– from tacit to strategic use of visual tools – a resource

Posted on the 27th April 2016

I was thinking the other day about how much of what we do in schools stimulates thinking but actually does not directly develop students’ fluency with the tools we give them.  Remembering Gill Hubble’s writing from New Zealand reminded me about the crucial distinction she made between “tacit” to “strategic” use of visual tools.  Here is an excerpt from “Pathways to Thinking Schools”, and five examples of students’ fluent use of Thinking Maps.  The key question is this: to what degree have you assessed the fluency of the “student centered” models you are implementing in the first, second or multiple years of implementation?  

‘In the second year, we were confident that students knew what a Thinking Map was (tacit use), but we were uncertain of the degree to which students used the Thinking Maps independently. We wanted to know the extent to which students had moved from tacit use of Thinking Maps, to aware use or even strategic use. Students could use the maps when asked, but we suspected that they did it without clear intent. The challenge for the year 2000 was to gather evidence of the existing students’ independent use of the Thinking Maps.

To determine the extent to which a fluent and “reflective” student’s use of maps occurred in problem-solving situations, we had students use their 20-minute thinking-skills time to collaboratively solve a long-term problem using Thinking Maps. For example, one teacher created a challenging activity on endangered animals playfully presented through a Gary Larson cartoon:
Imagine you are a member of a team of researchers charged with reversing the population decline of the endangered “balloon” animals that have a hard time surviving in a harsh landscape. Use Thinking Maps as tools for generating, organizing, and assessing factors that might affect the population size of the balloon animals (e.g. physical factors, catastrophic events, food supply, disease, competition, ecotourism). Develop an action plan, based around your Thinking Maps, to help reverse the population decline.

The students’ efforts were assessed, and prizes for fluent and flexible use of Thinking Maps were awarded. One group of four students created the example, shown in Figures 5.1 through 5.5, of using multiple maps to analyze this problem.
The purpose of the activity was to evaluate how students, working in cooperative groups, could apply multiple thinking processes via Thinking Maps to gain a solution to the scientific problem found in cartoons and nature.

This sample of student work is representative of the quality of work received and reveals how these students could employ the tools for multistep problem solving and decision making. Although some students showed strategic and even reflective use of maps, the majority still struggled to show the fluency we expected in their map use.’