Effective use of graphic organizers

mind map abstract on blackboardGraphic organizers — visual representations of main ideas and important supporting details – help students understand and remember information. In a recent experiment with fifth-graders, researchers studied the conditions under which graphic organizers were most effective.

Previous research indicates that having students participate in constructing an organizer after reading the text facilitates integration of new information with existing knowledge.

In this study, five average-achieving fifth-grade classes from two elementary schools were randomly assigned to experimental and control groups. Experimenters Cynthia C. Griffin, University of Florida, Linda Duncan Malone, Ball State University, and Edward J. Kameenui, University of Oregon, developed graphic organizers for nine sections of one chapter in the social studies text.

Teachers taught from scripts to ensure fidelity to the research design. Some students were given explicit training in preparing graphic organizers from text, while others were simply presented with the graphic organizer as the teacher taught from it. Other students were taught the same main idea and supporting detail information but were not shown the visual organizer.

The control group received traditional basal instruction as outlined in the teacher’s manual for the social studies text. After 10 days of instruction, all students were given immediate and delayed free-recall tests as well as 20 short-answer questions. A test was given to all the classes the following day on new material, to see if the groups differed on how they learned new material independently after the ten-day experiment.

Results revealed that there were no significant differences in how the groups performed on immediate and delayed free recall. However, students who were explicitly trained to identify or organize important information in a visual format from their reading learned new material more effectively than students who received traditional basal instruction.

Griffin et al. warn that this study is limited because of its short duration. Ten days, they say, is not enough to enable most fifth-graders to acquire the procedural skills needed to use graphic organizers well. The fifth-graders in this study required a great deal of instructional support when learning new material — either a lot of specific instruction identifying important information or a moderate amount of instruction with the support of a graphic organizer. These researchers conclude that complementing procedural instruction for using graphic organizers with summarization instruction is effective but requires a longer training period.

“Effects of Graphic Organizer Instruction on Fifth-Grade Students” Journal of Educational Research Volume 89, Number 2, December 1995 pp. 98-107.

Published in ERN March/April 1996 Volume 9 Number 2

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