5523 Applied Research II

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Can recasting linear based information into graphic organizers facilitate better critical thinking?

“The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. -Jean Piaget

Summary of Hypothesis and Lit Review/Framework   
When analyzing the effectiveness of using graphic organizers transform linear information as a means to further critical thinking we first have to look at how people consume and process information. Theorist Jean Piaget suggests that early learners first understand information in categories. Children inherently group experiences into schemas. In Piaget’s schema theory, he describes the processing of information in stages a young learner passes through: the sensorimotor stage, preoperational stage, concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage.1 The final stage, formal operational, is where abstract thought, deductive reasoning and problem solving take place.2 Starting at infancy children will assimilate information to fit categories already defined in their mind.3 For example, when a young child sees a zebra they may call it a horse. They are already grouping traits associated with the animal to fit their preexisting understanding of it. Graphic organizers do the same thing but visually. They sort information into visible groups that aid in understanding. If learners initially understand information in categories it is plausible that recasting linear information into graphic organizers that show relationships and prompt talking points can lead to deeper thinking.

Graphic organizers, or diagrams, act as a tool to frame information for better analysis and pattern recognition. They are visual symbols that help map complex information to show classification, sequencing, cause and effect, and relationships. This mapping helps a learner derive inferences less apparent if only displayed linearly. A study done in 2003 found that the use of graphic organizers improved students higher order thinking skills when compared with more traditional teaching instruction such as lecture or linear note-taking.4 In Piaget’s schema theory it is common for children, too young to fully understand language, to start recognizing symbols.5 Children as early as 2-years-old understand grouping objects by category as a way of making sense of information.6 This suggests that at a young age we may be hard-wired to understand information graphically and in groupings. An example of this is a semantic map shown below (Figure1). figure1This hierarchal grouping shows the relationship the main idea, “dog breeds,” has with the subordinate concepts, “working group” and “sporting group” By using strategic placement, ovals and lines it quickly allows the viewer to sort and recognize relevant information according to its importance.7  The versatility of diagramming is also apparent if we take the same information and place it in a Venn Diagram as seen in Figure 2. figure2The viewer now sees the main concepts in two different circles, suggesting differences, but where the circles overlap suggests similarities.8 These diagrams are jumping off points for conversation and insight among learners.  Graphic organizers clarify main concepts, allowing the semantics of language to take a back seat. This allows the learner to see the essential information, patterns and relationships. They are also more universal by nature thereby lessening the possibility of misinterpretation.9

A vital aspect of graphic organizers is the act of constructing them. The cognitive thinking that occurs before and after creating the diagram is essential to deeper thinking and analysis. It requires the student to think constructively, first analyzing the information and then synthesizing it to reveal a relationship. They have to identify concepts or themes to uncover importance. Different perspectives and supporting ideas have to be considered to effectively communicate it visually.10 Assembling linear information into graphic organizers may allow students to become better strategic learners. Moreover, it may increase their communication and writing skills as well as their analytical thinking.11 Correspondingly, it can also allow an instructor to see if there are consistent missed connections or if learners are struggling with a major concept from the reading. Figure 3 shows multiple graphic organizers and their purpose. figure3Students can begin to translate their readings into visual diagrams sparking conversation and drawing inferences. 

In Piaget’s final stage of cognitive development, formal operational, he states that adolescents, 12 years and up, are starting to think in systematic ways using symbols, deriving abstract concepts, and problem solving.12 This is a crucial stage in intellectual maturity. They are beginning to make connections that yield new knowledge. They are beginning to become critical thinkers. Thinking critically or being able to evaluate and reflect on ones understanding of an idea or concept is more than accumulating facts and regurgitating them. Critical thinking is the ability to:13

  1. Understand the logical connections between ideas
  2. Identify, construct and evaluate arguments
  3. Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in reasoning
  4. Solve problems systematically
  5. Identify the relevance and importance of ideas
  6. Reflect on the justification of one’s own beliefs and values

All of these abilities involve a deeper level of thinking and understanding of relationships between concepts — relationships that can be made visible with graphic organizers.

If we review the different types of graphic organizers and compare them to the traits associated with critical thinking such as: interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and self regulation we can see that certain organizers aid in facilitating those traits. For example, if we take the trait interpretation as an example, by critical thinking standards this could refer to the “meaning or significance of something” or the “wide variety of experiences, situations, or data”14 and then cross reference that to the organizers in Figure 3 we can see that certain ones could have the ability to decipher or infer knowledge such as the spider or fishbone organizer. These two organizers do two different things but can show us multiple aspects of a concept. The spider diagram might interpret meaning by showing a relationship amongst how the information is grouped or categorized while the fishbone diagram could show us a cause and effect. The organizers act as a way to sort and interpret concepts forcing the learner to make decisions about what they have read and think about placement within preexisting knowledge as well as new. Figure 4 shows a breakdown of how the critical thinking traits could be used to translate and facilitate deeper thinking via graphic organizers.figure4

Graphic organizers can facilitate better critical thinking among learners because they help categorize and show relationships among concepts, something we may already be hard-wired to do according to the schema theory. If learners are presented with linear information and can, themselves, decode it into a diagram they are beginning to play an active role in deeper thinking by asking questions and analyzing meaning. With the proper understanding of a variety of organizers students can then be empowered to sift through the semantics of linear information and recognize importance and meaning of a passage.

Project Proposal
Education is constantly evolving. Teachers are looking for new ways to reach their students and prepare them to be critical thinkers. I am proposing a study that will evaluate the use and effectivness graphic organizers would have on developing critical thinking skills among students. This study would look at traditional linear based information, such as popular short stories, students are expected to read and analyze at ninth grade level and above. I would use direct observational research and unstructured interviewing to gather qualitative data from the students and teachers. This data will reflect the impact graphic organizers have on facilitating deeper thinking.

Project Design
For the preparation of this project I will first submit an IRB for approval. The participants will consist of:

  1. Two english teachers from Plano ISD and Justin ISD
  2. Sixty ninth and tenth graders
  3. Myself
  4. The materials being used will be:
  5. A brief guide/handout to graphic organizers
  6. Butcher paper, pens
  7. Reading materials, prompting questions

Their teacher will have already introduced linear based information to them in the traditional lecture format prior to my interaction with them. I will be shadowing the teacher during this process recording classroom interactions and the process the students go through to facilitate critical thinking. All raw data such as interviews and recordings will be kept in a secured location and I will be the sole proprietor. Once data is analized it will be the shared property of myself, the teachers involved as well as the education administrators. All parties involved will be made anonymous for external publications.

Phase I — Conduct Study and Data Collection

The study will be conducted over three different class periods. Each class period will be approximately 90 minutes long and will cover a short story (three total) that is already worked into the class corriculum. For the purpose of this proposal I have preselected three popular short stories to use as an example. These short stories have complex, layered symbolism and are normally used to introduce larger concepts to students such as morality and power struggles. Over the coarse of the three days I will gradually decrease my invovlement in framing and building the graphic organizers. I want the students start analysing and synthesising the information via graphic organizers on their own. All observations will be video recorded.

I will begin by observing the teacher conduct a traditional, lecture based lesson plan. My approach will be a combination of “fly-on-the-wall” and  “shadowing.” I will observe the students without any interaction but will consult with the teacher after she delivers the lesson, gathering information on how he or she is directing the class to achieve the desired outcome. This will help to shape the next set of lessons introducing graphic organizers. The teachers involvement in the creation of the graphic organizer lessons will be vital because of their prior experience with the students and knowledge of assessment needs. This will also help in educating the teacher on the exstensive use of graphic organizers.

Before introducing the students to the first short story I will first give a brief introduction to what they are and the various uses for them such as showing scale, orientation, and hiearchy. This will also be accompanied by a handout so that the student can refer to it in later parts of the study. Once they are familiar with graphic organizers we will begin to look at the first short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” They will have been given the short story prior to class to read. The students and I will discuss the the major themes happening specifically targeting one, such as the power struggle between all the major characters and how that can be framed in an organizer.

Figure 5 is an example of this. It shows the different levels of power the characters have during major scenes in the story. figure5You will notice that they all seem to cross paths or group during the third interaction of the hunt. This is an opportunity to discuss what was happening and its meaning during that moment in the story. The participation from the class to construct this organizer with me will be vital in showing them the ways you can use them.

Once the class and I finish building the graphic organizer and reflect on the story’s themes we will discuss how the organizer did or did not help them in thinking more indepth about the subject matter. Here is a breakdown of the first 90-minute session:

  • 25 minutes – Introduction to graphic organizers
  • 30 minutes – Implementation of graphic organizer
  • 25 minutes – Reflection on story
  • 10 minutes – Reflection on organizers

For the second class session we will be reviewing a different short story, “To Kill an Elephant.” Again, the students will have been given the short story prior to meeting so they can read it. We will start the class with a brief review of the previous days discusssion. After that, we will discuss the major theme of the story such as conflict and I will give them an empty organizer such as the Venn diagram. The students will then break into groups and fill in the diagram discussing all the similarites and differences. Figure 6 is an example of a Venn Diagram filled in with concepts from the story. figure6After about 20 minutes the groups will share their thoughts and facilitate discussion among the class.  The breakdown of class time appears below:

  • 15 minutes – Review of the previous organizer
  • 20 minutes – Theoretical framework of story with an organizer
  • 20 minutes – Implementation of graphic organizer
  • 35 minutes – Reflection on story

The Final class time will consist of a brief discussion with myself and the students about the story, such as “The Lottery.” The students will then break into different groups and construct their own theoretical framework explained via a graphic organizer. The final portion of the class will be used for the students to discuss their organizers as well as if the act of using them helped them reach new conclusions about the story. The time for the third session is below:

  • 15 minutes  - Story discussion
  • 40 minutes – Theoritcal framework and graphic organizer implementing
  • 35 minutes – Reflection on story and organizer

Phase II — Analysis and Preparation of Deliverables

After conducting the three sessions with the students and teachers I will gather qualitative data the following ways:

  • Student Survey – This will consist of a twenty question online survey asking various questions about the use of the organizers and any new thinking it might have led to compared to linear based lecturing.
  • Student and Teacher Interviews -  I will conduct interviews that will ask more in-depth questions pertaining to what critical thinking developed over the coarse of using the oganizers.

All materials will be collected and coded for key developments.

Phase III– Deliverables

Once all data is collected and analized I will produce the following materials:

  • A comprehensive case study consisting of survey and interview notes, key findings as well as further recommendations for the use of graphic organizers as they present themselves.
  • A set of intructional podcast lessons covering the various uses and abilities graphic organizers have specifically in connection with prompting discussion points that can further deeper thinking. These podcasts will also be available for students to use to aid in deciphering complex literature and concepts presented to the them in class.
  • A teacher’s handbook that will reiterate the informtion in the podcasts but will act as a field-guide catered to critical thinking expectations for them to use during class.
  • All parties involved in the research will be brought in for the iterative process of tweaking lesson plans and preparing materials such as the podcast and field-guide.



Research Proposal