Charts and mini charts to anchor writing moves

Last Tuesday, Clare wrote a wonderful slice of life post about what everyday learning in a classroom really looks like and feels like, aptly entitled: Learning is Managed Chaos. These lines resonated with me: “We need to remember, however, that young learners can only appear independent in an environment that is carefully and thoughtfully managed to support this gradual release of responsibility. When we take the time to manage the confusion so our readers are engaged and in control of their learning we are providing the greatest opportunities for growth.”

Later that morning, I found myself facing a  writer’s workshop full of sixth graders eager to continue drafting their feature articles, but needing writing conferences right away.  How to manage this chaos, I wondered, in a way that would manage confusion, maintain engagement, and foster independence through a gradual release of responsibility?

The path to this particular place had been carefully planned:

  • we had spent weeks  immersed in reading and discussing nonfiction
  • we had sketched topic ideas that were important to my kids , and planned subtopics that were  relevant and connected
  • we had researched and collected  information that was both interesting and informative

but, now that it was time to draft, my students seemed reluctant, even anxious, about continuing to draft.  It was almost as though we had over prepared.

Rather than spend more time on yet another mini lesson, I asked my kids to search through some of the mentor texts we’d studied and find snippets they’d loved best – leads that invited them in, passages that piqued their interest, ideas that were clearly explained, quotations that were artfully woven in.  We charted and marked some of these up, and then walked about the room, inspecting our thinking, and refreshing our memory as to what constituted the rich writing we hoped to craft:

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When my students went back to their drafts, they seemed more focused and energized.  Every once in a while, one or two would return to a chart to re-examine a strategy or clarify a technique. Sometimes they would pause to discuss how they would try tweaking their draft and try out a particular craft move they liked.  Sometimes, they gave each other advice.  Sometimes they met with me to confer about a point or two.  Most importantly, they went back to their drafts and continued to write.

Later that day, I created smaller versions of our craft charts, so that my kids could keep them at their desks for easier reference.  I tried to organize these mini charts so that craft moves were easy to spot, relevant, and focused; a meaningful writing tool, as opposed to a distraction:

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Although these charts will never take the place of writing conferences, they do give my students a sense of independence and agency.  In this case, at least, we had found a way to manage chaos.