Our district was very lucky to have Marjorie Martinelli, co-author of Smarter Charts, and staff developer from TCRWP, come to present on Reading Workshop to our primary grade teachers. Marjorie did such a great job and we were so lucky to have the chance to learn from her experiences and expertise.
Smarter Charts is a wonderful book that describes how anchor charts could be used to help students become more independent and successful readers and writers. In the book, the authors refer to Loris Malaguzzi, founder of the Reggio Emilia approach to primary education. He believed that the classroom environment is the child’s “third educator,” and that it has to be flexible and it has to undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to meet the needs of students. Anchor charts can create this kind of environment for students.
How can teachers create these kinds of charts?
1. Charts should reflect the students’ reading level. Smarter Charts recommends that the charts created in the classroom mimic the amount of print on a page, the spacing between words and the number of lines of print that children are used to seeing in their reading. Therefore, first grade charts would look much different from fourth or fifth grade charts.
2. Charts should be created with students so that they have some ownership of what goes on it, and will therefore refer to it. It is not necessary that the entire chart is created together, but it should not be something that is completely pre-made either. Charts should be a work in progress, one that helps students to remember the major points of the mini lessons you teach.
3. There has to be some system in place that helps students to remember to refer to charts when needed. After all, that is why they are created…to help students become independent problem solvers! Systems could include simple things such as having students post-it note the chart they used (or want to use); students can sign charts they have become “expert” on and then other students can go to them for help; teachers could ask students “Which chart could help you with that?” during mini-lessons, after workshop shares or conferences. The idea is to constantly remind students to use the charts and information that is available to them. They are NOT wallpaper!
Charts can be extremely helpful in getting students to understand the complex strategies and processes of the new CCSS in ELA. Breaking down these complex strategies into simple and easy to follow processes can make them more accessible to more children.
Here are 2 charts that I found online that would help students with Standard 5, which has to do with analyzing text structure to make meaning.
These charts can show a progression of learning throughout the school. The first one more closely aligns with the second grade standard, while the second chart would better fit the fourth grade standard. This makes anchor charts a useful tool for principals as well. It is a great way to see exactly what the kids are learning at each level. As in the example above, you would not want to see the first chart in the upper elementary grades, or the second chart in the lower grades.
In the book Smarter Charts, the authors suggest that anchor charts should
– be clear, easy to understand and easy to find
– display content that is current and supports increasingly complex skills
– have a clear purpose
– include steps for how to do specific strategies or procedures
– have visuals including symbols, pictures, and or photos to go with words
Students, like us, can easily become overwhelmed by complexity and clutter. So although charts are a good idea, it probably isn’t a good thing to have too many hanging around the room. 4-5 are usually a good number. Once most students have mastered the skill, the charts can then be “retired” and taken down. Sometimes a few students may need the support of a chart for a longer period of time. In these cases, you can take pictures of it and add it to the student’s reading notebook so they can have their very own copy for reference. Some teachers even use plastic picture frames containing charts at students’ tables.
Charts are an excellent tool that can help students become independent thinkers and problem solvers when working to master the CCSS. And although the standards are complex, when the processes are broken down and displayed for students, they can more easily internalize and master them. Charts don’t have to be perfect! They are most successful when they are created by or with students, and modified or altered as students’ understanding of the concept changes.
There are many great examples of anchor charts online. Some good sites to find some are
http://chartchums.wordpress.com/ (Marjorie’s Blog)
Please use the comment box below to let us know how you use charts in your classroom.