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Monday, September 26, 2011

How Many Charts are Too Many Charts?

First, let me apologize.  As the school year started up, I have been all over the place with both consulting work and my own children starting school (my son, Sam, just started Kindergarten a few weeks back …needless to say it has been a BIG transition for all of us).  I am going to try my hardest to stay more up to date on my posts from now on. 

I have been traveling to numerous schools this September and helping teachers to set up their classrooms for the most effective, engaging and efficient Writing Workshop they can imagine.     I have been working with administrators to devise checklists of the “musts” when starting off the year with the goal in mind of, “Building a Community of Writers”.  This phrase is really multifaceted as it encompasses many different elements of teaching and learning about writing.    When I think of “Building a Community of Writers” I think of two questions that we might ask of ourselves in helping to start the year off strong:
Number 1: What does it mean to become a writer?  Questions like, “From where do writers get their ideas? “, “What inspires writers?” and “What does writing mean to you?” 
Number 2:  What classroom routines, rules and management ideas do I need in place to help my students and myself make the time in Writing Workshop the most valuable it can be?  Questions like, “What if students need help and I am in a writing conference with another student?”, “What should students do when they think they are done?” and “What happens in a writing conference?”
I have learned that when it comes to hanging charts in my classroom, less is actually more.  It is strange for me to say that when I have about 200 laminated charts in my basement right now from my own classroom’s Reading and Writing Workshop!  I do use many of them when I speak at workshops or conferences, but I don’t want to part with them because they have become a part of my teaching history.  Yet, as I learn more, see more and reflect more I have come to realize that walking into a classroom plastered with posters on the walls (even when they are so neatly written in colorful marker!) can be a distraction to the students, especially our youngest writers.  That when creating posters, we have to think about the two questions above and then ask, “Why?”  How will this chart help my students to become a stronger and more independent writer?  How will this chart help me to be a more effective and efficient teacher?  What is the purpose?  If you can’t answer the question or it’s just to “make the room like nice” it probably doesn’t need to be up there. 
I like charts that communicate to those walking into your classroom that we are “Building a Community of Writers” and writers need tools to be successful.  And these charts, similar to our notebooks, pencils, sticky notes and highlighters, are a tool that helps to move us forward in our writing journey. 
Below are some of the charts I have collected from schools across the country that answer the questions above. Please realize that these charts are from different grades, different schools and different teachers.  Please feel free to comment, share your own “favorite” charts to start the year off right or  share these with colleagues and borrow the ideas.   ENJOY!
Author Posters gives students a sense that writers are real people just like them!  Include a photo, other books published (including the mentor texts you'll use during the unit of study), great quotes about writing and information about their lives.  Or... have older students work in groups to create the posters together as a research exercise and let them present their poster to the class. 

A "Writing Process" or "Status of the Class" chart allows students, visitors, administrators and parents to know where you are in the writing process, where you're headed and that meaningful writing takes great time and care. 


'Rules, Routines and Responsibilities" charts are always good to set the standard of what happens during workshop time and conferences. 

These charts are a HUGE help to manage your students who are not conferring with you.  It keeps them focused on the writing task and helps them to become more independent without drifting into a chat with a friend about soccer, pulling on your shirt for help or forming the dreaded LINE at your desk.

Just some favorites that explain why writing is so important and the impact it makes in the lives of our students, ourselves and our world.

 ** For more charts and ideas please visit me on Facebook by searching D.E.I.  or

Friday, September 2, 2011

Too Pretty to Do Homework?

Last week J.C. Penney began selling a T-shirt that declared the message, "I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me".  The sales pitch with the tee read, "Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out.  She'll love this tee that's just as cute and sassy as she is."

Men, women, parents, teachers, and children advocacy groups across the country took to the Internet to tweet, message and email their disgust, disappointment and dismay.  Within 12 hours of the shirt being put online for sale (the retail store states that the shirt was ONLY for sale online and not in its stores), it was taken down with statements of apology from the company.

The idea that anyone would find this statement and this idea cute and even appealing is blood boiling.  As the mother of a 3 year old girl, I have tried desperately to make my daughter- and son, for that matter- understand that "being pretty" is not the most important thing in life.  Contrary to what the Disney Princess line of toys and paraphernalia will lead you to believe (Mulan being the sole exception, in my opinion...) , my husband and I really try to instill in our children the idea that being kind to others regardless of differences, being confident in who you are, and trying your best in all you do are the things in life that really matter.  While sometimes I feel like we do go a bit overboard (while reading an old version of a Curious George story to my 5 year old son one evening before bed he asked, "Why do they need to say that 'the nurse was young and pretty?'.  Is that really important for the story?"), I truly believe that gender stereotypes can be very harmful to children. 

Don't get me wrong, we have the Disney Princess figures in my house along with a backpack and T-shirt to match.  Those figures, however, get trapped in the Batcave (and escape by themselves), sit on block towers as lookouts (along with Spiderman and Handy Manny) and discuss the rescue of Luke Skywalker from the top shelf on their toy chest.  While driving in the car one day, after discussing why some kids on Glee were so cruel to the character Kurt, Sam asked me if I thought there would ever be a gay Disney princess.  The answer I gave him was, "Maybe Sam.  That would be great wouldn't it?".  And he thought it would. 

As educators, I believe we have a responsibility to debate and dispel gender stereotypes.  One way to do this is to share stories with our students that challenge the antiquated and "traditional" roles that boys and girls have so often been given.  We can also share stories that celebrate differences and individuality.  Having open and honest discussions about what girls and boys "do" or "like" is a wonderful way to get kids talking about their ideas on the subject and perhaps, shed some light on why ANYONE would think that a T-shirt like the one that was on sale at JC Penney would ever be acceptable to anyone.

Below are some books to get the discussion started.  Please feel free to add your own suggestions below. 

The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke

My Princess Boy by Cheryl Kilodavis

Brontorina by James Howe

The Family Book by Todd Parr

Free to be You and Me by Marlo Thomas and Friends (a great CD too!)

Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomie dePaola

In Our Mother's House by Patricia Polacco

The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein

It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr

William's Doll by Charlotte Zolotow

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox