Professional Book Review: Amplify!

Listen, we are humble ladies here at Chartchums. We like paper; we like markers. One of us still writes her pieces longhand, and the other considers her iPad to be a slightly glorified candy crush machine. We are not on the cutting edge of tech, which is why Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke’s new book, Amplify!, shocked us to our core with one big idea: you don’t have to be super techie to use tech in big, powerful amazing ways with kids.


Too often technology in education becomes about the tool or the app. One gets a sense that if you don’t have 1-1 iPads for your classroom, you probably should just burn it to the ground.  Amplify! pushes back against that idea saying: “We focus on the overall goal of teaching kids how to think and then later in purposeful tools along the way.”  This idea, that technology is a purposeful layer added to kids thinking, immediately separates Amplify! from other writings we have read about using technology. It is not about iPads as the new worksheets, or word processing as the new writing workshop — it is about deepening and enriching thinking through the use of everyday technology.

Only have one computer? The authors talk about what you can make possible no matter what your technology provisions.

Not sure where to start? The authors link teaching about using technology to the workshop approach you likely use in reading and writing. The emphasis is on using the technology as a support and enhancement to reading and writing, not as a replacement of the book or the pen.

Worried about screen time and an eerie glow permeating your classroom? The authors teach us how technology can enhance and enrich collaboration and children’s play.

At its core, Amplify! is about good teaching. It is the next step for teachers who believe in child centered, developmentally appropriate, responsive instruction. It is grounded in best practice and powerful learning. You will learn how to use technology in ways that will revolutionize your classroom. One of Kristi’s favorite ideas comes out of one of the “Try It Tomorrow” sections — brilliant bite size ideas to take on called, “The Recording Booth.” Kristi did as the authors suggested and set up her computer and taught her kindergarteners how to record themselves. Once children met a goal, they would record themselves teaching their goal to an audience and over time built a virtual help desk for each other. Need help stretching a word? There was a video for that. Need some writing ideas? There was a video for that. Katie and Kristin taught us how to make living breathing charts available to children!

Throughout the book Kristin and Katie demonstrate beautiful teaching, provide possible mentor charts to use with technology, give realistic advice and helpful resources, and most importantly, replace the idea that technology is about something new, and make you realize it is about something better. As they say, “It’s not the tools — it’s about what we do with them that counts.”

We highly recommend Amplify! for both the novice techie and the high flying IT nerd for both its engaging writing, innovative ideas, and inspiring message.

Amplify!  is available here:

Happy (digital) charting!

Kristi and Marjorie


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)

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

Going for the Gold: Creating Charts that Challenge and Rally Children

As the new school year quickly approaches (or for some, has already begun), teachers are thinking and planning for those first weeks in school. Teacher stores are overflowing with welcome banners and signs announcing the arrival of caring kindergartners, stupendous second graders, or the next crop of quality first graders.  In each of these cases the ultimate goal is to set the scene for creating a community of learners by labeling them in positive ways. The banner titles that keep popping into our heads have been influenced by the recent Olympic games and sound something like, Welcome World Class Students or Class 1-141 is Going for the Gold! or Meet the Next Dream Team! But there is more at play here than simply coming up with catchy titles or headings. The Olympics can provide a backdrop for what teachers always want for each year’s class: to become a great team and to aspire to be the best they can be.

The motto of these Olympics, Inspire a Generation, is one we can carry forward with us into this new school year. In event after event, what kept being highlighted was how, regardless of the sport, each participant had a passion that they pursued, saw in themselves potential and possibility, and with the help of others, persisted and practiced intensely. This combination of process and effort is what we want to instill in all young people. The 2012 Summer Olympics can help us do just that.

They are also called the Olympic Games and games are supposed to be not only challenging, but fun. One of the most memorable aspects of the games was the shear joy on the faces of so many of the athletes. Sports Illustrated (Aug. 13, 2012) even dubbed the women’s U.S. swim team “The Fun Bunch,” because they hugged and smiled before their races! They approached each race with “joy and camaraderie.” This may be an even more important lesson to learn from these games considering the current climate in education. Competition is tough and rough, but when done with joy and a positive attitude, it can also become a positive, life changing experience. Providing children with challenges to aspire to, while coaching them along every step of the way, and bringing some fun into the mix can change their lives as well.  With this in mind, we will show you a few ways the Olympics have inspired our own joyfully made charts, that will hopefully inspire you and the students in your classrooms.

Last week we had the pleasure of working with teachers from around the world at the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s August Reading Institute. Perhaps it was because the Olympics had just started and the games were playing in the background as we planned for our sections, but Olympic lingo kept seeping into our lessons and our charts. The first part of preparing a chart is to think about the big idea you want to teach and to find a heading that captures that idea. One beginning lesson was about encouraging readers to set themselves up for reading by getting their minds on fire. Watching the Olympic athletes prepare for their events, we noticed that they too got themselves psyched up. Michael Phelps put on headphones, hood up, head down. Jordyn Wieber acted out each move of her gymnastic routine prior to beginning. We want our readers to psyche themselves up in similar ways. This lead to the chart below with the heading, World Class Olympian Readers Psyche Themselves Up to Read! Now, rather than writing this heading in front of the students, especially if you want to include photos or pictures, you can prepare this part of the chart ahead of time. If you fear crooked writing and messy mistakes, you can also prepare the bullets ahead of time, as well, and then reveal the parts that match each day’s teaching point as you go along.

The heading on this chart was inspired by observations made watching Olympic athletes prepare for their events. This chart was prepared ahead of time in anticipation of the series of lessons the teacher planned to teach.

The next series of chart photos show how the chart was unveiled and used to reinforce the teacher’s teaching focus each day. It is important to point out that while the overall chart was prepared ahead of time in this case, it was not shown as a whole to the students. In fact, each bullet was taught into explicitly on separate days by breaking them down into steps.

Step one of introducing the chart.

The teacher uses the heading of the chart to help her introduce what she wants to teach and to engage the students in the topic by using a metaphor they might connect with.

Next, the teacher folds down the chart to reveal the first strategy she plans to teach for setting up to read.

The first strategy is revealed, but not the “how” to do it.

The small sticky notes were added as the teacher demonstrated each step a reader goes through to prepare to read any book. For example, readers prepare by “thinking about the book right from the start.” They do this by first looking at the front cover, title, and back cover. Then they wonder about what will happen or ask questions. Finally, they read with their minds on fire. Notice how each sticky note reminds readers of these steps.

The “how” to do the strategy is added showing the steps involved.

As the teacher explains how to think about a book right from the chart, she demonstrates how to do it with a book of her own, while adding the steps with icons onto sticky notes and putting those up on the chart next to the strategy. Each sticky note reinforces the teacher’s words and actions: look, wonder, read.

The rest of the strategies and the steps involved are unwrapped as each one is taught explicitly by the teacher. The second teaching point is to ask, “What kind of book is this?” This strategy is important at the beginning of the year when children are reading a variety of books with various forms and genres. “Finding time and space to read” is another important lesson when you are trying to set children up to read with increased stamina and independence. And all along you can emphasize that this is just like what Olympic athletes do to build stamina and independence.

Here is the chart with the second strategy shown.

This is the chart in its final form.

Now, you won’t always prepare a chart ahead of time. You need to consider your purpose, all that you want to include on the chart, and how you will use the chart to support your teaching. You can always go back to a chart and add photos or have children illustrate pertinent parts. But back to our Olympic theme.

The Olympics can provide a fresh look at an old or familiar subject, such as partnerships. Partnerships take team work, and no place was that more obvious than at the Olympics. Whether you watched Beach Volleyball or Synchronized Diving you saw inspiring examples of athletes who worked together tirelessly and supported each other every step of the way. This is something our students can strive towards with their partnerships. This idea of teamwork came into play when creating a chart around reading partnerships.

Some photos of Olympic teams help illustrate the point.

The heading, “Partners work as a team!!!” is meant to excite and engage in the prospect of working together with a reading partner. Partnerships are often challenging, so anyway we can generate enthusiasm for this essential element of any workshop, the better. Photos of kids looking, listening, and talking to each other can add another dimension to the chart. During another lesson, some specific prompts kids could use when trying to “point out examples” was added.

Some sample prompts have been added to help partners provide examples as they talk.

In addition to the amazing teamwork seen at the Olympics, there were many  individuals who achieved extraordinary results through hard work and strategic planning. Michael Phelps was one very familiar figure the world watched intensely. Seeing him come back again and again, even after a few disappointing events, made him the poster boy for resiliency. He did not give up, so we had to include him on at least one chart so he could inspire a few of our upcoming writers.

The metaphor of being a gold-medal winner is used to remind students what it takes to be a gold-medal writer.

The 2012 Olympic Games provided us with two weeks of entertainment, but also showed us how to be in this world. The athletes approached each task as a challenge, saw failure as a chance to learn, and felt proud of their efforts that got them to London among all the other countries. Whether you use the Olympics or not, we know you will continue to find ways to inspire another generation of students excited to learn and try things out.

And as always, happy charting!

Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz

Let the Reading Work Begin!

Welcome back! We hope you rested this weekend and are ready for the week ahead. By now, many teachers have established some basic routines and are looking towards the rest of the year. Of course, all routines will have to be practiced and revisited throughout the year, but most children know their spots, can locate their baggies and writing materials, and are ready to go! Now you need to teach them some things they can do in those spots and with their tools and materials. So in this post, we will explore some of the charts you might be making around the important work in reading that your children have begun. We have divided this by grade level, but you may see charts in other grades that speak to you as well. As always, we want you to look at these charts as inspiration for you, not as a product to copy. The best charts have your voice, and your children’s voices firmly implanted on them.


A Kindergarten Chart to Support Early Reading Behaviors

This first chart addresses what children are doing in reading workshop, when they may not yet be conventionally reading. Rather than letting children flip quickly through books, this chart accompanies a lesson that teaches how readers touch each thing in the picture and say what they see. This work is building a sense of story and developing young children’s oral language, both of which will support them as they move into more conventional reading. A few things to notice about this chart:

Amount of writing versus amount of visuals: Charts are meant to be used by the children in the classroom. If most children are not yet reading, charts with lots of words will be overwhelming and unused. The big strong visuals will remind children quickly and easily the job of readers during readers workshop. It shows, not just tells, in a way that is understandable to any child. When making charts consider the amount of print that your children will be able to reasonably handle.

Use of actual texts: Kindergarten children are nothing if not concrete. You may say they look like “a million bucks” and they will stare right back at you, as if you have spoken in another language. And, in some sense you have, until you explain the mysterious phrase. Using actual texts (these are just color copied on a printer from Mo Willems lovely book, Cat the Cat, Who is THAT? ) will not only draw attention to the chart, but will cement the skill in children’s minds. The teacher in this case used this text to demonstrate the skill of touching what was in the picture and saying what she saw, and then put the same page on the chart. Just like in the writing chart in the previous post that used the actual paper, consider if you can use the actual item on the chart.

First Grade

A First Grade Chart Working Towards Longer Stamina

A few posts back (Are You Ready for Reading Workshop?) we looked at a chart that recorded how children’s stamina was growing. As we all know, you can’t just will children to read longer. This chart shows some of the strategies the teacher taught over several days to build that stamina. A few things to notice on this chart:

Amount of writing versus amount of visuals: This first grade chart has more writing, but still a strong amount of visual support. The vocabulary is not overly complex, the phrases simple, and the separate strategies are divided by color to make the information on the chart easier to group.

There are steps: This chart could just have had three bullets that say: set a goal, make a plan, meet the book, and be done. Instead, this teacher felt that each of these ideas needed more development, so provided a series of steps for children to follow. When you are teaching something that feels complex, it can help to break it down into a few simple steps and record those on a chart. Try not to have more than four or five steps on any one chart, because more than that becomes hard to follow, and even harder to remember.

Second Grade

Beginning of a Second Grade Chart about Post-Its

This second grade chart is teaching children ways to use post-its to record their thinking as they read. The 6 x 8 inch post-its used on this chart are the ones mentioned in a previous post (Shopping the Specials) which are not only large, but come in eye-catching, fluorescent colors. A few things to notice about this chart:

Amount of print versus amount of visuals: This second grade chart is much heavier on print, but the print is broken up in an accessible way. And it still has visual support. In general, we try to avoid charts that look like unbroken lines of print with tiny visuals. We want charts to work like billboards, where kids can get the meaning in a drive by way. In other words, in a split second the message is seen and understood.

It is growing: This chart has only just begun! The teacher will be adding additional strategies as she teaches them to the readers in her room. The nice thing about the large post-its used on this chart is that they allow the teacher to easily add on. Another lovely aspect is that children can take them off. If students need help with a particular strategy, they can pluck it off, put it near where it is needed, and then return it when they are done.

Some of you have asked about sending in your own charts! Please do! The best way to do this is to send photos in an email to We have already received some which have been posted, and others that we are holding on to until we have the perfect post for them. We’d also like to give a big THANKS to those of you who have been referring this blog to your friends and directing others to this site. Making powerful, effective, and accessible charts that support independence is not easy work. So we appreciate you taking this journey with us.

Until next time, happy charting!