February 5, 2013

Mindscaping: A Learning and Thinking Skill


by Nancy Margulies

When students doodle on their papers or draw while listening, it seems they aren't paying attention. However, for many learners, creating images can become a powerful tool for recording ideas and making meaning of what they hear in class. Rather than thwarting this impulse, we can build upon it. Systems for using color, images, drawings, cartoons and symbols as well as words and phrases for recording ideas is now used by many educators as well as business and community leaders. I will use the term mindscape here to refer to these visual maps. The same system works well for communicating ideas to others. The process encourages students to be aware of the meaning of what they are recording as well as the relationships among ideas.

As teachers, we can build upon our students' natural inclination to draw and doodle by incorporating drawing and symbolic representation into any subject matter. Students can learn to create visual maps while listening and participating in discussions in class. This form of note-taking engages the learner in recording ideas and grouping them instead of hastily writing sentences or letting their attention wander. As a result they are able to focus on learning in an active, rather than passive manner.

Regardless of your own comfort with drawing, you can easily learn and teach the basics of Mindscaping, thus enabling your students to apply more of their intelligence while recording ideas.

Here is how it works:

1. Set up for creating a visual map:

Provide students with larger sheets of paper than usual. Working on desks, on a chalkboard or on paper taped to the wall are all options. If possible each student should have several colored water-based markers, if not markers, crayons will suffice.

2. Encourage students to take time to consider a symbolic way of representing the topic they will record. This can be a simple image such as those on the maps shown here.

3. As key ideas are mentioned, students write them on lines that branch from the central image. Entire sentences are not necessary. The size of the words, the associated images and shapes that surround the words can be used for emphasis.

4. As new ideas are presented or discussed, students add new branches. Once topic has been represented, additional details can be added to that branch. In this manner the information is organized as it is being recorded.

5. This process can be practiced in advance of classroom note-taking by suggesting that students create a review Mindscape of a topic that has been covered in class. Mindscapes that reflect the student's special interests are also a good place to begin.

6. Eventually you and your students will discover that Mindscapes can be used for everything from planning a curriculum, presenting it to the class, note-taking, reflecting, cooperative learning, reviewing for tests, preparing for writing reports, presenting reports for peer review and self appraisal.


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