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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Graphic organizers

Many high-school teachers believe that so-called graphic organizers are helpful to students. Readers who are my age may wonder what a graphic organizer is. According to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory,
a graphic organizer is an instructional tool used to illustrate a student or class’s prior knowledge about a topic or section of text.
Another definition comes from Enchanted Learning:
Graphic organizers (some of which are also called concept maps, entity relationship charts, and mind maps) are a pictorial way of constructing knowledge and organizing information.
Both organizations cite various examples, some of which are undoubtedly helpful in getting kids to organize and think about their knowledge. Like anything else, a particular graphic organizer might be more useful to some students than to others, but on the whole they are clearly a net plus.

But...

When should the graphic organizers be used? They’re great as class activities, as part of homework assignments, and as review for a test. And they’re surely helpful to students who create a graphic organizer for themselves. But should the teacher be in the business of providing one on a test in order to structure an answer to an essay question or a multi-step math problem? Some teachers say yes, on the theory that it helps students organize their work and therefore write a more successful essay or solution. But shouldn’t it be the student’s responsibility to organize his or her own work? More specifically, aren’t we supposed to be assessing the student’s competence in structuring an essay or solution as part of the objectives of any test?

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