Three years ago my building was moving to a semi-departmentalization concept. Now I would be teaching my own homeroom reading and writing, but I would also teach two additional classes reading as well. My first week I naively assumed that I could continue to create anchor charts as I had in the past — introduce my minilesson, record the students’ ideas, create a chart. Quickly, I realized I was going through three times as many sheets of the giant (and expensive!) chart paper to end up with three of the same charts. That wouldn’t do.
Ever the problem solver, I tried creating one master chart. I would introduce the minilesson to my first class and we’d begin recording our thinking on the blank chart. The second and third classes would add their thoughts to the same chart. By the end of the third class we had our completed chart. While a good concept in theory, the problem I had with this incarnation was that my first class had many directions they could take their thinking but with each additional class, more answers or lines of thought had already been taken and the scope of ideas were narrowing. In some ways this helped stretch where the conversation could go. More often it led to less participation from the third class. They felt they did not need to contribute.
Finally, we come to present day. I am blessed to have an interactive whiteboard in my room. What I’ve discovered is that I can have a blank “page” up for each class. We create our chart together during our minilesson. Each class has the freedom to throw out any ideas they choose while I record them on the board. When I finish for the day with the three classes, I can create one anchor chart from the combined ideas.
For example, we have been working on the skill of monitoring our thinking in reading class this week. To show how I might write notes on an article I pulled up a blog post from The Nerdy Book Club from earlier in the week. Using my interactive white board I am able to annotate right on top of the article. With each class I used a “fresh” article — one that hadn’t been written on yet. Then we used the software with the whiteboard to come up with some shorthand codes for our thinking on a blank “chart” on the interactive whiteboard. Each class had a variety of ideas — an exclamation point for a surprising event or a “C” for connection. Another class liked to note the type of connection — they wanted to use T-T for a text-to-text connection, T-S for a text-to-self connection, and so on. I think if I had just had up the ideas from the previous group, the students would have noticed that “connections” already had been brought up. Since the second class’s chart was blank, they were able to discuss why they wanted to be able to specifically note what type of connection they were making and take the conversation further.
After the students leave for the day I am left flipping through the three charts to decide what to place on the finished anchor chart to hang up. Common threads between class discussions are automatically placed on the chart. Sometimes there are similar ideas stated in different ways. If possible, I combine them. For the chart mentioned above, I ended up using both a “C” and the shorthand way of noting the type of connections as the code. The options allow students the ability to note connections in a variety of ways. This lesson was a good reminder for me. I try hard to teach with an open mind, without a specific answer in my head when I’m asking the students for input. I find that when I let the students direct the lesson they often end up thinking deeper and going beyond what I had originally envisioned. This applies to many concepts in teaching, but I find it often holds true in the creation of anchor charts as well.
Finally, I discovered an added benefit of creating charts on the interactive whiteboard. If the created charts are not ones I feel we will need long term, I can print off the ones we made in class and create a binder to be flipped through in place of the giant chart. An added bonus is that any student who was absent can have a copy of our chart as well. So far this has worked so much better than my trial and error over the past few years.
After just a few weeks of school, charts have already become a vital part of our classroom. You can see the growth we’ve already made in establishing routines, and also in our thinking around reading and writing by glancing at our walls. I hope like other teaching ideas this is one I will continue to refine as we move through our school year.