Visual Mapping for Organizing, Understanding and Sharing Our Thinking

23 February 2012
Visual Mapping
post by Robert Price

Visual Mapping – Visual Tools…

Visual Mapping is one of Thinking Schools Ethiopia’s Six Starting Points of Thinking which includes reflective questioning; thinking skills; visual mapping; collaborative networking; developing dispositions; and structuring environment. This blog posting will explore Visual Mapping. Schools that participate with Growing Thinking Schools professional development training can participate in sessions on Visual Mapping and Thinking Maps® as part of their whole school transformative design. Read more on Thinking Schools Ethiopia and Thinking Schools Trainings on this website.

Visual mapping transforms the way we SEE thinking — SEEING the patterns of our thinking and with other people’s thinking. They are a tool to organize our thinking supporting deeper thinking and understanding. Visual mapping improves comprehension, writing and presentations. Think of how a road map is used: to ‘map’ out a journey and understand where a place is in context to other locations. Visual mapping for organizing and seeing thinking provides a ‘road map’ for the mind. Thinking Schools Ethiopia uses Thinking Maps® in trainings – eight maps representing eight different ways the brain cognitively thinks and understands things.

An excerpt from the book Visual Tools for Transforming Information Into Knowledge by David Hyerle (2011, Second Edition, Corwin Press) will provide an introduction with visual tools. Thinking Schools Ethiopia is in the process of translating the highly respected book into Amharic courtesy of the author and publisher. The excerpt Summary Definition of Visual Tools from the book follows below:

“Visual tools are nonlinguistic symbol systems used by learners, teachers, and leaders for graphically linking mental and emotional associations to create and communicate rich patterns of thinking. These visual-spatial-verbal displays of understanding support all learners in transforming static information into active knowledge, thus offering a complementary representational system to more traditional literacies grounded in speaking, writing, and numerating. These linear and/or nonlinear visual forms are also metacognitive tools for self-assessment in each content area and for interdisciplinary learning that may unite linguistic, numerical, and scientific languages together on the same page. There are three basic categories of visual tools, each with specific purposes and visual configurations:

  • brainstorming webs for fostering creativity and open mindedness;
  • graphic organizers for fostering analytical content and process specific learning;
  • conceptual mapping for fostering cognitive development and critical thinking

Watch the video below on Thinking Maps and brain research with Pat Wolf known for her work with the translation of brain research to classroom practice.

A fourth category is a unique synthesis language of visual tools that has been used extensively across schools called Thinking Maps® (Hyerle, 1996; Hyerle & Yeager, 2008). This common visual language of visual tools integrates the creative dynamism of webs, the analytical structures of content-specific learning, and the continuous cognitive development and reflections fostered through conceptual mapping. Over time, new visual languages may develop that integrate different visual tools and thus enabling a greater range of thinking, communication, and reflection. Visual tools are used for personal, collaborative, and social communication, negotiation of meaning, and networking of ideas. These graphics are constructed by individual or collaborative learners across media networks and mediums such as paper, white boards, and computer screens. Because of the visual accessibility and natural processes of “drawing out” ideas, many of these graphics are used from early childhood through adulthood, and across every dimension of learning, teaching, assessing, and leadership processes. Visual tools are also used across cultures and languages and may become keys to new levels of more democratic participation and communication in human systems. Across traditional cultures and new “virtual” cultures, visual languages ultimately may be used for uniting diverse and distant learning communities as people in schools, communities, and businesses and in different countries seek to understand each other through seeing each others’ thinking and perceptions through multiple frames of reference.”

Thinking Schools Ethiopia professional development training starts with the initial two day Growing Thinking Schools training. During this workshop leadership teams develop their ‘journey’ with a visual flow map of the steps they will have the staff train and master. While each school might have different starting points, visual mapping is often an excellent entry point for developing the whole school with Thinking Schools Ethiopia. Visual Mapping is one of the six starting points of thinking that the staff may decide to learn, use and master.

More on Visual Mapping:
Research: Thinking Foundation:
Thinking Maps®:
Thinking Schools International:
Concept Mapping:

See the 14 February blog posting for information on David Hyerle – international expert on Visual Mapping and the creator of Thinking Maps who will be in Addis Ababa from the 4th-8th March. Contact Bereket Aweke for more details.

Thank you Geoffrey Suddreth, General Manager of Thinking Maps®, Inc. and David Hyerle, creator of Thinking Maps® and founder of Thinking Foundation for providing use of Thinking Maps® with professional development for school leaders, NGO leaders and educators in Ethiopia.

Video below is a collection of still images of Thinking Maps® by children and educators in Addis Ababa and Hossana Ethiopia

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