It’s All In How You Frame It

It is clear from conversations with educators from throughout the country that high stress and a sense of overwhelm is a condition of epidemic proportion in our schools today. Clearly, we must equip and empower educators by providing them with increased levels of support, streamlined structures, and efficient strategies so they may better serve their students. Anyone who is familiar with Thinking Maps® can readily recognize the potential the Maps have to significantly increase student engagement as well as reduce stress and this sense of overwhelm for educators.
While the use in schools of Thinking Maps, a common visual language for learning, facilitates a greater sense of consistency across grade levels and content areas, the use of the Frame of Reference significantly enhances the impact of the Maps. This powerful meta-cognitive tool serves to enlighten teachers with insight into the sources, unique perspectives, and personal purpose students bring to their learning. While this enhancement to the cognitive visual organization makes the learning more meaningful for students, the teacher’s knowledge of this information allows them to connect on a deeper level with their students. Information noted in the students’ Frames of Reference greatly facilitate teachers’ efforts to enjoy enhanced relationships with students and to the make learning more relevant for them.
Use of the Frame of Reference around a Thinking Map provides a place for students to capture sources of the information organized in the Map, serves as a place to identify their unique point of view/perspective, and to answer the questions SO WHAT? and SO WHY? Having students talk information off the Maps deepens levels of understanding, builds oral language proficiency, and leads to improved writing skills as well. While neurological research supports the cognitive impact of visually patterned approaches to learning, the brain also responds favorably to the personal and purposeful information students add to their Frame of Reference.
As a former principal, I experienced an instance where one of my teachers struggled greatly with the academic performance of students in her classroom. To remedy this, I tried changing her grade level, as I thought perhaps she would be more effective with students of a different age. When that proved unsuccessful, I changed the content area for which she would be responsible, thinking perhaps she would be a more effective math teacher than language arts teacher. This move also proved unsuccessful. This was a teacher who attended all professional development sessions, arrived to school early and stayed late, produced detailed lesson plans, and was highly professional and cooperative. Unfortunately for her and her students, needed levels of learning were not taking place in her classroom.
Frustrated that the changes I made and the professional development I provided were not having the desired impact, I asked to teach her class one morning. After all, I had 10 years of classroom teaching experience, so I thought I would try to determine what was causing the disconnect between teaching and learning. Immediately, I worked to make personal connections with the students which allowed me to make more relevant connections to what was being taught. The result was high levels of engagement and students seemed to be effectively grasping the information and concepts being taught. The teacher remarked that the student responses indicated a level of understanding she had not previously witnessed. I wished I had a specific system or strategy I could have shared with her at that time, however I had not yet been exposed to Thinking Maps or the Frame of Reference.
Nearly a year later, when I was principal of another school, I was first introduced to Thinking Maps at a national conference. Immediately, I thought of that teacher and how she and her students would have especially benefited from the Frame of Reference. Her students would have sensed their unique thoughts, perspectives, and background experiences were honored and valued. This would have led to higher levels of engagement, deeper levels of learning, and improved levels of achievement. Additionally, asking students to consider information from an alternate perspective and/or point of view would have served to build a greater sense of empathy.
Using the Frame of Reference as a tool to acknowledge and value students’ unique experiences and perspectives and build their sense of empathy, will help to insure their social emotional learning is addressed as well. This is a powerful reason why the Frame of Reference should be used consistently in all classrooms. The resulting increases in student engagement and success will greatly help to cure the epidemic of stress and overwhelm experienced by educators and students and will bring needed joy back to teaching and learning.

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Posted in blog, Educator Voices, General, K-5, Leadership

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