Wednesday, February 5, 2014

An Exceptional Learning Tool: The Flowchart

Constructing learning using a powerful learning tool, to engage and empower young children.

As with all linguistic learning tools, the flowchart is a powerful learning tool that consolidates and deepens understanding of complex but ordered orthographic processes. In this case they are used to investigate, test and internalise critical suffixing conventions.
When I first encountered the orthographic flowcharts I found them to be an inspirational tool to use with young children. They are highly interactive, systematic and challenging. 

Initially, I create a 'flowchart puzzle' for the children to collaboratively arrange. This requires the children to explicitly read and understand each element (the decision questions and the actions) in order to recreate a flowchart that 'flows' systematically towards an appropriate action. The collaborative discussion and interaction that results from this activity are phenomenal.

By manipulating the physical pieces of the flowchart, the children are able to develop a deeper understanding of what is required from the questions and actions. Using the kinaesthetic memory ensures learning is internalised, ensuring deep, long term understanding of the spelling pattern or convention. I love the fact that it mirrors what the brain does, helping to internalise important orthographic processes.

With young children, I generally introduce the flowchart once the children have gained some understanding of the spelling convention or pattern currently being studied. However, it can be introduced at any stage during the learning journey.

Here is a sequence of possible steps for introducing the flowchart process.

As with all structured word inquiry we would start with an investigative question to lead an inquiry about an important suffixing convention: such as, suffixing with the final single, silent <e>; when suffixing forces doubling; plural suffixes.
This particular investigation focused on the 
doubling suffixing convention for monosyllables.
During the week the students recorded their hypotheses 
about the investigation. The hypotheses are generally 
recorded during the daily morning tasks. 
An important part of the initial learning journey is providing opportunities for all students to express their thinking. 

Some children already have the necessary skills to express themselves effectively while others will need support to express themselves in the written form.
This particular investigation focused on the two forms of the 
plural suffix <-s> or <-es>. 
I recorded the students' theories to clarify their thinking and 
model effective ways to express the theories.

Once the students have experienced working with some basic suffixing conventions they begin to refine their language, expressing their hypotheses with greater clarity and more accurate terminology.
This is a summary of the children's hypotheses. Initially all ideas are accepted. As you can see some of the hypotheses demonstrate greater understanding of the concept than others. It is a great assessment piece. With this particular investigation the students wrote their hypothesis on a 'post it' note, shared it with a partner and then together, 
as a class, we compiled the different ideas. 
Think-pair-share is a collaborative activity that is often used to ensure 
all learners have a 'voice'.
After discussion of the investigative question and recording of hypotheses, the students participate in a variety of collaborative and independent activities to critically examine the orthographic pattern or convention that is being investigated. It is usually at this stage in the journey that I introduce the flowchart.

Investigating the purpose and process of a flowchart:
The flowchart is cut into large pieces, with the questions/decision boxes on diamond shaped card, actions on rectangular shape cards and a set of linking arrows. The children discuss the different components and meaning of the flowchart. Some children have likened it to a 'river flowing' or 'pathway through a forest'...with the arrows linking the pathways.

As a group, we examine the process of revealing each individual piece of the flowchart; reading, discussing and understanding the questions (decision boxes) and actions. Sometimes I read the text, other times I ask the children to read one of the questions/actions. In pairs they discuss what it means. As the children become more proficient with flowcharts they begin to predict the questions and actions with greater accuracy. They know what is expected in the text of a flowchart. 

Creating the flowchart, working out the puzzle pieces: 
This part of the learning journey is a whole group, collaborative activity. I want to model good learning, reinforce accurate vocabulary, restate the purpose of the flowchart, consolidate the meaning of the questions/actions and guide the students where necessary. Constructing a flowchart that flows effectively can be challenging for both younger and older children and so modelling how to link the arrows is very helpful for children.
Suffixing with the final, single, silent <e> is one of the
simplest flowcharts to construct and I generally start 
with this critical suffixing convention with all age groups.
With younger children, the flowchart is created during a series of short, explicit lessons. During the first session the children create the first part of the flowchart, linking the elements with the arrows and then continue the following days or subsequent sessions. 
The linking arrows are purposefully left blank 
so the students can 
decide whether it will be a 'yes' or 'no' arrow.

The emerging flowchart puzzle is placed in a learning space so the children have opportunities to manipulate the pieces, as 
indicated in these images.

It is critical that the children follow the flowchart physically, following the pathway of the arrows with a finger or hand, simultaneously reading each section. This kinaesthetic action ensures the flowchart will be effectively internalised.

Checking and testing for accuracy: Once the large flowchart has been created the students choose known words or word sums to check the organisation of the flowchart and make any necessary adjustments to the flowchart. The children use small whiteboards to create appropriate word sums checking for any changes with the completed flowchart. Often the children will notice they have placed the yes and no arrows incorrectly. At this stage, the flowchart is not adhered to any surface so it can be continually manipulated and changed.
The students are checking the flowchart by constructing known
word sums, deciding whether to replace or retain the final, single, silent <e>.
Problem solving: 
Once the large flowchart has been created and checked the students build their own individual flowcharts. The children create an individual flowchart on a small whiteboard, so they can manipulate and change where necessary. When the children have checked their flowchart with known word sums, a final copy is created.

The children need to read each question and 
action to make informed decisions about
the placement of the pieces.
Using problem solving strategies to construct the flowchart for the final <f> or <ff>.  
The students are working with a partner to complete an independent flowchart, 
helping and supporting each other.
Choosing <k> or <ck> in the final position of a base.
The students highlight new vocabulary introduced
in the flowchart. 
While the students independently construct their own flowcharts I work with small groups of children to support their learning and understanding.
Internalising the process:
The children build word sums analysing suffixing changes using the flowchart to support their decision making. 

A completed flowchart with the linking
arrows for the decision boxes.
Doubling the final letter for monosyllables.
Suffixing with the final, single, silent <e>.
By building and analysing word sums
children begin to internalise this
critical suffixing convention.
Students collaborating and analysing a 
completed flowchart.

To reinforce and consolidate learning the students can take home the flowchart pieces and recreate it with their family, explaining the suffixing pattern. A great homework project that involves the family working together. 

My understanding:
NB Since posting this orthographic investigation, I now use the more linguistically accurate terminology for the single, final non-syllabic <e>. 
Understanding the functions of the single, final non-syllabic <e> can be viewed on this VIDEO clip on the Real Spelling site.


  1. I'm wondering if you could post a lesson on how to Identify a suffixing pattern, specifically, the effect of the final single silent ) and show how it works with an introduction to flowcharts.
    I'm new to this and really curious. If I can connect meaning to spelling in the way you suggest, it could make a huge difference in the way I teach, or rather, in the way the kids learn.
    Thank you.

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  3. Great article! I have also recently found a site that teaches How to Make a Flowchart and it is very easy to use and helpful! I would recommend it to all!

  4. Thanks Karren. The flowchart App is wonderful and is an effective and efficient way to build the flowcharts. It would also be very useful for students to recreate or build their own flowcharts...a great way to reinforce and consolidate learning.

  5. I wonder how kids learn these things so quickly. Have a look at this flowchart guide , and they have drawn them perfectly with no mistake. I'm impressed!