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!

 

Back To Work and…Yes They Can!

Change, change, and more change

My blog has been suspiciously dormant for over a year. Since my last post, there have been many changes. My husband and I welcomed a daughter almost exactly a year ago. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home with her full-time for the first six months and then worked part-time up until our summer holiday.

This school year, I am also working part-time so that I can be with our daughter as much as possible. I am incredibly grateful to be living and working in a country that recognizes and supports the importance of family life. Naively, staying home part-time, I thought that I would be able to spend tons of time reading and researching, honing my craft and blogging tons. I’m sure every parent out there is laughing their heads off as they read this. Lesson learned. A year later, I am trying to get back in the swing of things.

Working part-time meant a grade-level change for me. This year I am teaching Kindergarten for the first time in almost two decades! When I found out last Spring, I must admit I was intimidated. What does Kindergarten even look like in 2018? What are five-year-olds into these days? Would I even remember how to talk to five-year-olds? How will I figure all of this out in three months, with a miniature dictator at home? How will it feel to go from the confident feeling that years of consecutive experience in upper elementary provided to the novice feeling of starting all over again? One thing was clear. If I was going to thrive, or even survive, I had to get to work.

Research!

I spent my summer reaching out to early childhood educators that I admire and reading tons of books, largely recommended by those people.

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As I read and discussed, I realized that much of what I knew twenty years ago still stands. I also learned that I have much to learn. My questions include but are not limited to:

  • How best can we support Kindergarteners so that they can drive their own inquiries? We know that the littlest learners are the best inquirers but how will I get them to focus on the units in our curriculum?
  • What are the best strategies with play-based learning?
  • How do Kindergarteners respond to a three-dimensional curriculum?
  • How can I support conceptual development with students who are just learning to read and write?

Sadly, I’ve run into quite a few nay-sayers who think I’m crazy. Of course five-year olds need to acquire skills before they can start to engage in the understanding of concepts, I was told by one. Silly, Jen, it’s not like your fourth-graders, Kindergarteners can’t do that kind of thinking have said some others. While it may no longer be my area of expertise, I’ve known in my heart of hearts that this isn’t the case. Since the moment I knew I was headed back to Kindergarten I knew that my hashtag moving forward would be #yestheycan. Yes, Kindergarteners can drive their own inquiries. Yes, they can develop reading and writing lives. Yes, they are capable of conceptual thought and respectful communication. My job is to figure out how best to support them to do this.

If you’re interested in these questions to, then come back and visit, comment and contribute often. I’ll post quick snapshots and longer reflections as much as I can as the year progresses. I’d love to hear what you have to say as well. As always, you can also follow me on twitter @jrisolo.