I have nothing to wear (aka Why anchor charts matter)

2015-11-03 15.20.36It was Sunday night. I was getting everything ready to start a new week at school—packing lunch, gathering papers, and finding an outfit. Laundry was done, and all my clothes were hanging in my closet. There were a lot of clothes, but I still stared at my closet thinking I need to go shopping because I have nothing to wear.

I finally decided to take out each pair of pants and each skirt, one at a time, and match it with a top. Turns out, I had plenty to wear. I just needed a system, a way to look at what I had, to find what I needed.

It made me think of my students. They learn a lot of skills and have lots of tools to access those skills. Sometimes this comes in a piece here and a piece there; sometimes we give several tools for the same skill. And then we, as teachers, ask them to use these tools and skills throughout the year again and again—using the tools or developing the skills with different text or different writing assignments (building different outfits each time).

I think students can often feel like I did standing in front of my closet. Overwhelmed. Having no clue where to look or what to look for. It’s not that they 2015-11-03 15.20.31don’t have lots of tools or lots of practice with the skills. It wasn’t that I didn’t have lots of clothes. They just need a system, a way to see what they have and access the tools when needed.

For me, this is the purpose of the anchor chart. It helps my students access the tools they need to do what they need to do.

I didn’t always use anchor charts. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the idea of anchor charts. I just thought they took too much time (It was easier to use PowerPoint); I thought they were too difficult to display (that chart paper never sticks to my painted brick wall); I thought I didn’t have room (I have to display all my pretty, colorful posters and sayings); I thought it was a little too elementary (I teach those very grown up 10th graders).

This year I’ve used them, but most importantly my students have used them. I see students pointing to the anchor chart that helps them when they are working in groups, or I hear students referring to it during discussion. I can direct them to anchor cha2015-11-04 15.42.20rts, and then they can do it themselves. It builds agency in the students.

All the reason I didn’t use them seem silly. Why wouldn’t I give my students a way to access the tools to use the skills I spend so much time helping them learn? Why wouldn’t I help them figure out that they have outfits they can wear, instead of leaving them overwhelmed thinking they have nothing to wear?

Someone once told me that my walls should be useful for my students or its wasted space. I think my walls are finally starting to talk the right talk.

I challenge you to try it, if you don’t already. Just do one or two and see how it works out. Maybe your students will be like mine and realize just how many tools they have at their disposal.

PS– These pictures of anchor charts are from my current literary analysis unit.  My next post will be on this unit, but the lens idea and structure is from Christopher Lehman and Kate RobertsFalling in Love with Close Reading.  A must have in your professional library!

Bonus Read:  Two Writing Teachers are doing this amazing blog series on Diving into Informational Writing.  Each post is incredibly helpful, and they provide lots of information, helps, and resources.  Two of my favorite from the series are Using Qualities of Informational Writing to Guide Students to Set Goals and Allowing Student Choice Within Informational Writing.

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Power of the Meeting Space in the Classroom

I was introduced to the concept of the meeting space through Teacher’s College work with my district’s elementary and middle schools a few years ago. While I was inspired and challenged by everything from Teacher’s College, I thought the meeting space was a neat idea, but a little too young for my high school students. A colleague reminded me of the research about movement and learning and challenged me to try it. So, a bit skeptical, I did. And it was pretty close to magic. It has evolved over the past two years into what I now call “meeting in the middle” Meet in the middlewith my students.

Here’s why I love this strategy:
1. It gets students moving. High school students sit a lot. By asking them to move to the floor, they are activating their learning. Also, they are moving away from the distractions of whatever may be on their desk.
2. It builds a community of learners. My desks are arranged in groups—small community of learners. When I ask students to meet me in the middle, the closeness of the class reminds us that the entire class is a community of learners.
3. It encourages a safe environment. In the meeting space, we listen and we talk briefly, only to practice what we are learning or to share out an example. It isn’t a place where students get called out or put on the spot. It’s safe there with us sitting together; it feels more non-threatening than sitting in the desks with the teacher standing above them.
4. It is a meaningful ritual and routine. Meeting in the middle is when we are learning a skill or listening to a read-aloud or something that is teacher-centered. Most of my class is student-centered, so this ritual of moving to the middle helps students understand the shift in behavior and listening they need to make for this type of instruction.  The routine is knowing how to do it quickly and effectively.
5. It keeps my mini-lessons mini. Students are only going to sit on the floor for so long. I have to be purposeful and intentional with my time during meetings in the middle.
6. It’s fun. The students love this throw back to elementary school, and I do too!  It brings something different to norm of the day.

The success of having a class meeting space in high school depends a lot on how you present it to the students. Here’s how I kicked it off this year:

I explained to students that research has shown that they spend most of their school day sitting in classes listening to someone talk to them, typically a teacher. They all seemed to agree on this point. I shared with them that one instructional coach found that this happened about 90% of their school day. Because we had so much to learn in this class, we were going to use movement to help us activate our learning and refocus their brains so they could pay close attention to what we were doing. Then, I called them to meet me in the middle.

I don’t doubt that some students internally groaned, but most were excited saying things like “I haven’t done this since elementary school” and “I hope she reads to us” — which I did. I shared the children’s book Courage,  then we turn and talked about how we wanted to be courageous this year. I asked for a few share-outs,  gave them instructions for their work session, and sent them back to their desks to work.

I plan to use 2015-08-04 14.54.13the meeting space for conferences as well. The open area makes it a great space to gather students for individual or small group reading and writing conference while I still can maintain a presence in the room during work sessions. I bought $5 small tables that I’m going to use as stools from Family Dollar (thanks to an elementary school teacher friend who posted this great find on Facebook). The stools/tables are stackable, so they easily fit under a table when they are not in use.  If you would like to read more on conferencing, To Confer is to Validate the Child offers a thoughtful discussion on its importance in the classroom.

Bonus Read:  I was really challenged by Used Books in Class’s The “So What” Conundrum post.  I will be using the So What? question more for reflection as a teacher and in learning with my students.


Follow-up on Day One Activity:

Although this activity is not perfect, it was so much better than previous boring first days. The questions and comments students asked gave me insight into their 2015-08-04 16.12.24personalities, their hopes and their fears. It amazed me that not one single class asked about grades. Instead they wanted to know about what we were going to read, if I was strict, and how we were going to improve their writing. I have to admit this activity made me realize what I thought students would think is the most important about a class was not. It also allowed for natural conversation about class instead of a formulaic spill about the syllabus. I will continue to do something of this nature in my classes in the future.

As mentioned, I chose to read the book Courage for the first day. It’s a simple yet powerful read that gave us the platform to talk about the courage we will need to examine ourselves through reading and writing and to share with others in our community of learners. When students shared out what courageous act they wanted to accomplish this year, several over the course of the day said they wanted to show courage by sharing in front of their peers. I had to smile, as I knew they had just taken the first steps to do that by sharing right then sitting on the floor in our meeting space.

Follow-up on First Week Impressions and Priorities:

2015-08-04 09.57.46I loved seeing students get excited and immediately wanting the book As Simple As Snow after the book talk.  For an important discussion on how we develop and protect students’ reading identities, see Stop Feeding the Beast–The Reading Myths We Pass on as Truths.  Speed dating with a book was a great success.  Students had about 70 titles to browse from various genres, topics, lengths, and levels.  Everyone found multiple titles to add to their “Books I Want to Read” list.  Now every student has a book in hand, and they had the opportunity to begin reading in class.  We are working on getting them signed u2015-08-04 13.07.45p for Goodreads.

I also had students write down the last time they read a complete book and their goal for the number of books they wanted to read this year.  I’m not really worried about what that number looks like, but I did want them to begin thinking about how they were going to challenge themselves as readers this year.  We documented it by taking a picture.  I plan to take another picture at the end of the year with their goal on top and number of books read this year on bottom.