Concept Mapping

How to use concept mapping to help students learn to learn?

Dr Eddy Lee, Vice-Principal, Raimondi College

Question: How do you go about arranging them in groups? How do you divide students in groups and what are the teachers’ roles in concept mapping?

Response: There are various ways to handle grouping. It can be naturally grouped if your physical setting is very crowded. So I would say at least you have four students in one group. We put away the ability of the students and not to consider this. But you have to move all the desks to join together to form a larger working area for the kids to work on. You need some support for the students. Even though...for example… you have four weak students, so you have to provide some help to them , for example, partly completed mind maps with the key words provided and ask them to continue to build on. That would be a strategy.

Question: How do you manage students of different abilities in a group?

Response: Another way is that you have to ask the students to draw their own mind map at home, no matter how simple they are. And then when they bring all these back, you form them into a group. Now, you may have a good ability one and a lower ability one. Then ask them to share their mind map. And then ask them to merge all these four mind maps into one. So, no matter how poor they can learn something, the high ability ones through teaching their peers, they also assimilate and will have a new understanding of what they have learnt before. 

Question: What is the teacher’s role when the students are working on concept mapping?

Response: Now, the teacher will be a facilitator. She or he has to move around and spot any quiet groups or any particular students being too dominating. So the teacher will have to intervene. For the students who are not too active, the teachers have to look into the problems, understand why maybe the teachers have to assign tasks for each of the students in the group. 

Question: While students are carrying out group concept mapping, what does the teacher do?

Response: Now, the teachers have to assess student on the spot, this is quite authentic. While they are drawing or doing the assimilation, the teacher has to assess and find out what are the concept maps that he or she would like the student to share with the class. Now I’m saying not only looking for the very good one. You can have a weak one or intermediate or whatever. You start with the poor version and ask the student how to improve. And then the good one will be the model answer or a good exemplar for the class. So we integrate students’ learning, students’ products and become the teachers’ teaching tool.

Question: How do you encourage interaction among students? What does the teacher do if they are off-task? How do you help the four students to work together?

Response: Okay, if it is a group concept mapping activity, then you have to assign the quiet one to report or to share. If it is a teaching or interaction like teaching or explaining a concept map by one of the group members, then for the other three students, you have to assign roles. You can bring in what we call reciprocal teaching. Every student has a role , he could ask a question, the other one could be responsible for summarizing and another could be a note taking role. So everyone has a role to do it. 

Question: What does the teacher do before or after concept mapping in relation to the curriculum?

Response: Before concept mapping, the teachers have to lay the foundation. For example, what’s the purpose of drawing the mind map? So the teachers have to explain or make the student to have the goal, make them believe that by drawing this mind map, I will have some understanding of the chapter. How complex this task depends on the students’ academic level. So the teacher may need more teaching aids or whatever. And then after the post concept mapping activity, the teachers have to do something which is very challenging. They have to help the students to make sense of the mind map. It is because the mind map may belong to someone else, maybe the other group. But how can a group product become the community’s understanding? That is important. So that’s the intervention of the teaching should bring in. The teacher should explain each connection, ask students ‘the author of the mind map’ to explain a little bit and then you bring in others which are not included in the mind map or missing out.

Question: How often should teachers use the concept mapping strategy?

Response: This is an interesting question. If you believe this strategy will help students to learn better and helps teachers to teach more effectively, so you have to do it as frequent as possible. Just like babies need to drink milk for survival, you cannot skip a meal or two. But rather I would say, how well you can use this strategy to teach rather than the frequency. It’s the quality not the quantity. The ideal case is that if the students can internalize, then mind mapping becomes their learning self study skills that would be the best. And then without asking them to draw, they will do it automatically. So that is what I would say a success criteria, when it comes, then you can stop teaching.

Question: How do teachers mark these concept maps? They are often messy…

Response: There are two aspects. One is content. Everyone can tell, if it is a simple concept map, it must be poor in quality. But at the same time mind map is talking about organization and thinking process. So the teacher has to also consider or grade the students’ ability in organizing the information. so the two aspects- the content and organization.

Question: Can students mark their own concept maps?

Response: Yes the students can mark their concept maps, they can definitely tell like their teacher, distinguish the good from a poor one. But of course if you want to have quality feedback, then we need to have rubrics. We need some descriptors to tell the teachers and the students what are the things that they have achieved so that they have this level of achievement.

Question: Do you use concept mapping in your exam?

Response: Okay, 2 stages. Assessment has to fit into what you teach or you have taught. If this is the first time you teach your students to use the concept map, of course, in the exam, you can ask your students to present the answer in the format of the concept map. But then as time progresses, so concept map is actually helping students to organize information they encounter. So we should not assess concept map, but rather could be in another form, for example, essay writing or data response questions because we are testing on the concepts. So they can find the relationship, the linkage in the concept map. So these are the 2 stages of assessment.

Question: How does the teacher use concept mapping with essay?

Response: No, 2 separate different periods. At the very beginning, when they are acquiring the skills, we test whether they are familiar with or master the skills of drawing a mind map. But when they can master, then you have to transfer this into a study skills. So one way directly links up is essay writing or data response because data response usually focuses on the concepts, topics, so concept map should include this important concepts and linkages. Essay, definitely, is to use mind map to help them to organize their ideas, and of course they presented in paragraph forms. 

Question: Some teachers may ask that there are many concept maps in the textbooks, and I have done that many times before. Is there anything special about what you are telling us?

Response: okay, I can use an analogy. Everyone can draw, but how well can you draw. We will have improvement and progress. So concept map is the same. In the beginning of the course, you use concept map to teach the students. Then how can you mobilize an individualized drawing of a concept map into a group mind map drawing, that’s another challenge. And then how can you help the students to mark and grade their peers’ mind map, this is another stage of development. And eventually, how well you can mobilize and help the students to internalize this way of learning as their own way of learning. This is the final or the ultimate challenge.