How Graphic Organizers Enhance Learning Ability in ALL Age Groups

With the use of visual learning tools becoming widespread, there has also been a push towards the introduction of graphics organizers from an early age so as to facilitate familiarity with these tools. By their very nature graphic organizers aid learning across all subjects and their processes are applicable across a spectrum of uses. However the effectiveness of these tools lies in the ability of the teachers to teach students how to use them efficiently.

Graphic Organizers

When used effectively, graphic organizers have the potential to foster and aid learning in a number of areas. Chief among these are reading, comprehension and vocabulary knowledge. Studies have indicated the ability of graphic organizers to substantially improve reading and vocabulary knowledge. Because the child is not merely reading a bunch of words but learning to understand the importance or lack thereof, of these words, he is able to sift through the maze of alphabets and attain better clarity. The student is able to understand the concept behind what he is reading, and is able to isolate text that is not important. This helps the student determine a main idea and build an entire story from there. This in turn boosts reading and writing skills and is especially beneficial to students writing an essay. It helps them structure essential ideas while eliminating non essential ones. Vocabulary knowledge and comprehension skills have also been found to increase significantly after the use of these visual learning tools.

At the very basic levels graphic organizers help young children drill down in to the concept and communicate better. They learn to organize their ideas and break them down so they are clearer. Teachers can use analogy to help students compare concepts. In this case, it’s always advisable to encourage students to compare with concepts they are already familiar with to facilitate better learning. Reading skills can be monitored by keeping a record of the child’s reading in the form of charts, and checking for ineffective strategies.

As the child grows older, introduce him to sequencing tools that help him separate a story into a beginning, middle and an end. It helps students write in a manner that addresses the main questions – what, where, who, why and how, thereby enhancing reading and comprehension skills. Another way to do this is to use tools that break down the story into five components – the intro, rising action, climax, falling action and finally the resolution of the story. As the student moves on to higher grades, leaning tools can continue to help him understand math and scientific concepts, and apply these tools to problem outlining and solving skills. In grades four through six, students can be encouraged to review anonyms and synonyms, while brainstorming their own ideas. By now students are familiar with the use of graphic organizers to construct stories that have a definite idea, and break these up into beginning, middle and end sections. Now the child is able should be able to apply these skills by writing 5 sentence paragraphs and then 5 paragraph stories.

In middle schools, graphics organizers can be used to construct story pyramids that define a setting, the main characters and the main events in a story. Strengthening of vocabulary and reading continues through this stage as students are encouraged to practice writing in a journalistic manner with a specific purpose and idea behind the story. The process continues until high school with more concept mapping techniques and tools are added to deal with feeling words like anger, hurt and confusion, and comparing and contrasting concepts further. Although graphic organizers have been proven to be beneficial across all age groups, studies indicate that they are more effective in high school than they are in the elementary stages.

The Role of the Teacher and the Effectiveness of Graphic Organizers

Most examples that outline the inefficacy of graphic organizers invariably point to inadequate teacher instruction as the key in the failure of these tools to achieve any noticeable results in student achievement. By and large an effective teacher instruction model includes explicit and detailed instructions, and independent practice by the students with feedback wherever necessary. The teacher should determine and establish a purpose for which the graphic organizer is being used. All these three elements – instruction by the teacher, practice by the students and teacher, and feedback from the teacher – are inextricably linked. Failure at one of these stages will negate the benefits of using the tools.

Besides the above, the exact point of usage of the tools plays a major role in determining the success of graphic organizers. Introducing visual learning tools during the pre reading stage may only result in minimal success. In sharp contrast learning is seen to increase significantly when graphic organizers are used as a post reading activity.

For teachers to be able to maximize the potential of graphic organizers, a few guidelines will come in handy.

· Articulate the relationships between concepts outlined in the graphic organizer

· Encourage students to contribute their ideas
· Establish a connection between the material being learnt and past learning
· Refer to up coming material
· Encourage structural analysis.

Using Mind Maps in Education

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