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A graphic organizer is a visual tool the helps students grasp the relationship between facts, terms and other ideas within a specific learning task (Hall & Strangman, 2002). Graphic organizers are called by a variety of different names including knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, cognitive organizers, advance organizers and concept diagrams (Hall & Strangman, 2002). However, graphic organizers have a valuable place within classrooms because they have the potential to improve learning outcomes for all students (Hall & Strangman, 2002).
Graphic organizers are so useful for both students and teachers because they can take many forms and be used in a variety of different ways to meet the needs of each individual student.
Graphic organizers can be used in a variety of different educational situations and can be modified to meet the learning objectives of specific lessons (Bellanca, 2007). Teachers can use a graphic organizer to make sense of classroom discussions among students. Students can use graphic organizers to gather information from a single lesson in order to find meaning.
Students can also rely on graphic organizers to keep track of an ongoing lesson or theme that lasts throughout the entire school year (Bellanca, 2007). An analysis of graphic organizers is offered as they relate to overall learning achievement in the classroom. Graphic organizers have the potential to improve the learning outcomes of all students because they blend the linguistic mode of learning with the non linguistic mode of learning so that words and phrases work with symbols to form meaningful relationships (Marzano, Pickering & Pollock, 2001).
The use of graphic organizers is intended to meet six different learning objectives that regularly appear in classroom curriculum: descriptive patterns, time-sequence patterns, process/cause effect patterns, episode patterns, generalization/principle patterns and concept patterns (Marzano, et al, 2001). Descriptive patterns are used to represent facts about people, places, things and events (Marzano, et al, 2001).
For example, if students were learning about the Underground Railroad, they could create a graphic organizer centered on the Underground Railroad by branching different facts about this historical event off, including important people, places, things and events associated with the Underground Railroad. Similarly, time-sequence patterns are used to form representations of the chronological sequence of events (Marzano, et al, 2001). This type of graphic organizer could take the form of a student created time line.
The remaining four types of graphic organizers deal with more complex processes but are equally as useful for teachers and students. Process/cause effect patterns organize information in such a way that allows it to lead to a specific outcome (Marzano, et al, 2001). Using the Underground Railroad example, this graphic organizer could list all of the different events that led to the creation of the Underground Railroad. Episode patterns are similar in that they organize information about specific events including setting, people, duration, sequence of events and cause and effect (Marzano, et al, 2001).
This type of graphic organizer allows students to form a clear and cohesive picture of what they are studying so that all of the necessary information is included in one place. Generalization/Principle patterns allow students to focus on one topic so they are able to collect a variety of different examples that support that topic (Marzano, et al, 2001). This type of graphic organizer is particularly useful in math because it allows students to show a multitude of examples that prove specific math concepts.
Finally, concept patterns organize information around a word or phrase that represent people, places, things or events as entire categories (Marzano, et al, 2001). This type of organizer allows students to show many examples about one particular subject. The types of graphic organizers described above are highly useful in the classroom because students in modern society are very visual human beings (Sousa, 2007). Modern students are surrounded by visual technology including computers, television, video games, cellular telephones, movies and DVD players (Sousa, 2007).
Graphic organizers build on the reliance that students have on visual technology by capturing their attention in order to provide them with authentic opportunities to improve their understanding, meaning and retention of specific subjects (Sousa, 2007). Teachers who incorporate the use of graphic organizers into the classroom are able to reach all students because they appeal to the highly visual children that make up society today. Further, the use of visual techniques such as graphic organizers have the potential to increase learning outcomes while also ensuring future recall.
The national No Child Left Behind Act has increased educational focus onto assessment (Struble, 2007). Graphic organizers have a very valuable place in classrooms both as ongoing and formative assessment measures (Struble, 2007). Graphic organizers are powerful tools for analyzing and assessing the ongoing understanding and performance of students throughout the school year and across a wide range of subject material (Struble, 2007). The use of graphic organizers as part of an ongoing assessment measure allows teachers to modify instruction as necessary while also ensuring that all students are learning what they need to know (Struble, 2007).
Further, the use of graphic organizers has been shown to increase overall meaning but also to increase future retention (Nesbit & Adescope, 2006). Over the past several years, fifty-five studies have been conducted associated with the use of graphic organizers by 5818 student participants. Results from these studies using post tests measuring recall and transfer after the use of graphic organizers prove that they increase knowledge retention (Nesbit & Adescope, 2006).
Ultimately, graphic organizers have the potential to capture the interest of students so they are able to form a meaningful relationship between linguistic and non linguistic skills in order to increase the potential for future recall of curriculum material. Bellanca, James A. (2007). A guide to graphic organizers: helping students organize and process content for deeper learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Hall, Tracey & Strangman, Nicole. (2002). Graphic organizers. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from http://www. cast.
org/publications/ncac/ncac_go. html. Marzano, Robert J. ; Pickering, Debra J. & Pollock, Jane E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: research based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development. Nesbit, John C. & Adescope, Olusola O. (2006). Learning with concept and knowledge maps: a meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 76 (3): 413 – 448. Sousa, David A. (2007). How the brain learns mathematics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Struble, Janet. (2007). Using graphic organizers as a formative assessment. Science Scope, January 1.
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