting tighter, shyness is dissipating and we are finally getting to know the little (and big) ones that we will spend the next year with in close quarters.

Once the very beginning weeks of school are past, it can be easy to put our sights on November’s reading benchmarks, and parent teacher conferences, and math assessments and on and on and on, and lose sight of what really matters: teaching and coaching into being a resilient and joyful kiddo, who looks at reasonable risks and says “I’ll try” and rebounds from disappointments and failures with his or her spirit intact. As a matter of fact, the New York Times just had an article about the critical need for schools to teach into social skills and positive habits of mind (Why What You Learned in Preschool is Crucial at Work). But how? When? With what?

A Mindset for Learning (and Living)

Kristi (of this blog) and Christine Hertz recently published a book on this very topic, A Mindset for Learning (available here or here) Essentially they argue that it isn’t about adding a new curriculum to your already full day, but rather rethinking the curriculum you already have in ways that support flexibility, resilience, optimism, empathy, and persistence. It is not about doing some more, it is about doing something differently. 

Through storytelling, reflection, goal setting, read alouds, and self-talk, we can help children learn to be all of those things so that they have a lifetime of positive and powerful experiences, while at the same time helping children meet benchmarks and standards.

But What Does This Have to Do with Charts? 

Charts are the footprints of teaching, and all charts gear towards growth mindsets because they say, “Look, here is a way to do this tricky thing.” They aid in flexibility and persistence, and they foster independence. Yet, we can also chart habits of mind to help children develop the pro-social skills necessary for learning and life.

Charts Show Us Choices:


The chart above comes courtesy of Christine Hertz, co-author of A Mindset For Learning, as a way to teach her third graders that there are different ways to think about things in the world. This launched an inquiry into things like flexibility and optimism, but also provided a touchstone chart for children to reflect on their own thinking. The chart, made collaboratively over several days, became a way to become metacognitive about the ways our thinking can help, or hurt, our learning and living.

Charts Provide Strategies:

self talk

In Kristi’s kindergarten classroom, there were lots of discussions around the facts that brains, like bodies can grow. The children in our classrooms are moment by moment developing the ways they will think about themselves and the world, and so it is imperative that we, as teachers, use the best possible language about children, and teach children to do the same for themselves. Instead of using an end of workshop share (in this case play workshop, though it could be any workshop) to teach more content, Kristi used it to teach into self-talk.  No matter how beautiful your instruction, if a child says to his or herself “I can’t do this, it is too hard” that child will not have access to learning. We cannot ignore that the way we think about ourselves affects the way we learn and live.

Charts Provide Power and Agency:


Part of having a mindset for learning as a teacher is understanding that pro-social skills don’t just magically appear, they are actively taught and reinforced by us and others. We would never dream to say to a child “go multiply” if we have evidence they don’t know what that means. The same is true for things like flexibility and optimism, or in this case―self- control. Self-control is not about compliance, it is about being in charge of your own body, and understanding your own ability to deal with feelings that may be overwhelming or intense. Having control over your own body can make you feel powerful and competent, and it is essential that we teach ways to do that. This chart, constructed over a week, presents different ways to gain control over your body when it feels like you can’t. Note the option for a run―we don’t all need quiet to regain control―for some children a sprint down the hallway is all they need to come back to a place of control.

Charts Provide A Vision for a Better World:


In the book, A Mindset for Learning, Christine and Kristi lay out possible ways to build an understanding of pro-social stances, one of which is empathy. This chart was the result of an inquiry around Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems and the idea that empathy is knowing how someone feels, and using that to change your actions if you need to. This phrase, “I know how you feel!” hangs in the area of the room where children go to talk about problems. As children talk out issues that arise, they use it to make connections to each other, and to think about what changes might need to be made to make the community run smoother, and relationships more fair.

In Summation…

We chart what we teach, so as you look around the room, in what way do your charts support children developing pro-social skills and positive habits of mind? In what ways do your charts help children see possibilities for themselves and how they relate to others? The things we spend time on becomes the things that children know matter, and as you begin these conversations you will see things like this:


“DJ Pony. She likes to sing. She is optimistic. She is the DJ”

We can teach in a myriad of ways. Let’s choose the ones that foster children as they develop passionate, productive hearts and minds. For more, please check out A Mindset for Learning (available here or here).

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!

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

ncte blogpost2

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

ncte blogpost1


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