What Are Anchor Charts?
Anchor charts are also known as posters, charts, chart displays - you get the picture. The charts I'm talking about are those that are jointly created - by you and the students - and act as a second teacher in the classroom. They support the literacy strategies you teach by providing a visual reminder of what's been learned, and what's important.
What’s the Theory Behind Them?
You should Google Dual-Coding Theory. Dual-coding theory (Paivio, 1986) tells us that we can use our visual and auditory channels simultaneously to absorb more information than is normally considered possible, and avoid the dreaded cognitive load.
Humans receive information from the environment through visual and verbal info – they’re not the only ones, but they’re certainly key. Following a teacher’s verbal explanation is bit difficult. A teacher’s schema is in his/her head and we have to guess what that schema might be, and try to deduce it based on the oral language that’s being used. Words are linear, and the verbal channel is sequential, whereas visual information is synchronously organised and the eye can understand many elements at the same time. Both of these channels have limited storage capacity and are separate and independent.
But when images are linked to words, they enrich the encoding process. Together, they greatly improve the potential for retrieval. Visuals direct students’ attention and trigger prior knowledge or existing schema, which isn’t organised sequentially, but more like a diagram. Visual links found in diagrams stimulate connections between concepts that lead to more meaningful learning.
A picture paints a thousand words! That’s how powerful visuals are!
Adding images to verbal explanation can make ideas concrete, which makes it easier to remember. By adding graphics, we’re offering additional cues for retrieval (Clark, & Lyons, 2010, Caviglioli, 2019). Combining pictures, mental imagery, and verbal elaboration has proven effective in promoting understanding and learning from texts by students ranging from primary school to university studies.
How Do I Create Them?
You need a plan, some butchers paper, a few colourful textas, and a willingness to NOT re-create the chart at the end of the day to make it 'prettier', 'neater', or 'better'! That last one's a toughie for some of you, I know. But trust me - there are powerful connections being made by your students between what and how they see you writing, and what they're learning and remembering! (See Mayer’s research below!)
If you’re creating your own anchor charts, please remember:
- Cut the amount of content to just key words.
- Chunk the content. No long sentences. Think of section headings that stand out. This signals key ideas. Bold these headings, or put these ideas in capitals.
- Neatly lined up your writing. Bullet points help. Create order!
- Restrain artistic urges. Use fonts and colours with restraint. (Caviglioli, 2019)
Also, Mayer’s research (1991; 2001) has these suggestions:
- Use words and pictures
- Record pictures and corresponding words or explanations close together in space or time. That is, create your anchor chart while you present your mini-lesson, and not before!
- Minimise irrelevant details
- Reduce modality-specific interference by writing simply, rather than present on-screen animations.
Why Else Are They So Darn Good?
They Are a Reminder of Class Learning
They're a semi-permanent reminder of class learning. Anchor charts can be on display for the week, the term, or the year.
They Provide Exposure to New Vocabulary
Anchor charts provide exposure to the vocabulary you'd like students to learn to describe their thinking. They also provide exposure to the correct spelling of words. This helps students to use visual (orthographic) and connecting (analogy) strategies for spelling.
They Reduce Cognitive Load and Provide Connections to Existing Schema
They're a key classroom resource. Throwing anchor charts away immediately after creating them--or only ever recording jointly constructed texts on a screen--is disposing of a connection to prior learning. Shutting off the projector means that young Miles has to rely on his memory of the lesson when he wants to use the strategy you've taught!
So you see that modelling for young readers the process of creating images to enhance reading comprehension and vocabulary learning will pay dividends!