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How did anyone ever learn anything without a graphic organizer?

Teachers love graphic organizers and tout them as a "research-based practice". I'm not buying it. But then again, I didn't go to Teacher School (but please don't tell anyone, it could be bad for my career). I am amazed when searching for graphic organizers how many of these box, circle, triangle combos have been named for people. Who is this misunderstood genius Venn anyway?

He wasn't a graphic artist, that's for sure. What I can't seem to call up in my search is the actual cognitive research that says my brain can't write an essay introduction without an inverted triangle. I understand that teaching writing is a complicated task, but have we fabricated yet another natural process?

In Latin, 'fabrica' means manufacture, craft or trick. I chose that word not from a graphic organizer next to me as I type, but to carry all the connotation of everything that is outmoded in the factory model of education we continue to perpetuate.

So what is the graphic organizer for blogging? I'll try anything to get my readership up.


I think the idea behind graphic organizers is that they're supposed to "reach the visual-spatial learners." As a visual-spatial learner and teacher, I can tell you that which you already know--the graphic organizer is a worksheet like any other, and even less helpful for organizing than a traditional hierarchical outline.

At least creating an outline requires critical thinking skills, like "which are the big ideas?" and "which ideas are subordinate to them?" Filling out a Venn diagram is a *sorting* exercise, not a thinking one.

And the dreadful word/idea web? Let's just throw up everything even tangentially related to the topic in no particular order and then write an essay. Surprise! The essay is just as unfocused as the idea web. Who da thunk it?

Like many teaching & learning techniques, methods need to be taught with care and then assessed. If necessary they need to be re-taught and re-assessed before determining that the technique has merit. When I use a graphic organizer, I call a concept map, as a tool for learning relationships between ideas in science, the concept map is of little benefit unless students are expected to write meaningful linking words or phrases between the terms in boxes on the map. I can tell if the student has processed the meaning of the information by reading these linking words. Fruitful discussions occur frequently when students recognize misconceptions. This graphic organizer method is of great value used with a clear vison of the end product.

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  • Christine Sandahl: Like many teaching & learning techniques, methods need to be read more
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