I’m taking suggestions! What kinds of graphic organizers do you find effective for your students? How do they work best? No matter what grade level and no matter what content area, your observations are welcome. Make yourself famous; leave a comment here or head over to The Tech Savvy Educator’s forum and write a reply there.
Where We’re Looking So Far
- EnchantedLearning.com provides good resources, though you have to pay for access to full size versions of their organizers. When you click on the type of organizer to use, you have to scroll down the page to see all of their proposed methods of implementing that type of organizer. They’ve done a lot of our work for us, but we need things to be free for all teachers to use.
- Byrd Middle School has an incredibly cool technology resource teacher who has created some good organizers over the last year. I’ve stolen several of those and plan to add them to our pile of possibilities.
- Jim Burke’s Web site and his book Tools for Thought have come in rather handy. Purchasing enough copies of his book to hand out to the staff is a possibility and would encourage a good conversation about how to use these tools. I hesitate to do it, though, because the idea’s already out there that things like graphic organizers and general literacy promotion are all the English department’s responsibility. For the staff to have a book written by an English teacher about how to use graphic organizers could perhaps reinforce the foolish notion that English is responsible for literacy.
Not a big list, I know. We’re just getting started and there’s really only two of us looking into this. Each of us has a few graphic organizers that we created and use in our classrooms that we’ll add to the list. The joke is that we’ll put all of this together in a book, but it might not be a bad idea once we work through the process. The weakness I’m finding with existing publications (though I haven’t looked very deeply into this matter) is that they have a lot of narration, a supreme irony for any book about graphic organizers. I want to see a publication more like the EnchantedLearning.com site above, with chapters for each organizer and multiple versions of the organizer, ready to be put to use in different courses. Student examples of how the organizer helped the thinking process would be nice to augment each chapter.
In an effort to push school-wide literacy, we’re thinking of choosing 2 different graphic organizers to emphasize at each grade level. Every teacher would know what those organizers are and would use them in their classes whenever appropriate. This has the added benefit of giving our teaching a cohesion at least on the level of how we demand students organize their thoughts.
In high school, the different subjects are taught in almost complete isolation and, even within the subjects, concepts are taught in isolation. When I write, I rarely write completely within a single genre. It’s often a mix of persuasive, reflective, expository, narrative, and analytical styles. To write something entirely inside a single domain is unnatural. Yet, we teach those writing styles independently. To urge students into mixing the genres is saved for the advanced students and, even then, typically only the techniques of a single style are evaluated.
I imagine that similar issues exist in math, science, the arts, social science, and other content areas. In reality, the concepts from all these classes are connected and often used at once to solve problems, but high school presents them all as if there was nothing but the most tenuous connection between them.
I’ve written far too many times on how schools need to show connections between course content and life after academics, but schools also need to show how all courses connect into making sense out of the world. In social science, you can’t leave all the good writing techniques you learned in English at the door. In science, you can’t leave all of your math skills in a pile on the threshold. All of these things are related and if we’re all at least using the same organization strategies, those relations start to become clearer.