The Art and Science of Chart Making + A Giveaway

From Smarter Charts: Optimizing an Instructional Staple to Create Independent Readers and Writers by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz. Copyright © 2012 by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz. Published by Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH. All rights reserved.

I started thinking deeply about the significance of classroom charts once I spent a week with Kristi Mraz who led a section, “Toolkits, Charts and other Resources That Support Writers in Revision and Writerly Craft,” at the writing institute back in 2011.  Kristi, along with her TCRWP colleague Marjorie Martinelli, started a blog in 2011 called Chartchums, which provides examples of creative and effective classroom charts for teachers.

I’ve come to believe that classroom chart making is both an art and a science since charts must look good in order to appeal to children’s senses.  Once they look good, they have to convey the right information in just the right way in order to be used as a teaching tool children can and will access throughout a unit of study.

Kristi Mraz is now a Kindergarten teacher at P.S. 59 in Manhattan (A school that’s close to my heart since I did a lot of my fieldwork and my primary grade student teaching there!) and Marjorie is a staff developer at the Reading and Writing Project.  They recently wrote Smarter Charts: Optimizing an Instructional Staple to Create Independent Readers and Writers (Heinemann, 2012).  Their book is a treasure trove of fantastic information about creating better charts that will help your students increase their working memory of skills and strategies for reading and writing.  Here are three highlights from their book.  (BTW: It was hard to pick three since this book is loaded with useful information!)

Using Written Language That Reflects Students’ Reading Levels

          In order to create charts your students can read, Kristi and Marjorie suggest looking at the books your students are reading to determine:

  • The amount of print on a page

  • The size of the print

  • The size of the spaces

  • The number of lines in print

If this is what your students can read independently, then it serves as a good mentor for how our charts should read (8).

Making Charts Accessible and Adaptable

          Space is often an issue when it comes to displaying charts.  Pages 43-47 provide solutions for classrooms that deal with chart-hanging space constraints.  Some ideas the authors give are using clotheslines to provide space for charts (by hanging them up high), grouping current charts together on a bulletin board, clustering charts for the same subject together on skirt hangers (so they can be taken down as needed), and using table tents to bring the charts to the children’s workspace, and using portable chart books to make it easy to show charts to groups of children (e.g. during a strategy lesson).  In typical Smarter Charts fashion, there are photographs of all of these ideas, which complement the written descriptions.

Retiring: When to Retire a Chart

          After one spends a lot of time creating a successful chart, it’s hard to take that chart down.  If you’re like I was when I was in the classroom, then you have boxes full of charts that you’ll hope to use again.  (Though, once you read Smarter Charts, you’ll realize that you’ll want to take digital pictures of successful charts so you can recreate them with your students the following year… thereby eliminating a lot of clutter!)  Here’s what Kristi and Marjorie have to say about knowing when it’s time to retire your

Charts are made by teachers to make their teaching visible, understandable, and doable.  Therefore, every chart is critical and important in helping students feel they have resources available to help them be successful in the tasks at hand.  Teachers reinforce these ideas every time they refer to a chart while conferring, when teaching a minilesson, and when teaching a small group.  But when do we teach our children they have outgrown some charts or some strategies on the chart? When should some charts begin to recede or just plain leave? The first thing to think about is the purpose for the chart and whether or not it is still fulfilling this purpose. Be aware of next steps. Look at what is on your current charts and then think, “What if all my students are doing all of these things?” “What are they not yet doing?” These can lead to a shared class discussion about what you see and what you wonder, using the class charts as a touchstone to base your discussion upon (78).

Marjorie and Kristi will be here tomorrow to help you gear up for a nonfiction writing unit of study by providing you with a guest blog post about chart-making for this unit, which is often taught in December.  Be sure to come back tomorrow for their tips.

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION (Please read carefully since it’s a bit different than usual.)

·         Thank you to Heinemann for agreeing to sponsor a giveaway of one copy of Smarter Charts.

·         To win a copy of the book please leave a comment about this post, in the comments section of this post OR on Kristi and Marjorie’s guest blog post that will appear tomorrow, by Saturday, November 24th, 2012 at 11:59 p.m. EST. A random drawing will take place by Tuesday, November 27th and the winner’s name will be announced in a blog post later that day.

·         Please be sure to leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so I can contact you to obtain your mailing address and have my contact at Heinemann send the book out to you.  Please note: Your e-mail address will not be published online.

Comments are now closed.  Thank you to everyone who left a comment on this post and on Kristi & Marjorie’s guest blog post.  I entered all of the comments into a drawing (It was a pick-out-of-a-hat kind of drawing since I couldn’t do a random number generator with commenter numbers from both posts.)  Anyway, the comment that was drawn was from Beth Korda who wrote:

Just found you and Chartchums.  The book is on my wishlist.  As a new teacher, I am always searching for new ideas and mentor charts for me.