Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Graphic Organizers Revealed

Photo by Kaptain Kobold
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License
When you SEE objects in your mind, do you sort them by their characteristics? by color or shape or size? OR Do you sort them in groups?

When you do this, you are VISUALIZING a graphic organizer that you can create in the World of Matter. The best graphic organizers are those that spring up organically in the course of working. The words and phrases can be organized as you think about them when the need arrives. You can put "stuff" together or to separate "stuff".

While there are many types of graphic organizers, the most common is probably the simplest to use. It is the T-Chart. Not only is it easy to use, it is also extremely effective in a wide range of applications, from brainstorming to assessment.

The T-Chart is a binary checklist, but it also has an advantage of providing data to develop questions that can guide the learner and teacher in more effective learning opportunities. Because of this characteristic, it is a great organizer.

What we know about graphic organizers, in general, ranks them, among instructional strategies, the best, most effective, and easy to implement in real world situations. In the seminal meta-analysis of learning strategies, Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Instructional Strategies, Dr. Robert Marzano, et al, dedicate an entire chapter to Graphic Organizers. They discuss the data, the instructional strategy and what implementation looks like in the classroom.

While the T-chart can be helpful in many areas, there is a use that relates to just-in-time learning and teaching which must happen at various moments in any form of constructivist paradigm, including project based learning. For instance, an important part of project is working as a team. If the team doesn't function well, the project will not meet expectations of the team or the supervisor/advisor.

Here is how a T-Chart can help. First ask team members questions...not too many questions, but questions like:
1. What does a team look like?
2. What does a team sound like?
Let each make lists, then join the lists in a brainstorming session USING THE T-CHART...remember...no judging or eliminating anyone's ideas.

Once the ideas are listed on the T-chart in the TWO categories, let each team member have an opportunity to explain or defend their ideas. Some may decide that their idea is similar to another. All team members will listen to each explanation, before they say anything negative or positive.

The team may think of other ideas while they are in discussion mode. When they are finished, the supervisor/advisor asks, "Do you see these ideas being implemented by your team? If not, how could you help to make your team look and sound more like the ideas discussed today?

If the team members aren't sure how they might help make the ideas come true, use another graphic organizer to plan how the team can fit their ideal.

Here is the point where the team interactions may dissolve into individual actions and distractions. Stop the conversation. Let them each take home a copy of the completed T-chart. Encourage them to think how can we (they) as a team can implement these ideas. Encourage them to get feedback from their part of the community (parents, siblings, friends, etc).

The next day, work through the process again. If this doesn't work, then "direct instruction" strategies must be put into play. For instance, advisor/supervisor will state: "Our teams WILL look like this". "Our teams WILL sound like this". "Here are the activities that must occur to make these ideas work". Then the team members will study this T-Chart and implement the ideas in their team interactions to be evaluated daily, using a rubric with goals developed from the T-Chart.

T-Charts are simple. T-Charts are cool. T-Charts are effective. Let's all use T-Charts.

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Tammy W. said...

This is a T-rrific post! I like your ideas for using the T-chart. Thanks for sharing.

ejr said...

This is a wonderful and practical application of the T-chart. I like the idea of using a T-chart to determine how the team works. That's a great baseline for using the T-chart for other kinds of learning. Students might even think to use the T-chart as a study or review strategy on their own!

Anonymous said...

T-Charts are great for compare/contrast, advantages/disadvantages, cause/effect, etc. It's all about patterns. When we teach patterns to sort data, kids 'get it' faster. I advocate using a few graphic organizers consistently. T-Chart for things listed above, ladder for lists/sequencing and how-to's, web for descriptive and topical, etc. Once kids understand why they lend themselves to that type of sorting, it really helps solidify their learning. Great post! Thanks for the T-Chart ideas!

Daisy said...

T-charts are so versatile! I use them for informational note-taking: important vs. trivial but interesting.