I equate graphic organizers to written driving directions. If you’re headed somewhere unknown, you don’t really feel panicky; you have your directions. There are no worries about getting lost because you’re prepared. You’re good.
But what happens if you lose your directions? Now you have reason to be anxious. You remember the first few turns, but then things get foggy. Was that a left or a right after the gas station? What happens at the fork? You’re not so confident now, are you?
Without a clear outline of how to get from Point A to Point B, the journey becomes a bit more difficult. Graphic organizers are like that. Sure, if students have a structure within which to organize their ideas, they’ll have little difficulty completing their task. We give them graphic organizers for writing, reading, and even math to aid our students in their learning. Our intentions are noble. We want them to be free to think critically, not hindered by a blank page.
But remove the graphic organizer, and some of my students stop cold. “What do you expect me to do with this?” they seem to think when I hand them a piece of composition paper. It’s been a frustration of mine for a while, and that’s where my “ah-ha” moment came from. When they come to me in September, they need the graphic organizers I provide. My goal for my students is to use their organizers productively and efficiently, progressively scaffolding to more challenging tasks.
And just when I think they are proficient in their use of graphic organizers, I begin to gradually wean them off of them. My goal never changes: I want my students to use graphic organizers productively and efficiently, whether they’re provided by me, or created by them. The reality is that for standardized tests, my students won’t be permitted to use the planning organizers I provide. Even more importantly, once they leave my classroom, they’ll need to work independently without relying on anything but themselves so that all their hard work for the year remains worthwhile.
Who doesn’t want their students’ journey toward independent writing to be self-directed and free of anxiety?
Check out the planning organizer I use with my students at my Teachers Pay Teachers store: