Tuesday / April 23

Kid-Created Classroom Charts for Individualized Instruction and Independence  

My youngest daughter and I are list makers. We make lists before we go to the grocery store, when we pack, and as we consider our tasks for the day. Our lists help us organize ourselves within our too-much-to-do lives. Lately, I’ve been talking to Cecily about her study notes, and I discovered she brings her list-making skills to her learning as well. She reflects as she studies, considering what she has to know, how to do things, as well as ways to do things.  

Cecily’s list-making and study habits align with how I think about classroom charts. I believe charts are necessary for many learners in the classrooms where I work. Charts provide pathways toward independence and serve as important tools for differentiation and self-direction. A post I wrote here on Corwin Connect offers suggestions for how to get students using charts as part of their daily practice.  

Three Types of Charts to Clarify Purpose 

Categorizing information helps me to remember, and it also helps me make sense of complex concepts. Therefore, when I think about charts, it helps me to think in a few specific categories. As I conceptualize, create, and reference the charts I use with learners, I group them as anchor charts, process charts, and strategy charts. These classifications help me establish my own clarity of purpose for my charts and communicate that purpose to students.   

  • Anchor charts: Describe the specific elements of something 
  • Process charts: Tell how to do something 
  • Strategy charts: Offer various ways to do something 

First Step: Share Ownership of Charts With Students 

Whenever I make charts in front of students, I try to incorporate their suggestions and credit students for their contributions. This helps students internalize the purpose of the chart and feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for its meaning. In the anchor chart pictured below, I knew the specific elements of information writing I wanted to highlight for these fourth-graders and I could have presented the chart to them, already filled out. 

Instead, I took students’ suggestions of what belonged on the chart, I categorized it for them, and I credited them with initials for their contributions. Most important: Students now have a visual artifact of their learning that they understand, can locate, and can use when they are at a point in their learning when they need it. Charts don’t hide within PowerPoints; charts are available and visible for students within the learning environment.  

We own this chart together, and students are more apt to use it. The co-creation of any learning artifact increases the likelihood that students will revisit it when they need it, building the important habits of mind of self-direction and independence.  

Next Step: Encourage Students to Make Their Own Charts 

The Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (UDL) challenge us to provide multiple means for Engagement, Representation, and Action and Expression. When students design and use their own charts, they are tapping into the power of all three of these principles: In terms of engagement, we are “optimizing relevance, value, and authenticity.” When we consider representation, students’ own charts are “ways of customizing the display of information” and through this work, students are practicing and engaged in ways of action and expression that “support planning and strategy development” (cited from The UDL Guidelines). 

Recently I’ve been pushing beyond co-creating charts and challenging kids to design their own charts. When students create their own charts, they’re thinking more deeply about their learning needs and independently designing their own learning scaffolds  this is the ultimate in differentiated, individualized support! It also helps students to develop study skills that will carry them throughout lifesimilar to Cecily’s study notes and my list-making.  

I start by teaching students about the various possibilities for charts with these templates. 

These categories help me, and they also help students! Once students understand these concepts, then they can be more intentional about the charts and tools they make for themselves. We want students to consider the purpose of the chart: Will it offer ways to do something? Will it remind of the steps involved in a process? Or should it enumerate what needs to be done in a type of writing? When they understand purpose, students create intentional, useful artifacts for their own individualized learning.  

For example, this fourth-grade boy recognized his need for a chart to help him organize himself and get ready to begin writing. He made himself a process chart for what he needed to in order to be more productive, and he’s been using it successfully.  

Another student has a goal around elaboration in our information unit. While she does not need to use all of the strategies all of the time (it would be exhausting to do so!), she wanted some choices, and so she made herself a strategy chart of the different ways to say more within a section.  

Other strategy charts students have made include how to think about audience within an information writing unit and how to make a mood in a narrative unit.  

Logistically, in the classrooms where we’ve done this work, students have used one of two systems for organizing their self-created charts. Keyrings are simpler and require just a source of cardstock with holes punched in the corners. As an alternative, I’ve seen teachers make bound toolkits that students create as they learn, as shown in the picture below.  

I’m constantly impressed by the creativity of students as they design charts, as well as the usefulness of what they include. When I ask what tool they have that could help them within the part of their writing process, they can identify a card or a page in their own toolkit. I’m even more impressed when I watch a student pull out a keyring or booklet of charts and pull up the tool that will help right then and there. Now that’s independence!  

Written by

Melanie Meehan is the Elementary Writing and Social Studies Coordinator in Simsbury, Connecticut. She develops curriculum and assessments, coaches teachers, and works with students to send them off into the world as confident writers who love to express their ideas. Melanie is a co-author of Two Writing Teachers, a blog dedicated to the teaching of writing, and she’s a regular contributor to Choice and Lead Literacy. Her book Every Child Can Write: Entry Points, Bridges, and Pathways for Striving Writers, Grades 2-5 is available from Corwin Literacy. In addition to learning with both students and teachers, Melanie loves to spend time with her family, doing almost anything that has her close to the ocean. 

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  • Great article Melanie! Love the examples of student work.

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