Classroom Assessment Technique: Concept Maps

Uploaded by kcasto on 07.10.2008

Are you looking for ways to creatively engage
your students with course material?
Do your students need help finding linkages
between course concepts or theories?
Do you need help assessing students’ learning
or understanding course material?
If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of these
questions, concept mapping may be an
effective tool for you.
My name is Dr. Karen Rohrbauck Stout,
and I’ve used this technique extensively.
As an associate professor in
the Communication Department at
Western Washington University, I’ve used
concept mapping – and more specifically
mind mapping – to write papers, develop and
give lectures, to think creatively, and to assist
and assess student learning.
Types of concept mapping, that is drawings
and diagrams that show mental connections
between concepts, have been used for centuries.
They gained popularity with Tony Buzan’s
creation of mind mapping in the early 1990s.
This method is similar to concept mapping
that many of us learned in school to develop
paper topics.
Mind mapping, however, uses graphics,
symbols and text to represent ideas that help us
to be creative, get organized and work quickly.
It typically has a central concept from which
ideas radiate and take shape in an organized
and visually memorable way.
As all ideas are located on one page,
it’s easy for the eye to scan, make sense of
and creatively link ideas.
Well, I whole-heartedly promote the
mind mapping technique because I’ve
used it successfully for many years.
Here, however, I would like to discuss general
instructional strategies for mapping concepts
and then leave you to explore the many resources
available to create maps in your own style.
Mapping concepts is beneficial not only
in education, but for work in organizations
and businesses as well.
It is much easier to manage presentations
that are completely contained on one page,
rather than stacks of note cards or sheets
of paper, acting as a reminder of all the
key elements in the presentation without
promoting rote delivery.
Mapping concepts can help your writing
through structuring ideas and
innovatively constructing arguments.
Recently I’ve begun using mapping
as a means of generating class discussions
and assessing student learning.
Educators Angelo and Cross provide a
number of other ideas for using
concept maps to assess student learning:
Along with other educators, I’ve seen how
mapping concepts can help students to:
learn terms, concepts, and theories of a subject;
synthesize and integrate information and ideas;
think holistically, think creatively about a subject;
improve long-term memory skills so
that knowledge is more accessible;
develop higher level thinking skills,
strategies and habits; and to develop an
awareness to new ideas.
One of my favorite new methods for using
concept mapping is to generate class discussion.
I usually start an in class mapping activity
by writing the central topic in the middle
of the classroom’s chalk or white board.
I start the students off with two or three
main ideas and then sit back while they
write their ideas and responses on the board.
During this activity, no one is allowed to talk.
All ideas should be confined to writing on the board.
Because mapping allows the creative and free
flow of ideas, students can develop one idea or
jump around, much like the way our brains think.
They build upon or disagree with
each other’s ideas on the board.
After several minutes of silent writing,
I stop the activity and facilitate a discussion
of was written.
We clarify, expand and disagree with each other’s ideas.
The value of this activity—rather than overt,
traditional classroom discussion—is that
it encourages the usually quiet or shy students
to also contribute, especially as they may feel
more comfortable conveying their ideas in writing.
Surprisingly however, these usually
quiet students then fully engage in
the discussion that follows.
The discussion technique I just described
was used to generate ideas and conversation.
The result is a collective map that tells
the instructor what areas may need further
clarification or are well understood.
By collectively developing these ideas,
students not only reveal their understanding,
but then can learn from each other.
To get feedback about specific students’
understanding of the material, I often have
students write ‘minute papers’ where I asked
them a question about a current class topic.
I’ve modified this to include concept mapping.
I ask students to label the course concept
in the center of the map and then give them
3 to 5 minutes to write in the subtopics, facts
or examples on lines that radiate from the center.
I also ask them to indicate on the map
what ideas remain unclear.
I can then read the maps to find students’
inaccuracies or questions.
This helps me to know what areas need
clarification or if students are ready to
move on to the next course topic.
While using mapping as a feedback loop
with students is quite valuable from
the instructor’s standpoint, using it for
grade-based evaluation can be difficult.
Some ideas for grading concepts or mind maps include:
I encourage you to try concept mapping
or mind mapping in your own classrooms
or for your own personal use.
A variety of sources are available
to teach you the specifics of the technique.
If you are resistant to the idea, I encourage
you to try it first before disregarding it.
I too was resistant when I was
an undergraduate, until I used it to study
for an exam which I aced.
I then tested it out to write a paper and
found it to be an efficient and effective
method for constructing my ideas
and I’ve used it ever since.
Once you see the potential uses and value
of this technique, I’m sure it will be one tool
you use again and again.