An overview of Graphic Organizers and their role and impacts on student learning in public school education environments is presented. Also presented is a brief overview of the current research pertaining to Graphic Organizers, their role in helping children analyze and synthesize information, and their relationship in helping children organize information despite "ability level" or developmental understanding. Further analyzed are ways specific academic skills are impacted through the use of Graphic Organizers in accordance with learning styles and age related behavioral processes. Also presented are implications for classrooms and applications that include roles and impacts on certain groups including students, teachers, and administrators. Solutions are offered to help professionals develop the most effective programs through consistent, research based methodologies and philosophies.
Keywords Concept Map; Differentiated Instruction; Graphic Organizers; Meaningful Verbal Learning; Semantic Map
Graphic Organizer Overview
Graphic organizers serve as a visual framework (Ausubel, 1960) that offers teachers and students multiple and differentiated opportunities to utilize a tool to develop concepts, organize language, and better understand subjects, in order to apply information to achieve a variety of purposes and outcomes. Graphic organizers, or concept maps (Novak & Gowin 1984), help students sort, simplify, show relationships, make meaning, and manage data quickly and easily (Crawford & Carnine, 2000). Bromley, Irwin-DeVitis, and Modlo (1995) defined graphic organizers as a visual representation(s) of knowledge. Organizing information graphically allows students to structure information or arrange aspects of a concept or a topic into a pattern using labels (p. 6). Essentially and meaningfully, graphic organizers enable students to sort data, illustrate relationships, make meaning, and manage data quickly and easily before, during, and after reading and during classroom or group discussions. Graphic organizers are useful for reading difficult material, accentuating information, honoring cultural diversity, meeting needs of special populations, and supporting language learning. In addition to facilitating understanding for multiple subjects, graphic organizers help students with learning disabilities or academic deficits make sense of information in multiple disciplines.
Graphic organizers are useful for multiple reasons. First, the reality of public education classrooms is that learning needs for all students spans a wide-ranging spectrum. Second, to educate all students in the least restrictive environment typically mandates that both special education students and general education students will be educated in a general education classroom. Third, the mandate for least restrictive environment results in the expectation that all students will learn the same curricular content (Baxendell, 2003, p. 46). As a result, teachers are often called upon to decide specific instructional tools for use with all students. Based on present research, teachers have access to multiple research-based techniques, strategies, and devices that allow them to meet their students' varying needs (Fisher & Schumaker, 1995). Choosing optimal instructional devices for students with special needs can be difficult, because students with special needs may experience difficulty understanding, organizing, or recalling important facts or details or discipline content (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001).
Graphic organizers are a specific instructional organizational tool available to teachers that are commonly utilized in many classrooms (Egan, 1999). Instructional researchers that formulated the use of graphic organizers recommend key principles in designing effective graphic organizers which include coherence, consistency, and creativity (Baxendell, 2003, p. 46). A wealth of research can be accessed that describes the benefit and positive impact that graphic organizers have on students' ability to comprehend and organize information in multiple subject areas including, but not limited to, reading, science, social studies, and math.
In order for students to learn to read effectively, students must be able to generate meaning from the text or comprehend their reading (Duke & Pearson, 2002; Pressley, 2000). Learning to read can be a daunting task for many children, especially those with disabilities (LD, Bryant, Vaughn, Linan-Thompson, Ugel, & Hamff, 2000; Gersten, Fuchs, Williams, & Baker, 2001). The most successful reading teachers are those that understand that reading can be a complex and difficult process (Vaughn & Edmonds, 2006, p. 131). Graphic organizers have been recommended as helpful instruments for teaching students to read.
Graphic organizers “can include such practices as semantic mapping, semantic feature analysis, cognitive maps, story maps, advanced organizers, visual and spatial displays, and Venn diagrams. As a result of these organizers, students can connect ideas and concepts and improve their text comprehension” (Vaughn & Edmonds, 2006, p. 134). Mounting evidence indicates individuals with learning disabilities can dramatically benefit from graphic organizers utilized to facilitate comprehension of expository text (Kim, Vaughn, Wanzek, & Wei, 2004). The most effective graphic organizers that can be used to help children improve reading comprehension are those graphic organizers that relate to the instructional text or the unit that is being taught (Vaughn & Edmonds, 2006, p. 135). A semantic map can be used to provide “an overview of key vocabulary and concepts” (p. 135). A concept map can be “used to extend understanding of central ideas by determining how they are defined and their characteristics” (Vaughn & Edmonds, 2006, p. 135). Graphic organizers can be used to facilitate learning for other subjects, as well.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has required that “students with disabilities must be assessed in science once during each grade span (3 - 5, 6 - 9, and 10 - 12), along with all other general education students starting with the 2007 - 2008 school year. While appropriate testing accommodations must be offered, research indicates that instructional issues play a vital role in helping students with disabilities learn” (“Science for Students,” 2007, p. 65). For students with disabilities, multiple issues with organization, memory, reading, and writing makes information difficult to grasp and retaining complex material a challenge. According to ERIC (2003), in order to teach students with disabilities, students may need modifications such as "advance and graphic organizers, instructional scaffolding, additional practice and time to complete assignments, and /or alternative media (e.g., large-print materials, audiotapes, or electronic materials)" (“Science for Students,” 2007, p. 65). Along with science, graphic organizers also improve understanding in social studies.
Specific types of graphic organizers empower social studies teachers and students to control a large amount of reading, manage a multitude of ideas, and consider various perspectives associated with learning social studies, especially citizenship and government, economics, geography, and history (Flood & Lapp, 1988). Graphic organizers provide practical classroom tools that immediately engage students and connect them with content and processes while working independently, with partners, in small groups, or as a whole class (Hew et al. 2004). Teachers or students can create graphic organizers as tools to process or integrate into the product; they can be created on paper, on a board, or with computer software. According to researchers, students using graphic organizers are more motivated, demonstrate more efficient short-term recall, and demonstrate more significant long-term achievement when organizers are used effectively in social studies. It can be argued that graphic organizers empower students to take responsibility for their own learning, facilitate and personalize meaning, share information with others, and make group presentations (MacKinnon & Deppell, 2005). From the research, graphic organizers can be used in social studies in three different ways.
First, graphic organizers can be used before reading and discussion as a way to pre-assess knowledge, introduce or preview a new topic, brainstorm ideas, and motivate student interest. Second, graphic organizers can be utilized during reading and discussion to provide an instrument for note taking, retaining information, checking progress, extending learned information, evaluating learned information, and renewing interest. Third, graphic organizers can be used after reading and discussion to review, reinforce, or assess learning, establish the foundation for future projects and activities, and serve as an evaluation tool (Vacca & Vacca, 2001). Graphic organizers offer teachers and students opportunities to recognize what is known, dispel misinformation and misconceptions, brainstorm new possibilities, predict outcomes, process information, share ideas, and see their outcomes in simple and easy-to-recall representations (Keppell, 2001).
Mathematics literature content is difficult material for students to read. There are “more concepts per word, per sentence, and per paragraph than in any other subject” (Brennan & Dunlap, 1985, Culyer, 1988; Thomas, 1988). One strategy that is useful for teaching problem solving in mathematics is the use of graphic organizers (Clarke, 1991; Flood, Lapp, & Farnan, 1986; Piccolo, 1987). This strategy for teaching mathematics involves five steps. First, the student must restate the problem question. Second, the student must decide which information is necessary for solving the problem. Third, the student...
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