Connecting the Elementary Toolkit to Models of Thinking
As a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University, I recently completed a course that encompassed research-based theories on student thinking and learning. I was intrigued by the content matter and found myself reflecting on the elementary toolkit activities through the lens of a landscape of thinking skills. In case you are not familiar with the Elementary GoodWork Toolkit, it is a set of activities based on the original GoodWork Toolkit to introduce elementary-age students to GoodWork concepts. There are connections between models of thinking and Good Work: when creating curriculum for young students, it is essential to give them opportunities to explore their thinking and learning and to self-reflect on a deep level about their learning processes.
In this blog entry, I explore the connections between visuospatial thinking and word mapping activities. In my classroom, students use word mapping activities to research definitions and meanings for each of the 3 E’s and then construct a word web of their understanding. According to the organization Reading Rockets, “a word map is a visual organizer that promotes vocabulary development” (Reading Rockets, 2012). Word maps are used in classrooms to assist students in understanding abstract words and concepts. The use of word mapping in this activity allows students to construct a “spatial mental” model of the content being presented (Hegarty, Stull 2012). For students first encountering a complex concept such as Good Work, visuospatial thinking provides a means for grasping the concept that is accessible and age-appropriate for students.
Most recently, the students in my classroom engaged in a word mapping activity to help them further explore their understandings of Good Work terminology. I was able to develop a webquest (http://questgarden.com/146/51/5/120716111216/) for student use and to assist in keeping a structured eye on the content being searched. The webquest and modeling led the students to work in small groups to research multiple definitions of excellence, ethics and engagement and jot down notes of their thoughts surrounding what they were discovering. From there, the small groups of students were asked to turn their thoughts into word maps- creating a visual representation of their thoughts- the goal being a series of connected words surrounding each one of the 3E’s. Below is an example of a student’s word map:
In this example, when these young students were faced with the task of creating their own thoughts surrounding these complex ideas, they were at first apprehensive. For many, this was their first independent experience with exploring a concept using the Internet. Through continued discussion during the activity, I supported their research by guiding questions, “Can you make a personal connection to words?” “Are there any group members that have a different connection?” Students were given the opportunity to discuss their experiences and explorations with each other, they were able to learn about multiple perspectives and eventually, they moved beyond their initial hesitations. At this young age, the students have had success in constructing meanings through guided partnership discussion and activities. The students have been able to find clear connections between themselves and others, discuss the meaning of true social and academic success, and begin to become excited about their future possibilities.
Visuospatial thinking skills are an essential part of a young child’s development. In giving students the opportunity to work on this development through discussion and activities, students are able to utilize their creative thinking to construct meaning of vocabulary as related to Good Work. I am looking forward to providing students with subsequent activities to enhance their thinking skills and to continue to make connections to Good Project ideas.
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Hegarty, M., & Stull, A., (2012). ‘Visuospatial Reasoning’. In: Holyoak, K., & Morrison, R. (ed), The Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp.606 – 630.
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