Sunday, December 17, 2017

Anchors Away…Anchor Charts 101

You’ve seen them on Pinterest, on teacher blogs, hanging in classrooms, but how do you create the most effective ones?  Anchor Charts are one of the hottest teacher topics today. However, the what, why, when, where, and how of creating and using anchor charts in your classroom to enhance your instruction and student learning experiences is sometimes elusive.

I have always been a visual learner and so the idea of creating and displaying posters/anchor charts to reflect student learning has always appealed to me. Thus, I spent many hours outside the classroom creating these anchor charts to help my student learn and retain information. After many hours laboring on just the right wording and colors, I would take my charts in and post them in my classroom. Certainly, my students would recognize and appreciate my hard work.  I would proudly display them prominently in the front of the room and periodically made reference to them during my instruction. I thought my students would be just as excited about them as I was- boy, was I wrong…  So where did I go wrong?

Through professional reading about anchor charts (not to mention years of experience), I finally learned what I was doing wrong:  I was essentially replacing purchased posters with handmade ones and there was no difference in their effect- why?  It hit me like a ton of bricks- they were just serving as classroom wallpaper.  The students looked at them, once, maybe twice (if I was lucky) and that was basically it.  There was no reason for them to want to reference these masterpieces/ anchor charts, there was no ownership or engagement on behalf of my students.  Once the proverbial lightbulb went off in my head, did I realize that I had to find a way to change my thinking about the what, why, when, where, and how of creating and using anchor charts in my classroom.

Once I changed my own mindset and took a different approach, I soon discovered what I was searching for all along- tools that would engage my students in the learning process along with documenting their thinking and learning in a visual format.  I now spend my passion for anchor charts by conducting professional development workshops with teachers on some of the lessons I have learned.

Some teachers in McDowell County Schools have begun creating and using these anchor charts with their students in their classrooms. Let’s take a peek at a few of the many anchor charts that have been created by teachers at Eastfield Global Magnet School:

Many thanks to Stella Brewer, Academic Facilitator- Eastfield Global Magnet School, Marion, NC for the photos.

Can you see differences in these anchor charts than more traditional anchor charts that you may have created and/or seen?  In the professional development workshops I conduct, I teach and encourage teachers to consider including the following components on anchor charts:
1. Standard/Objective
2. Teaching Section- where teacher provides skill/content instruction to students (from standard)
3. Student Section- students contribute ideas/learning to the anchor chart either through the use of sticky notes, writing on the poster, etc.  Students also keep notes in a learning journal/notebook.

Anchor charts in the twenty-first century classroom should serve as concrete representations of what has been taught, evidence of student learning and serve as visual reminders of what has taught over the course of time.  Anchor charts can be considered the artifacts of collective learning within a classroom and just as an anchor stabilizes and secures something such as a boat in place, these classroom tools provide secure and stabile student learning environments.

If you are interested in learning more about the research behind these types of anchor charts, I encourage you to pick up the following professional books or contact me for additional information.

About the Author
Dr. Lora Drum, currently serves as the Region 7 Director for the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators.  She retired from North Carolina Public Schools in June of this year.  Her educational career included teaching middle school, ESL in elementary, middle, and high school,  and serving as a district level curriculum specialist.  Dr. Drum conducts professional development workshops for teachers in school districts, local community colleges, and at regional educational alliances.  She is fulfilling her dream of beginning her second career as the assistant director of the Lenoir-Rhyne Teaching Scholars Program and an adjunct instructor.  If you have questions about this article or would like additional information, please contact her at