Every Child Can Write Blog Tour Stop 4: The Importance of Charts in Writing Classrooms

By Lynne R. Dorfman

Melanie book cover

When I first read Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades (2013), I was struck by author Debbie Miller’s question: “How can we hold thinking—making it both permanent and visible?”  I’ve always been a big fan of charts, using them as visible representations of students’ thinking.  Not only does the collective thinking become permanent and visible, but the charts can also serve many purposes.  Anchor charts help students achieve greater independence by providing the information they may need to plan, draft, revise, edit, and/or publish their writing.

Naturally, when Melanie asked me if I was interested in being part of her blog tour for her new book, Every Child Can Write, I was thrilled to be able to take a closer look at Chapter 6: Co-Create Classroom Charts as Pathways Toward Independence.  Immediately I was captured by Melanie’s statement of rationale for using classroom charts, linking their use with Universal Design for Learning, a way of teaching and learning that helps teachers give all students an equal opportunity to succeed.  Yes!  It made perfect sense that anchor charts can remove obstacles to success by building in flexibility in the ways learners can access information.

Melanie opens with an anecdote that describes how she used charts to help her daughter learn to cook, sharing that, as in the gradual release of responsibility model, the more her daughter cooked, the more competent and confident she became.  One day, the cooking charts were taken down.  Cecily had reached her goal.

Melanie gives us many reasons to use charts:

  • They can actually replace the minilessons for thriving writers.
  • Strong writers use them as memory joggers and scaffolds.
  • They provide choices or options student writers may want to try.

These big ideas are explored in this chapter.  First, Melanie tells us we should decide on the types and purposes of the charts we display in our classrooms.  The important thing to remember here is that a chart is a living, breathing tool. It can change and grow as the class thinking evolves.  Always accessible and reflective of the work the students do, it does not need to be “perfect, beautiful, or laminated.”  The important thing is that charts are created as a joint effort of the students and the teacher.  A sense of ownership fosters a sense of commitment and pride in using the information the chart provides.

Chapter 6 explores four types of teacher-created charts: anchor, procedural, strategy, and inquiry.  Meehan defines anchor charts as instructional tools that provide the overall skills necessary to complete a task.  One use of this type of chart is to reflect the expectations for the overall tasks of each genre of writing.

Procedural charts can help students follow the steps of a process.  How do I publish my writing?  How do I gather research for my opinion piece?  How do I participate in a peer conference?

Strategy charts provide choices for a particular skill.  I like Melanie’s suggestion to place sticky notes below the goal as suggestions are shared.  Some examples of strategy charts are about using transitional links and phrases, creating citations, exploring ways to spell words, and using punctuation.  Again, a variety of charts are displayed to help educators imagine how they can be created.

A large section of this chapter discusses what can get in the way of creating relevant, responsive charts and how to overcome these obstacles.  Melanie suggests that resources such as the Common Core State Standards help us create effective anchor charts, using the standards and restating them in student-friendly language and perhaps using some icons or illustrations to help.

“Don’t let perfect get in the way of the good.  Charts should not be perfect – they should be tools that students recognize, access, and use.” (146)  Wow!  How many times have you created a new version of a chart because it became too messy?  But that’s part of the creative process, and students can appreciate the hard work – the revisions and edits – all the re-imaginings.  This is part of the writing process.  Melanie suggests using different colors to highlight important words or to differentiate between big ideas and supporting details.

An important point to remember is that charts do not have to be completed in the lesson.  They can continue to evolve and change over two or more days.  The real purpose for charts, of course, is to get students to actually use them.  Therefore, teachers must monitor the charts displayed in their room so they do not become clutter.  Often, some charts will be taken down to make room for the charts the students need to use for a unit of study.

For easy access, charts can be reduced to smaller sizes and stored in pocket folders on a bulletin board.  Multiple copies of each chart can be made to service more students.  That way, a student can borrow a chart and take it to his seat where he is drafting, revising, or editing.  This helps the teacher by significantly reducing the number of questions to address, freeing the teacher to observe and confer with individual writers or engage in small-group instruction.  When students become more independent, they consciously are raised to this level of thinking: I am a writer.

The chapters in Melanie’s book close with a page designated for end-of-chapter questions and some suggestions for taking action.  Naturally, these pages can provide an opportunity for professional learning communities to develop at grade team, school, or even district levels. A smart, easy-to-read book that is filled with practical advice and great ideas – don’t miss it! Join the twitter chat Good to Great at #G2Great on Thursday, Oct. 3rd , 8:30 p.m. EST.

Melanie Blog Tour

10 thoughts on “Every Child Can Write Blog Tour Stop 4: The Importance of Charts in Writing Classrooms

  1. Lynne, I loved your question…” How many times have you created a new version of a chart because it became too messy?” when reflecting on Melanie’s advice “Charts should not be perfect – they should be tools that students recognize, access, and use.” I laugh when I think how often I used to start over. I think my sketchnoting practice has helped me get over that need for perfection and focus on purpose. Great blog post today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Paula. I learned a lot from Melanie’s chapter. It is always great to take away something new. I certainly have created a “good copy” of many charts because they were “messy.” I could have used my time more wisely!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Lynne – love how you connected this to Debbie Miller – her work grounds me and this connection makes so much sense! I love this sentence – “But that’s part of the creative process, and students can appreciate the hard work – the revisions and edits – all the re-imaginings.” So important to remember writing is a creative process and it is going to be messy like any creative process. I think sometimes we forget that and try to keep the process neat and tidy. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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  4. Every post I read about Melanie’s book makes me more anxious to get my hands on a copy. I’ve learned a lot over the years from her about charts- but so often it has been in conversation or a quick sharing… so glad to know all of that knowledge and good information and tips are captured in a chapter of this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It sounds like this book has some great information about the helpfulness of anchor charts. I also like the reminder, given in the example about cooking, that once they are not needed charts should be taken away. The goal always being independence!

    Liked by 1 person

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