This is a great question to consider now during the summer as we refresh our minds and rest our bodies. It is something we should sometimes take more seriously and choose wisely. It won't be long now before we get the wiggles to start planning the new year and how we will organize or decorate our rooms, so before you get the creative itch let me encourage you to think harder about anchor charts.
Too often language teachers have been lured by any and all posters or products they can find in their language because the market has been so narrow, especially in the secondary realm, but not all things in the language are good or for that matter even helpful to students, which is the entire point of anchor charts. So, today's post is dedicated to sharing with you my point of view on what we should anchor and what we should avoid anchoring and why. Here are the principles I follow when I create anchor charts or reference handouts for my students. I have listed them in their order of importance.
AMY'S ANCHOR ARGUMENTS
- LESS IS MORE - Just as this is true in developing curriculum or planning a lesson, we should keep this in mind when we post, purchase or create anchor charts for our students. The goal should be quick access to information, but if we pile loads and loads of content onto an anchor chart we undermine its purpose entirely.
- VISUAL DESIGN > ARTISTIC ELEMENTS - Another important principle to follow regarding anchor charts is to make sure that the visual aspect (font, color scheme, organization, spacing, etc) should assist students in accessing information. Graphics and images should be purposeful, directly connected to the communicative purpose of the information we are presenting and not used for just decorative reasons.
- COMMUNICATIVE PURPOSE > GRAMMATICAL CONSTRUCT - The purpose of the anchor charts should connect as much to your instructional focus as any other resource you might provide your students. If you wouldn't teach it that way, you probably shouldn't anchor it that way. Ultimately, your anchor charts are supposed to be for making communication easier.
- PROFICIENCY DISTINGUISHER = HIGH NEED - The things I tend to leave up for the long haul are things that help students move up the proficiency scale such as transition words, rejoinders, or sentence frames that have specific communicative purposes that model intermediate performance descriptors. Since the movement from proficiency level is slower to gain than breadth of vocabulary or topics to discuss, I have to support proficiency distinguishers longer.
- HIGH FREQUENCY + LOW DIFFICULTY = LOW NEED - In other words, if students can learn it quickly and will be using it often why is an anchor needed? Some examples of these level one language chunks are I am, I have, is, and I like. If we do decide to anchor things like this it should be for only as long as it takes for them to get comfortable using them on their own.
- HIGH DIFFICULTY + MODERATE FREQUENCY = HIGH NEED - Let me preface this by saying that this argument is determined by the learning targets or communicative functions our students will be learning during the course or during the unit. While I know that if clauses may not be used in our natural speech with amazingly high frequency, if they are going to be a focus of our instruction they become high frequency or at least a performance expectation we have for our students for a time. Therefore, the difficulty of the structure supersedes frequency. It is important to remember argument #2. If we are going to anchor a difficult concept we must keep the communicative purpose in the forefront of our minds as we choose or create an anchor. This can add an unexpected benefit in that by framing the difficult concept to highlight its communicative purpose, we might actually make it easier or quicker for our students to acquire.
- IF MUST HANG IT, YOU MUST CONNECT IT - To your instruction. This means that your anchor charts should support the outcomes you have in mind for your students. That being said, why do posters or anchor charts have to be things that we permanently hang in our classrooms? When I post anchor charts, I post them with magnets on my whiteboard rather than on my classroom walls. My justification for this is instructional in that I want to share this information with my students when it is timely, but also when their attention to that information is at its highest. Then, as I begin to see they need the anchor less because they are able to produce it on their own, I can take that anchor away to make room for something new. Also, I want to keep in mind that I never want an anchor chart to become a permanent crutch.
I suppose what we hang in our rooms is a small thing in the scope of all we are doing to guide our students to ever increasing levels of proficiency, but the longer I am at it the more I realize that our job is just as much instructional as it is creating an environment that supports language learning. If I am going to be mindful about the methods I use and the handouts I give my students, why wouldn't I be mindful of the space I prepare for my students to learn in? Why wouldn't I consider the walls as a resource as well? How can I maximize the room in a way that helps me and my students reach the goals I set for them?
Happy Coaching, friends!