A “Critical Friend” Causing Me To Think Again

Today, my teaching partner and I met during our prep to discuss our plans for next week, and we invited our principal, Paul Clemens, to join us. I really appreciate how eager Paul is to know what’s happening in the classrooms and to be involved in the planning process. While we didn’t quite get as far in planning today as we had hoped, we did get into a great discussion that really had me thinking for the rest of the afternoon.

The conversation started with us discussing some writing activities that we did this week. This is when Paul asked us where students could look for graphic organizers. Before long, the conversation evolved into one on anchor charts.




As I admitted in this discussion, I struggle with anchor charts. I’m not a visual learner, and like many learning disabled students that I know, I easily get visually overwhelmed. That being said, I don’t think that this is a reason not to have anchor charts. I just want to come up with a system where the anchor charts will be used well, support the learners that need them, and not overwhelm those students that struggle with too many visuals in the classroom. Creating this balance is going to take some thinking time!

While I was teaching this afternoon, I looked closely around the room. I thought about where anchor charts might be able to go. What anchor charts would benefit students most? I remember last year in Grades 1 and 2, I used student work as examples of different forms, and then gave the students cut strips of sticky notes to highlight the key components of the work (e.g., putting a sticky note next to the dashes in a list and labelling them as dashes). I started to wonder if something similar could work in Grade 6.

Based on what I saw in my student writing this week, I want to start next week reviewing some of the components of different graphic organizers. Many students still struggle with providing enough details in their organizers, so how can they provide more? Maybe I could take Paul’s idea of co-created anchor charts, and have students work in groups to first complete different types of graphic organizers. Once they’ve completed them, they can label the key components with the use of sticky notes. These graphic organizers could be our anchor charts for the success criteria related to “gathering information.” They could be easily displayed under the TLCP Board where I know that students are regularly looking for information. The combination of the visuals, the examples, the key words, and a large name with the type of organizer will help all students access this anchor chart: from those that need to see a completed sample to those that just need a prompt with the name. Aaron Puley (@bloggucation) would say that this is the “equity” piece that is so important, and I completely agree.

Will I plaster the walls now with anchor charts? No. But will I re-examine how anchor charts can be used well in the classroom? Yes. Thank you, Paul, for this candid conversation both during our planning time and after school today. As I’ve said before, I think that we all need a “critical friend” that will ask questions to push our thinking and learning forward, and I appreciate that Paul is one of these people.

How do you use anchor charts in the classroom? What types of anchor charts do you use? How do you make them accessible for all? I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions, and I would love to see any examples that you have to share as well. Maybe I’m more of a “visual learner” than I thought. 🙂


6 thoughts on “A “Critical Friend” Causing Me To Think Again

  1. As a new teacher, I am still figuring out anchor charts and success criteria. While I am a visual learner, I don’t do well with clutter and finding a balance between just right and too much on my walls has been a challenge. (Not to mention a lack of “free” space in a portable!)

    I have some standards: one that goes up during guided reading to remind them of the rules; tips for writing reading responses; tips for decoding French (it’s an extended French classroom).

    The others, we co-create, often as we work through a unit: the attributes of quadrilaterals, three types of rocks. We also co-create success criteria/checklists for any large projects they are doing, but I only put those up while we are working in that particular subject (to reduce the clutter). When not in use, I usually pin them (folded so they take up less space) on our what we are learning/nous apprenons board so they are available if needed.

    I usually take a picture of the finished success criteria/checklists and use those as the basis of my rubrics.

    I think I am slowly figuring out the balance — and letting go of the “they must be creative and fun” (sometimes a simple t-chart works, too). Maybe by June, I’ll have it!!

    • Thanks for sharing what you do! I’m glad that you’re finding a balance between providing anchor charts and not including too much clutter. I like the sound of your system. I’d love to see photographs of the anchor charts you do have up if you’re willing to share. It’s nice to get some new ideas based on what different people are doing.


  2. Great post, Aviva! You and I were just discussing this the other day and I continue to struggle when I visit classrooms and watch videos where anchor charts, bump-up charts, learning goals, success criteria, student work and the like dominate the walls of the classroom. I am often overwhelmed by the abundance of text I see on the walls and constantly wonder if the students are as overwhelmed as I am with the visual / information overload or if it is just me. I think that a student with a learning disability or special need may be highly overwhelmed, intimidated, and somewhat lost by rooms that are ripe with text based visuals on walls in learning environments. I feel that the only information that should be made available at any given time for students is that which is readily and immediately meaningful. I also wonder sometimes why the writing on these charts is so small. Does it not distract focus if a student has to interrupt their learning / task to get up and wander half-way across the room to activate an idea or remind of a concept because they can’t read it from their seat? I think we need to be really cognizant of all of the students and their individual needs, strengths, and interests before we coat our walls with an abundance of materials. We may very well be overwhelming our students to the point that none of it is useful because it can not be accessed quickly and readily when needed. These are thoughts that have been going through my head when thinking of how we use our “walls” (both physically and virtually RE: blogs) to support our students and their achievement. Check out the ‘Overview’ video from the “Student-led Conferences” clip and tell me what you think of this ‘text heavy’ room. The walls are so full that “clotheslines” needed to be strung to display even more chart paper. The words are so small that I don’t know how anyone could read them. What do you think?

    • Thanks for the comment, Aaron! It was actually funny when Paul started talking about anchor charts, and I mentioned that I was discussing this with “Aaron” the other day. You can actually hear your name in one of the recordings. I absolutely agree with you about anchor charts. I think it’s so important to be cognisant of the variety of our learners, and sometimes this means that less is more. I’ve seen the video that you’re discussing before, and like you, I feel very overwhelmed when I see a room like this. I don’t know where to look. I know that many students do well with visuals, but how many do we need? How should we display them? How can we make them accessible for all students? My teaching partner and I actually got into a further discussion on anchor charts today, and we came up with ways to have students help us create them. The plan is to make the title and the labels big, and use examples of student work that can act as models for students that need more than that. We really discussed what anchor charts we need, and where we want to put them. We’re trying to link them with areas in the classroom where students already look to find the resources that they need. We’re also looking at creating a glog to add to our blog with these same anchor charts, success criteria, and learning goals, so that students can access the information that they need easily (be in when they’re working on the computer or working at home). And yes, these anchor charts are likely to change as our TLCP changes too. Hopefully this will help reduce clutter but still give students support. I welcome any further comments that you have on this. I struggle with how to best use anchor charts.


  3. I was just listening to your planning minutes of March 1-2 (amazing by the way) – http://amgrade6.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/planning-minutes/ – and at about the 15 minute mark you being the conversation with your partner and principal regarding the anchor charts and wall materials as we have been discussing. You bring up so many interesting points and you can tell that the wheels were turning…. distractions, purpose, value, etc. I like how Paul mentioned “…a hall of fame of learning” and I think this may be the best focus for the walls of any environment – enduring learning – those that offer the most value and continue to be timely and important. Anything else can be archived. Now when I say “archived” we can look at that in a number of different ways. Gina mentions that we can archive charts, learning goals, success criteria, and the like under newer materials by placing them under newer charts and fastening with magnets. I like this. This way, charts would be readily accessible when timely and could be pulled to the forefront. As an extension, and Aviva you mentioned this, pictures of these charts could be taken and easily archived on your class blog. Your students would have ready access to these both in the class and at home and parents would always have access to them as well (providing they have internet access of course). This would always provide parents with a conversation piece through which to engage in conversation with their students at home. This continues the idea of turning walls into windows and providing parents with a front row seat to effective planning and teaching. There is no answer to this but I think it’s a conversation we need to continue having. It is both about WHAT is on the walls and HOW ACCESSIBLE that material is. Like I say, if it is too small and too far away to access then many students will not bother visiting it. I know I wouldn’t.

  4. Thanks again for the comment, Aaron! (Glad you enjoyed the Planning Minutes by the way.) It’s funny: as I read your comments, I think that this all sounds very doable. You’re definitely another one of my “critical friends” that push my learning forward, and I’m so glad that you chimed in on this conversation. Maybe a combination of the magnet approach and the online approach is a good one for older materials. I am definitely considering how to make the anchor charts readily accessible and large enough that they’re readable. I know that the students can always have copies in their duotangs and binders, and sometimes I provide them too, but I don’t see the purpose of having work on the wall that students can’t read. There’s definitely lots of anchor chart possibilities this week through our Writers Workshop, so I’m curious to see how it all works out. Stay tuned! 🙂


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