How can we “hold thinking” – making it both permanent and visible? When planning, I need to think through not only what I want kids to know, do, and understand, but also how both of us will know what they know.
~ Debbie Miller in Reading with Meaning: Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades (2nd ed)
How often do you use anchor charts? I am a big fan and use them across the content areas as well as reading and writing workshops. Anchor charts are instructional tools to “anchor” the learning. They build a culture of literacy in the classroom as teachers and students work together to make thinking visible by recording content, strategies, processes, and guidelines during minilessons and/or discussions that occur in whole and small groups. Posting anchor charts makes the community’s thinking visible and permanent, making that thinking accessible to students to remind them of what they have discovered and to enable them to accommodate new knowledge with prior knowledge. Students refer to anchor charts when they work independently and during new minilesson experiences that extend a concept or skill use. They are tools to help students respond to questions about their reading, to expand ideas, to compose a piece of writing, or contribute to discussions and problem-solving activities in class.
I encourage students to contribute to the anchor chart, often placing their initials next to an idea they have contributed. Chris Tovani in What Do They Really Know? (2011) states that she records student thinking so that “…others in the class can see that they’re not the only ones who wonder what’s going on.” Tovani not only records the thinking but also the name of the student responsible for the thinking. She dates and saves anchor charts to serve as tangible artifacts of learning in the classroom. Using anchor charts as visible representations of students’ thinking, helps not only those students who are contributing to the chart but all students in the class, since all students see and can use the information the chart elicits. When we ask students to share what they already know and are able to do in a unit of study, we allow them to reflect on their prior knowledge.
The anchor chart is placed in a convenient student-friendly location such as the bulletin board in the reading center. The most current anchor chart is left on the chart stand in the area where we gather for instruction. Key anchor charts that are used all year can cover cabinet, closet doors, and window shades or hang on a clothesline. Anchor charts are academic support, especially for the visual learner. Some anchor charts may only be displayed during the current unit of study. Post only those charts hat reflect current learning and avoid distracting clutter.
It’s important to let students add ideas to an anchor chart as they apply new learning, discover interesting ideas, or develop useful strategies for problem-solving or skill application. Teachers and students can add to anchor charts as they debrief during share and reflection time, recording important discoveries, useful strategies, steps in a process, or quality criteria. Anchor charts are often much more than a “once and done” activity. Shelly Keller’s kindergarten students returned to this anchor chart many times as they learned how to add details to an illustration in order to prepare them to add more details to their daily writing in journals that had a wide space for drawing and some lines for writing underneath their drawing. Shelly added another drawing at the bottom when she added a speech bubble to show what the frog was thinking. As she created this anchor chart, she asked the students for details to help her progress from one drawing to the next.
In Brenda’s third grade classroom, students helped to create an anchor chart for peer conferences. Notice how “ask” leads to “changes” that might be about focus, additions, something to remove, or move. Another chart posted next to this one gave examples of all the things a student writer might consider adding to a piece of writing: color, appeal to the senses, descriptions of characters and setting, similes, metaphors, alliteration, explanations, examples, quotes, statistics, anecdotes, dialogue. After minilessons and independent writing, students often wrote their suggestions on a sticky note or added it to the chart themselves after end-of-workshop reflection time. Another chart offered the group’s thinking about the revision process for a narrative. Brenda accepted all her students’ thinking so long as they could explain it in some way. This chart looked different than most of the anchor charts in the room, but it gave students the idea that revision is a creative, messy process. It requires a lot of thinking time, so revision work sometimes occurs over several days or even over a week or more. This concept led to the creation of another chart:
What Do Writers Do When They Get Stuck
- Abandon this piece for now and start a new piece.
- Wait until the next day to work on this piece again.
- Return to your plan and revise.
- Take a bathroom break so you can walk through the hall and get your mind thinking.
- Read other pieces in your writer’s notebook to find ideas.
- Use your notebook to study craft moves that might help you.
- Meditate—breathe in and out—until you are relaxed.
- Sketch it out, draw pictures, or use a storyboard.
- Write about something that makes you happy.
- Write about something that makes you sad.
- Talk to a classmate or two about your problem to get help.
- Return to some mentor texts to get a new idea to write about.
- Ask yourself questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
- Close your eyes and think.
This anchor chart served as a reminder to student writers that there are many ways to get yourself “unstuck,” and if one doesn’t work, simply try another. (See A Closer Look: Learning More About Our Students with Formative Assessment, K-6, Stenhouse Publishers, 2017.)
Finding a management system that works is important. Anchor charts can be a messy procedure, and sometimes it’s important to redo them so they are neat, organized, and easy to read. This can be done at another time without students present. It is not necessary to always document the individual thinking with student names or initials, but using this simple strategy some of the time will help students feel important – they are contributing to the writing community and growing as writers.