On Advance Organizers and Visualizing Concepts

In our first session of EDLP 715, we focused on what will be more to follow: writing and getting peer feedback. Feedback is good for writers to provide others, as you can reflect on their writing and learn from other writers’ strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, by receiving feedback, you learn how others view your work. We’re open to take the feedback to make changes, or if not, to simply be informed about one or more different takes on our writing.

One element that seemed to resonate with some in the class today was the use of rubrics and writing organizers. Such rubrics help to define what is important. They provide focus to an assignment, for sure, but they translate as mental scaffolds. Much can be said too with the use of the outline that was posted on the wall, a so-called advanced organizer.

The term was coined by David Ausubel in the 1960s. I am not sure what was hung on the wall was typically what we think of when we reference advance organizers although I do reference time-sequence patterns as one type of graphic organizer from a document I wrote circa 2001 that is no longer online (another copy can be found here).

What was presented was more of a sequence of objectives for the class which I found a helpful resource as the day progressed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a list used in class like that before, and it reminded me of (graphical) sequences I’ve seen marked-off as I complete online questionnaires, or even the representation of where you are within a Kindle book. Everyone knew what was coming up, and you could pinpoint your progress within the class.

I more recently discussed advance organizers in this October, 2010 blog post with two links of interest. While the post is focusing on the use of these pre-direct instructional strategies with students in the K-12 classroom, I’m always drawn to the graphical organizers when I think about writing (and even presenting concepts to others). While the rubrics provided today in class are essential tools in developing our peer-review skills, I am thinking that visual forms for different styles and genres of writing would be helpful akin to the diagrams reproduced from Mintzberg (1979) in Chapter 4 of the Bolman and Deal book as a type of graphical, advance organizer before we write. Reflecting upon my own writing today, I know I had a somewhat visual idea in my head of what the form I wanted “to fill” looked like.

I wonder if this graphical concept of the formal structure of writing could help others in writing? I think my homework may be to talk to some English teachers in the coming weeks…

Another graphical method that could be used when peer reviewing would be the use of color overlay (highlighting in Word parlance) to visually show things like topic sentences, supporting statements, conclusion, etc. It recalls (for me) the work of usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s website analysis using color overlays.

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