Eight Ways To Use the Understanding Map Right Now

The Understanding Map is one of the products of the work being done at the  Visible Thinking and Cultures of Thinking projects at Harvard’s Project Zero. It has been an integral part of the teaching and learning in my classroom since I first learned about it years ago.  Its universal applicability and relevance make me consider it as perhaps the one tool I would choose as a teacher if I could have only one. Regardless of age group, context, style of teaching and learning or discipline, the Understanding Map provides a guide to deeper understanding.

I recently introduced the Understanding Map to a group of educators at a workshop on concept-based teaching and learning, which I facilitated with the amazing and deeply knowledgable @gioia_morasch. Working with these educators reminded me of how lucky I am to have received training from Project Zero and how important it is to share the wealth.

The Understanding Map

This year, I have had the challenge of figuring out the best way of using the Understanding Map to support my Kindergarten students on their learning journey. I find that it is not so very different from how I use it with fourth or fifth graders. Here are some quick tips that work across the grades:

Eight Ways to Use the Understanding Map Right Now
  • Explicitly let students know that the moves on the Understanding Map are steps our brain takes to help it as it works to build understanding. Depending on the group, I may do this right away, or I may wait until they’ve heard me naming their thinking moves for a while. In either case, I remind them often why these moves are important. This continues until they start reminding each other…and they do!
  • Name the types of thinking the students are doing when you witness them doing it. “I notice that you backed up your idea with something you can refer back to in the text. Reasoning with evidence is one of the moves we use to help us make sure our understanding makes sense.”
  • Make connections between the map and what they know they already often do. In many cases, we start with wondering. This is often the easiest move for them to recognize in themselves. Further, by highlighting it as an all-important thinking move on the road to understanding, we encourage them to continue valuing that sense of wonder and curiosity.
  • I occasionally teach a minilesson to help the students understand what we mean exactly by a particular thinking move. It’s important to note that whenever possible, this is pulled from the thinking or actions of a shared context or the thinking of a peer.
  • Perseverance is key! Regardless of age, it can take months of consistently using the language and promoting the importance of a thinking culture in the classroom.
  • Parents are part of the learning community too! Share the Understanding Map with them and encourage them to use it when discussing their students’ learning at home. We use it at Student-Led Conferences as well.
  • Post the Understanding Map prominently in your room. With younger students, consider how you can incorporate visuals. At the start, it will serve as a prompt and a reminder for you. Eventually, you will find yourself referring to it alongside the students. Soon enough, your students will start referring to it independently!

 

Collaboratively Constructing An Assessment Using GAFE

I am a firm believer in collaboratively constructing assessment criteria with students in order to determine what has been learned. I also know from experience that the process of creating, reviewing, revising, and applying criteria with fourth-graders can be a lengthy process. It is also one which can lose effectiveness if we don’t maintain momentum. We need time to discuss, chart ideas, categorize, test-through-application, and revise our criteria. This year, as I prepared for 4JR’s first collaboratively constructed assessment, I decided to try using Google Apps For Education-GAFE.

Using Google Docs To Chart and Draft Criteria:

As my fourth-grade class neared a stopping point in our nonfiction and research unit, we started discussing how we would know what we learned. The students knew throughout the unit that they would do a post-unit assessment. They expected to evaluate what they took away from the unit and what might need to be reviewed or extended in a later unit.  When it came time to discuss criteria, I gathered the students together in front of our SMART board and asked:

Original Assessment on Google Doc

I set up the google doc prior to the lesson. As we discussed the criteria, an assessment tool was born. Where there was confusion, we discussed what could be observed to know if a researcher had met the criteria. These discussions were captured in the third column.

I originally planned to categorize the criteria at this time, but as we continued the discussion, I sensed they needed to work with the criteria first. I decided it was enough to generate criteria and discuss how we would know for now and to come back to categorizing later.

The students first applied the criteria to the post-assessment they had completed the day before. Once we had our working document, I immediately pushed the doc out to them using our Google Classroom and sent them off to assess their research skills and behaviors with their reading partners. Here are a few samples of what I got back:

Student Assessment Using Google Classroom and Google Docs
Student: KN

Student Assessment Via Google Classroom and Google Docs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After actually applying the assessment to their own work, evidence emerged on what students were doing as researchers. It also became evident which criteria students understood enough to discuss in detail when applied to their own work.

Ready to Revise:
Revised Assessment Using A Google Doc
The “final” tool, complete with categories.

We reconvened at the end of the session. At that point, I felt the students were ready to consider how we might organize our criteria. I asked them if any of our criteria could be categorized into groups. We use Project Zero’s Visible Thinking routine, “Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate,” often in our community, so this was a fairly accessible question. The students discussed how we could reorganize our criteria and we ended up with a “final” tool for future use. The students can now access this rubric at any time using our Google Classroom.

Reflections:
Use comment feature on google docs to make assessment clearer
Using comments to annotate the discussion leaves the reflection boxes open for student’s individual reflection. Next time, I want to record the initial discussion about how the criteria might be observable in comments, instead of in the green column. I think that will make it clearer to my students that they should back up their assessment of their own work with evidence.

This lesson took just under 90 minutes. Some students did not make it all the way through the criteria when they were self-assessing but I was confident that they’d had enough interaction with the criteria and tool to discuss the categorizing and other possible revisions. Those students finished their individual assessments at home that evening for homework.

I will definitely use this process in the future.  As the students become ready to evaluate themselves in more depth, we can move into more of a rubric than a checklist-with-explanation.