I once visited with a high school student who told me that he did not see great value in Thinking Maps. He said he didn’t understand why his teacher would tell him to do a “Bubble Map” or a “Tree Map.”
“Why can’t we just take notes the normal way?” was the question he said entered his thoughts each time he was told to make a Thinking Map.
When I asked him to define the “normal way,” he said, “You know, just write things down that you want to remember.”
I then asked how much of that information he remembered.
“Enough to pass the test,” he remarked.
With his permission I shared with him some of the brain research that supports the effectiveness of Thinking Maps. I also discussed the benefits of using this visual language as a memory tool and a way to establish some consistency across subject areas. When I finished I asked, “Now what do you think of Thinking Maps?”
He responded, “I like them!”
“What changed your opinion about the Maps?”
“No one ever explained them to me that way!”
Making Maps vs. Making Meaning
Sometimes, we forget to tell students the “why” behind the Maps. When we introduce Maps to learners, they should not be presented as an esoteric exercise or just another assignment. To get the most value from the Maps, students need to understand them as a learning tool that benefits them, not a requirement that is given to them. That “why” needs to be continually reinforced through the grade levels as students’ use of the Maps grows and develops.
In recent years, the emphasis in Thinking Maps training has shifted from “Making Maps” to “Making Meaning.” You’ve probably noticed that Thinking Maps posters now have the thought process for each Map noted on the top of the poster and the name of the Map on the bottom. We did that to put more focus on the cognitive processes each Map is designed to support and help students and teachers better understand how to match the right Map to what they are trying to accomplish.
Here are some other ways you can enhance your Thinking Maps practice and help students get more meaning from the Maps:
• When first implementing Thinking Maps in a school, or orchestrating a re-introduction of the Maps, take some time to explain to the students how their brain works and WHY the use of Thinking Maps will help them to better comprehend, retain, and apply information learned in school. This will be especially important for secondary students, like the one with whom I visited.
• Make sure the focus of Thinking Maps implementation is on Making Meaning as opposed to Making Maps. This can best be done by posing the questions, prompted by your standards, that will guide students in the use of Thinking Maps to facilitate the discovery of meaning, answers, solutions, and possibly even more questions.
• Help students with explicit practice and instruction on taking information off the Map(s). While producing strong written products is clearly one of the desired outcomes of organization of thoughts in Thinking Maps, it is equally important to provide students with regular practice in speaking information off the Map(s).
These practices will go a long way towards helping your students get more value from the Maps. By emphasizing not just what to do but also why we are doing it, we can help students internalize the thought processes behind the Maps and get more meaning out of both creating their own Maps and reading Maps created by others. If your school could use some help in moving from Making Maps to Making Meaning, give us a call to discuss your training options.