kitchen table math, the sequel: Graphic organizers "cheat sheet"

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Graphic organizers "cheat sheet"

After my post on the middle school character cluster assignment, I thought I would follow up with an introduction to graphic organizers (aka concept maps).  This might be helpful to parents or others unfamiliar with these commonly used teaching tools.


Allison said...

And by "helpful" you meant "important to warn parents just how insane schools are" ?

Because no one who sees can think anything but "My children are living in a Dilbert cartoon, and they are only 10", right?

"teaching tools" is apparently a new oxymoron.

ChemProf said...

And of course these "teaching tools" are much more authentic than teaching outlining...

SteveH said...

And when you get to be a programmer, you can create stick figures in a UML "use-case" chart. Most graphic tools are documentation tools, not analysis tools. In one project I worked on years ago, we had to submit data flow diagrams weekly. We drew them up after we did the work. It made the customer (Air Force) all warm and fuzzy.

How about the paper folding techniques? How about the writing web pictures my son used to do? I once thought that Warnier/Orr diagrams were the greatest thing. Then I realized that I still had to think.

After seeing so many really bad examples from that list, I conclude that they don't work. If you see one that contains useful information, then it wasn't because of the chart. It was only documenting something else that was going on in the person's head.

LynnG said...

I've never understood the purpose of graphic organizers. Where did these things come from?

VickyS said...

I think they are used because, like group projects, they can be great levelers. Most kids' graphic organizers look pretty much the same, and there's not really any right or wrong, is there? A big step toward "equal outcome" education. And hey, they make great slides in a Powerpoint world.

Me, well I just made my Biology students write 3 essays on their final exams. Old school, I guess...

Grace Nunez said...

I don't know if anyone noticed the name of the source website for the cool graphic organizers - "Enchanted Learning". Seems appropriate somehow.

palisadesk said...

"Enchanted Learning". Seems appropriate somehow.

I love the Enchanted Learning site:it has tons of great resources, mostly for K-3 but some,like maps and the graphic organizers,that lend themselves to multiple grade levels.It's a subscription site but worth every penny.

Now, graphic organizers may be over-hyped but they serve a valuable purpose, especially for kids with challenges of various kinds. Story maps are indispensable for teaching kids with language disabilities about narrative structure; Venn diagrams are great for teaching classification skills.

Catherine has referred to the fact that kids with autism tend towards "hyperspecificity" and difficulty generalizing or mentally "switching gears." You have to teach these kids that items can be grouped in different ways, and that categories can overlap. For example, the student could classify "furniture" and "vehicles" in a Venn diagram, with the overlapping part for items that run on electricity. (I'm sure there are better examples, that's just the first one I thought of). So, something can be in the class of "electrically-powered objects" and "furniture" (or vehicles) at the same time. This is a difficult concept for some students to grasp.

Don't even get me started on the subject of teaching the concept of negation -- many students, not Sp. Ed. either, struggle with this. Diagrams (I usually draw my own for this) are a great help clarifying the concept.

At higher levels, organizers that show chain of events and main idea/detail relationships are also extremely useful. They do not, of course, supplant skills like outlining -- but for years I tried to teach outlining to students who did not have the conceptual understanding to do it. With graphic organizers, you can build up the component skills needed for the more abstract, unmediated task.

I have not found, though, that using graphic organizers produces,on its own, better thinking or ideation. Programs like "Inspiration" and "Smart Ideas" (computerized graphic-organizer software) facilitate getting students to organize their points and allow them to group and rearrange ideas visually (and export them into a formal outline format in Word) but the thinking has to be there, at least in embryonic form, in the first place.

Before anyone ever heard of "graphic organizers" my dad taught me how to write well-organized pieces (I was in grade 3 or 4) using what he called a "Scattergram." It was a G.O. style diagram with boxes and circles, hand-drawn on legal pads and cut up with scissors and reorganized as needed. Whatever else one may say about lawyers, they do learn to write with clarity and precision, even with veiled humor. My dad said he had learned this strategy in law school, but he didn't tell me from whom. That would have been back in World War II days.

I find the format of the prepared G.O's somewhat limiting, and prefer to make my own. I've taught some bright but non-compliant middle school kids to use a modern version of my dad's "Scattergram" technique with the Table function in Word.

kcab said...

My only problem with graphic organizers is when the kids are restricted to using a specific type. DD13 has used bubble charts for years, since 2nd grade, I think, when starting to write something. She also uses something similar (I think) to Palisadesk's Scattergram, calls it "story surgery," where she cuts up some initial writing or ideas and rearranges them in various ways before expanding. These methods work for her and that's fine with me. I just wouldn't want to force someone else to do the same thing.

The Enchanted Learning site is quite useful for homeschooling parents of primary grade level kids, and subscription is reasonable (or was, it's been a couple years since we used it).

SteveH said...

I find that diagramming techniques work best at the simplest level. Many times I won't use any particular tecnique. I might use some hand-drawn boxes and arrows or some sort of sequence chart. The same goes for outlining. I think the problem arises when people are forced to go into much more detail; the chart becomes an end in itself.

I've dealt with this in programming my whole career. You can't know something in that detail before you've done it unless you've done it before. If you've written a payroll system before, you can create flowcharts and data flow diagrams to a much more detailed level and feel confident that it will work. If it's a new type of project, then you work to fill in the level of detail in the diagram that your boss or teacher wants, even though you really don't know if it will work. This is a classic top-down approach to systems analysis; you start with a problem statement; go to the analysis portion; then tackle the design; then the code, unit test, integration test, and final verification and validation stages. However, formalities in process will only help your thinking up to a point. In many cases, that point is at a very simple level.

That's why prototyping is so popular for many experienced programmers. This is more of a bottom-up approach to programming. Actually, what I use is something I call an outside-in approach. You do just enough analysis to feel confident that you are going in the right direction and then you create a prototype stub of a program that does the job. Then, you analyze the low-level functions that will be needed to get the job done. Often, these will be higher risk or unknown tasks that could cause a project to blow up when they are put off until the end in a traditional top-down approach.

The low level tasks are written to be independent of the overall goal of the project and will have their own special driver programs that can be used to verify and validate that portion. In modern terms, this could be done for a "class" structure.

In general, there is a risk involved with too much initial analysis. You could outline until the cows come home, but when you actually write the paper, you might find that the outline is completely wrong. Also, if you are writing a type of paper you have done many times before, then you don't need much of an outline. However, if you just jump right in and do the work without thinking too much, you migtht have to do lots of revisions. I find that there is a balance between the two extremes. I like jumping in and prototyping earlier, especially when it's a new type of project. Some things you just can't know until you do them. If you find that you have to trash what you've done and start over, this usually come at an earlier time in the project than when you find out the same problem using a traditional top-down analysis and design approach. By then, the cost of fixing the problem has gone up exponentially.

For kids, use the charts for a basic analysis of a problem, but whatever you do, don't trust the charts to solve most or even half of the issues that will be encountered. Just jump right in and get to work. Besides, I find that getting a prototype up and running quickly does a lot of psychological good. You have something to show off and it forces you to deal with reality. With charting techniques, you can spend a whole lot of time avoiding reality creating a chart that looks good, but will never work. Unfortunately, right now I'm involved with a big project that is requiring way too much top-down analysis and forcing me to create too many Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams of dubious value. I just won't know what the problems are until I get to them.

Anonymous said...

it even has a flowchart for picking GO's


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