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Monthly Archive for January, 2008

As I attempt to organize my thoughts for a workshop for my colleagues in the instructional staff at my district office on graphic organizers, I realize I need to clarify my thinking about graphic organizers. Maybe writing a blog post will help.

Our district focus was to investigate tools that help students organize their thinking to improve their organizational skills and their writing. As a leadership team, we explored the different tools being used in our classrooms that would then be presented to the instructional staff. We discussed three tools:

  • Thinking Maps® is a tool that the district English Language Learners department has embraced for grades K-5. All elementary teachers have received professional development on using Thinking Maps® in the classroom, and have been encouraged to use it in all content areas.
  • Make Sense Strategies is a collection of graphic organizer templates used at the secondary level by Special Education teachers and students.
  • I suggested Inspiration/Kidspiration as a digital tool that is being used by some classrooms in our district. I also mentioned that there are many free, collaborative tools on the web for creating graphic organizers, such as Bubbl.us, MindMeister, or Cmap.

There seems to be a disconnect in our district as students move from elementary school to secondary schools. Students understand the 6 basic maps in ThinkingMaps®, but since many secondary teachers aren’t aware of the terminology, they don’t make the connection explicit for their students. For example, a double-bubble Thinking Maps® diagram is very similar to a Venn Diagram. Somehow, we need to make sure that the connections are made. My own opinion, which really wouldn’t count in this situation, is that we should just use the standard terminology for graphic organizers across the curriculum, not something that is copyrighted and proprietary. Since that isn’t going to happen, at least we need to make sure that teachers at all levels know the equivalent terminology so they can help students make those connections. Hmm, perhaps that should be part of the focus of my workshop on Monday morning….

The ELL curriculum staff presented ThinkingMaps® about a month ago to our staff. The Special Ed staff presented Make Sense Strategies to our staff a few weeks ago. Now it’s my turn on Monday morning.

There is so much I want to share, and so little time to do so. I want to highlight powerful features of Inspiration and Kidspiration, but I also want to expose them to the wealth of free resources available on the web.

I think Inspiration and Kidspiration are wonderful, flexible tools that are very affordable in California with the CalSave/LAUSD district wide pricing structure (less than $20 a copy). However, as someone pointed out at our last leadership meeting, these tools have been around for quite some time and are not being used by very many teachers. There are many reasons for this, many of which that have to do with limited access and emphasis on technology in our classrooms. I think the newest editions of Inspiration and Kidspiration are very powerful, with many added templates, graphics and features that help students focus on their thinking and writing in very engaging ways. I want to show our staff these new features, since many of them haven’t even looked at these tools for at least 4 years since the last workshop. The last workshop used older versions of these tools and was done before I was part of the team. I’m not sure what was presented or how it was framed. I’ll present some of these features:

Grapic Organizer of Inspiration Features

However, will this be enough to encourage our district instructional staff to promote the use of these tools in the classroom? I’m not sure.

I’ve been bookmarking resources on Del.icio.us tagged with either graphicorganizer or graphicorganizers and I am amazed at the wealth and rich variety of resources on graphic organizers. There are the free and easy collaborative web tools like Bubbl.us, Gliffy, and Mindmeister. Also, the open source downloadable software, Cmap, can connect through a server to other users to collaborate on a common map. In additions to these, there are an astounding amount of downloadable templates for a number of different scenarios. Some examples are Tools for Reading, Writing, and Thinking, Education Place’s Graphic Organizers, Printable Graphic Organizers, and TeacherVision Printable Graphic Organizers, which are just a few of the many resources available. Then there are the flash based generators, such as those at ReadWriteThink and ClassTools.net With so many resources available, why are we paying for a system like MakeSenseStrategies, or even ThinkingMaps® (I can already hear the gasp of the district supporters), when the tools we need are readily available for free? Are we paying for a packaged system - a uniformity - a defined and scripted curriculum? I’m sure there are very logical arguments for buying these programs, but I think we could do better for much less money. Of course, I won’t be explicitly conveying these ideas Monday morning, but I am going to briefly show the possibilities through sharing these resources …at the END of my workshop on Inspiration.

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