Monday, January 27, 2014

Changing My Stance on Charts and Chart Creation

So, I've been fascinated and blown away by Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristi Mrax since I picked up the book a while ago.  I had a basic understanding of charts but after reading this book, I realized that I wasn't as thoughtful as I needed to be about the charts in my room.  I usually just used easel paper to capture thinking or post ideas around a topic, etc. There were charts everywhere and kids used a few.  After reading Smarter Charts, I realized I had to play around a bit and figure out how to do a better job.

I did a podcast with Kristi and Marjorie for Choice Literacy and one comment from the interview stayed with me.   At one point in the interview, Kristi said, " I feel like planning out chart goes right alongside with planning our units in reading, writing, math, and inquiry."  She talked about how planning charts was part of the planning and I had never really done that. I just picked up a marker when I thought we needed to capture something. Of course, I had an idea of what kinds of charts would be part of a study but I never really thought them through, planned them out and built them over several days as part of the learning.  Then they blogged sharing their process and the blog post made it much more clear to me.

For a while, I tried to play around with the specifics that Kristi and Marjorie talk about. They are so great at drawing and sketching and I am hopeful I'll get more comfortable with these at some point. But in the meantime, I wanted to just rethink the planning of my charts-the purposes, the supplies, the visual support, the construction, the student piece, etc.   So, for our nonfiction study that we are doing, learning to build stamina in nonfiction reading while we write informational pieces, we created this chart over the last two weeks.

This is a chart of the learning we did around nonfiction series books in our classroom.  I chose 7 series or authors that seemed to be books most 3rd graders could read on their own--books that stretched from the skimming and scanning I've noticed they do in nonfiction.  We studied several stacks of these books in small groups, looking for the decisions authors made to make the informational interesting and accessible to readers.  This piece of the study served a few purposes.  First, it gave my kids lots of time with nonfiction books I am hopeful they'll want to read in the near future--books they haven't looked closely at. It also gave them time to have conversations about the decisions authors made and the features they used in each book.  It gave us a common set of books to talk from and it also started conversations about stamina and how these books were all designed to be read from cover to cover.  Although we created this chart in a study of reading, I plan to build on what we learned as we move to write our own informational texts.

Here is what I took from the brilliant Chartchums girls that really helped me:

-I actually planned out the chart. I chose the books, pulled stacks and sketched out the way I envisioned the chart.  Part of planning was finding books that matched my learning goals for the kids.  I planned it along with the planning of the unit of study.  

-I changed up the visual piece. I made color copies of book covers to kids could revisit the chart easily as needed throughout the unit. I used 24 X 36 construction paper to give it a background different from those non-thoughtful charts they've become used to ignoring.  

-I involved the kids in the process as they added the information about their stack to the chart.
-We built this over days and the chart grew as the understanding grew.

-It is a chart we'll use for more than a few days.  It is one that will carry us for several weeks as we've anchored our thinking and can use the books and ideas generated to build our strategies as writers.

I still have a lot to learn about creating better charts and I know Marjorie and Kristi may be cringing as they read this, seeing how much of their brilliance I've missed in this first chart.   I do want to get more comfortable with drawings and lettering. I want to play with restickable glue sticks and having min-versions of charts available for kids in the classroom.  I want to revisit the book and the blog to see what else I've missed. But,  I feel like this first step was about changing my stance about charts. And I feel like I did that.  I approach them differently now.  I no longer just pick up a marker and fill my classroom with charts no one uses.  And I think over time, I will see a huge difference in the ways my students use them because of that.  

Love the Chartchums girls and highly recommend their book if you haven't read it.
(And, there is a great new post on Chartchums sharing lots of great posts that go along with the thinking in book and podcast!)


  1. I think you have made a great start! Thank you for sharing about the Chartchums and their book. I love new reaources and look forward to learning more about their approach to charts in the classroom.

  2. I love your thinking process here. I've been carrying their book around in my work bag for months. I MUST READ IT!

  3. So LOVE that the student writing shows that the students did the work. They will come back to this chart and use it over and over as they make decisions in their own work with information writing.

    And the Chartchums blog is so helpful as they share their thinking about "how to" create charts!

  4. I have been following your podcast and blogs on this topic and think it's time a pull this book off my TBR tower. I have always been one to keep my charts up all year. I know kids refer back to them, but I am starting to think about different ways to accomplish this while drawing more attention to the charts on display.

  5. i. I come from the perspective of a soon to be special education teacher. Although I do not yet have my own classroom (I am working as a graduate assistant and obtaining my masters degree in special education adaptive curriculum) I have a particularly strong viewpoint from that as a special education teacher. I know firsthand that good and organized charts aid our students with disabilities as they try to comprehend what we are teaching. Using solid graphic organizers, key highlighting and charts and graphs all have the ability to aid our students with special and unique abilities to truly understand what we are trying to teach them. I had a student who at first had a difficult time with text comprehension. His fluency was far superior to this grade level; however, he could not remember a sentence even if he just read it to you. He was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and because he had some difficulty with understanding different “w” questions (who, what, when, where, why) he naturally had difficulty with comprehension. By guiding his reading with different structural graphs, such as the five W’s chart, the text to self chart, chaining and character mapping graphs, he was better able to comprehend the stories we would read in class.

  6. What great ideas, and an inspiring book review. I really want to read this book now! I use charts in my special education classroom, but as you stated, I often have a vague idea of the chart I will use for a lesson without really planning it out. I also use simple chart paper for all of my charts. After reading your post, I want to begin using more colorful, purposeful charts that my students will actually use again. I really like the idea of creating a chart over several days so that students revisit their thinking again and again. My primary purposes for using charts are to model the thinking and writing processes, and to give my students reading material that they can refer to and that they helped create. Being more intentional when planning charts will help my students be more involved in chart creation (i.e. coming up with ways for non-writers, non-readers, and nonverbal students to participate) and to actually use charts once they are hanging on the wall. Thanks for sharing!


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