Graphic Organizers as an Accommodation in Transformed Classrooms

This is the fifth in a series of posts drawing attention to the intersection of our students who receive special education services and the goal of the Visioning work of making public schools better for all Texas children.  All Texas children.

The first four posts in this series are linked below.

This post focuses on the use of graphic organizers as an accommodation in transformed classrooms.  As a common accommodation, these concept maps or visual displays of information may be provided for students receiving special education services to support content recall.  The benefits, however, extend well beyond such repetition, memorization, and fact recitation.  The use of these tools in transformed classrooms also reaches past assessment and provides opportunities for learning when embedded within lesson design.  Graphic organizers may serve as a tool to leverage profound learning through:

  • identification of important content (think: High Priority Learning Standards);
  • designation of connections between/among content and curriculum;
  • fostering opportunities to synthesize information within and beyond the scope of the course; and
  • integration of images, color, and text to support accessibility.

In the transformed classroom, we recognize the relevance of graphic organizers through the lens of Article II: The New Learning Standards.  Specifically, the value of graphic organizers is captured within this premise: IIb. Learning should be specified to the “profound level,” that is, students are able to apply their learning to new situations, to synthesize, solve problems, create knowledge, and cultivate and utilize the full range of their capabilities.

We must move from an abundance of tasks provided for our students at the recall thinking level to more and more at the strategic and extending thinking levels (think: Depth of Knowledge).  As designers of learning experiences, we need to progress on this Depth of Knowledge continuum for the sake of providing opportunities for our students to gain profound learning.  The levels of Depth of Knowledge, though, are not sequential in the perspective of the students.  That is, it is not necessary for students to master level one (recall) before attempting level two (skills/concepts) related to a certain idea.  In fact, opportunities to engage in more complex tasks may support student engagement in the content and certainly demonstrates qualities of a growth mindset as the expectations to investigate, construct, and create (generally levels three and four) are embedded within such tasks.

Ultimately, the students will not simply fill the boxes on a pre-created graphic organizer, but rather determine for themselves how many boxes are needed, based on a synthesis of the information.  The students will not ask how many words are required, but rather write until the graphic organizer can be used to clearly paint a picture of the concept.  The students will not be restricted to text alone, but rather see the value of incorporating images, color coding, and connecting lines and arrows to make sense of the information using the graphic organizer.  And, the students will not complete a graphic organizer template, but rather be equipped to determine the most appropriate graphic organizer to use based on the content and organize their thoughts logically.  In doing so, the students demonstrate profound levels of understanding as they color-code, illustrate, and make connections between the content.

Ultimately, the students will not simply fill the boxes on a pre-created graphic organizer, but rather determine for themselves how many boxes are needed, based on a synthesis of the information.

As we design learning experiences in transformed classrooms, we value students’ understanding at the profound level as we incorporate opportunities for meaning making and transfer.  The use of graphic organizers by all students, but specifically those students receiving special education services for whom their advocates have articulated this as a necessity in their permanent record file, can support such profound learning when the question prompts or tasks have been carefully articulated to elicit such strategic thought.

I recommend this post from Ian Byrd, Depth, Complexity and Graphic Organizers as an inspiration on how to use graphic organizers as a tool to push students’ thinking to new levels.  I acknowledge Mr. Byrd’s blog is devoted to understanding the needs of gifted learners; however, the tools and strategies he shares very often align clearly to the work of the Vision, specifically the necessity to guide students to learning at the profound level.


If you would like to discuss the use of graphic organizers to support profound learning and the connection to The New Learning Standards please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (Mary).  My contact information is available on the Authors tab at the top of this blog.

 

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