Developing Literacy Skills with Graphic Organisers
Developing literacy skills with graphic organisers
Margaret Strickland 0
0 Teacher librarian, Endeavour College , Mawson Lakes, SA
is able to
As teachers we are constantly looking for
ways to improve student learning. In Australia,
educational theory and practice have
predominantly moved from the behaviourist
school of thought to the cognitive school of
thought. From this position, a constructivist
theory of learning has developed. Within this
model, students are actively involved in the
learning process. Practices in education have
also been informed by information scientists
who understand that information is important
and is processed and adapted by learners in
relation to what they already know.
”Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences
also influenced the development of new
methodologies in school curricula during the 1990s.
Teachers became more aware of students who
preferred a visual and / or spatial style of learning,
which responded to visual and spatial learning
techniques like graphic organisers.
Within these learning models, the users’ needs
are central to information retrieval practices. Over
the last twenty years bibliographic, programmed
instruction in school libraries has given way to our
current concept of information literacy education,
which looks at information literacy as a process to
be learnt within the mainstream curriculum of the
. In Australian schools, we
are now teaching a variety of literacies and literacy
now has a much broader meaning. We talk about
information literacy, visual literacy, ICT literacy,
media literacy, thinking literacy and multicultural
literacy, amongst others, and the interplay between
them. New literacies must change what teachers do
and how they weave literacies together at all levels
of school education. The South Australian Certificate
of Education Literacy Policy (2006) says there is a
need to “improve student proficiency across a full
range of literate practices appropriate to changing
social and technological times”.
The term ‘information literacy’, first coined by
, assumes “information
problemsolving skills that enable independent and effective
(Capra & Ryan, 2002)
describes an information literate person as one who
is able to use technology, is also ICT literate, is able
to use a range of information resources, has a range
of well-developed literacy skills, and is able to use
information. This is a useful way of conceptualising
information literacy because it allows a focus on the
skills that students will need to acquire to attain this
status. According to
, an information
literate person is able to manage the increasingly
complex information environment.
While many writers have debated the nature of
information literacy itself, educational institutions
have proceeded to implement curriculum, which
teaches students to become information literate. For
Eisenberg & Berkowitz (1998)
the Big6®, which is the most widely used approach
to teaching information skills. The Big6® is an
information literacy model and curriculum guide
implemented in thousands of schools across the
world from pre-school to higher education. Given a
research task students are asked to work through a
6 step process:
1. task definition
2. information seeking strategies
3. location and access
4. use of information
Sometimes the Big6® is called an information
problem-solving strategy, because with the
Big6® students are able to handle any problem,
assignment, decision or task.
A new level of awareness of the effectiveness of
using graphic organisers to assist people to become
information literate came in the late 1990s through
the work of American educator, Jamie McKenzie.
During his visit to Australia, he addressed curriculum
development in an Information Age. Among other
things, he discussed the need to develop “free range
(McKenzie, 1999, p. 40)
navigation skills in an Information Age and the use of
graphic organisers, like the Inspiration® software, to
assist thinking and research skills in the twenty-first
first described graphic organisers
as a type of advance organiser presented prior to
learning, so that the learner could organise and
interpret new, incoming information. He developed
the concept as a cognitive instructional strategy to
promote the learning of new information—to bridge
and link old information with new.
In the mid 1990s, Tony Buzan was a major
player in developing the practice of using a particular
type of graphic organiser, the mind map, to assist
learning. He believes that “a mind map is the easiest
way to put information into your brain and to take
information out of your brain” (2002, p. 6).
define a mind map in terms of four
characteristics: (a) a subject or a central image, (b)
several main themes which radiate from the central
image, (c) branches which display key images and
words, and (d) a connected modal structure formed
through these branches. As such, the mind map is
structured for radiant thinking.
Novak and Gowin
also believed that concept maps have the
capacity to enable meaningful learning and to clarify
the key ideas to be focussed on in a specific task.
The Inspiration® program has developed and
computerised graphic organisers for an educational
setting. It is a visual thinking and learning program
used for concept mapping, webbing, outlining,
planning and presenting work. It has the capacity
to integrate visual learning and technology into
the literacy curriculum.
compared the use of the Inspiration®
program with the paper-and-pencil approach to
concept mapping. They found that using Inspiration®
encourages students to revise their concept maps
because deletions, additions and changes can
be achieved quickly and easily. Figure 1 shows a
sample template for the development of a concept
map for story / novel analysis using Inspiration®.
It is not difficult to use graphic organisers in the
classroom; however, it often requires a supportive,
co-operative, risk-taking culture within schools
. A movement towards the use
of graphic organisers does not mean that writing
is abandoned; rather, it gives teachers the option
to diversify learning tasks and make learning more
creative, open-ended and exciting.
believes that concept mapping is one way to create
a high capacity educational system, in which “highly
skilled teachers are able to generate creativity and
ingenuity among their pupils”.
) research in which she
combined her interests in education, information
literacy and graphic organisers illuminates
the current discussion. She created a student
research assignment that integrated information
literacy instruction with Biology curriculum. She
comprehensively investigated the effect of graphic
organiser training on the subsequent searching
practices of Grade 10 Biology students in a Genetics
unit. Gordon believes that concept mapping is a
well-accepted method for clarifying concepts and
discovering meaning “by graphically displaying the
concepts and plotting relationships among them”
(p. 115). Gordon used graphic organisers as the
intervention with an experimental group, while a
control group undertook the research assignment
without using concept mapping but experiencing
the same teacher. She was ultimately interested in
whether the development of this skill in a specific
unit of work would affect searching behaviour in a
subsequent, related topic. She found that concept
mappers showed a preference for print rather than
electronic search tools, spent more time in print
indexes, did more in their searching—they were
more thorough and / or efficient searchers, were
more inclined to concept-driven searching, and
were more likely to make metacognitive judgments.
Gordon also found that when concept mappers
were searching electronically, they spent less time
searching, worked in fewer and shorter sessions,
used fewer search words, preferred subject heading
rather than keyword searching, and performed
more depth rather than breadth searches. Gordon
concluded that mappers were more sensitive to the
electronic environment, more efficient in the way
that they used their time to perform more search
operations per minute, more thorough in consistently
applying a more concise repertoire of search terms
and more thorough in engaging in more depth
one way to
create a high
to work at
In the current study, participants were recruited from
teacher librarians in South Australia through the
listserv SLASANET and Australia-wide through the
listserv OZTL_NET. Both quantitative and qualitative
data collection techniques were adopted. Survey
questionnaires, in email format, along with interviews
were used to collect data on the behaviours,
understandings, attitudes and practices of teacher
The respondents came from all states of
Australia, all the major school education systems
and all levels of schooling. The responses from the
”librarians; wide experience in various roles within the
questionnaires were used to construct the themes
and questions for the Interview stage. Interviewees
were selected based on experience as teacher
school setting; mobility within the education system;
and participation in key professional networks. For
purely practical reasons, those selected were all
from South Australia.
Using graphic organisers in a range of topics
Teacher librarians listed a wide range of topics
in which they had used graphic organisers. The
most common topics were the human body, the
environment, animals and Australia. The most
common Key Learning Areas (KLAs) involved
were Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE),
including History and Geography, and Science.
Eighty percent of respondents had used graphic
organisers in SOSE. The main reasons given for
the use of graphic organisers in SOSE were that
the content was appropriate for inquiry learning and
that teachers in this KLA set research assignments.
Sixty five percent of respondents had used graphic
organisers in Science. Some teacher librarians noted
that Science teachers like the organised, structured
format of graphic organisers.
Using graphic organisers to address literacy needs
Graphic organisers were seen to be of benefit to
students operating in a range of literacy types.
Teacher librarians listed the following literacies
as being ones that could be addressed through
the use of graphic organisers: information literacy
(Step 1—Planning), traditional literacy (including
creative writing), ICT literacy, visual literacy,
thinking literacy (including higher order thinking and
metacognition) (refer to Table 1). Information literacy
was the literacy type most often addressed by
The benefits of using graphic organisers
Teacher librarians worked most frequently with
students from Reception–Grade 10. Within this
age range, they reported that both girls and boys
responded positively to curriculum incorporating
graphic organisers. Teacher librarians also indicated
they felt that students from a wide range of ability
levels, including students with learning difficulties,
students with behavioural problems, gifted students,
and second language learners, benefited from
the incorporation of graphic organisers. Many
teacher librarians felt that graphic organisers gave
students with learning difficulties and gifted students
the opportunity to work at their own pace with a
satisfying and productive learning experience.
supports this finding that mind
mapping cuts across ability levels.
Concept maps have a high degree of flexibility,
which makes them a useful planning tool, having a
capacity to clarify the key ideas for a specific task
(Novak & Gowin, 1984)
, and brainstorm headings
. Graphic organisers have great
value in compressing and focussing the student’s
attention on the topic better than any other means
, in fact, the act of creating graphic
organisers to illustrate the organisation of ideas and
information aids comprehension and learning
& Lapp, 1988)
. The teacher librarians in this study
identified 39 educational benefits of using graphic
organisers. As can be seen from Table 2, there was
considerable consensus amongst the interviewees
about the relevance of this list, seventy five percent
of the interviewees each listed the top twenty-four
benefits. All interviewees identified the important
benefits of graphic organisers for planning research
and organising information under main headings.
Undoubtedly, these two benefits are not mutually
exclusive, although the former implies a broader
and more complex part of the information literacy
Graphic organisers are able to provide a scaffold
for younger students by helping them know what
to look for and what to do with it when they found
(Braxton, 2003; Jones, 2001)
. The interviewees
identified assistance with scaffolding as a main
benefit of graphic organisers for younger students.
They also agreed that through graphic organisers,
younger students can be introduced to information
in a manageable form and better think through
concepts and issues (refer to Table 2).
The creation of graphic organisers
When it came to creating a mind map,
computerbased graphic organiser programs were widely
used. Thirty-four of the forty respondents had used
electronic graphic organiser programs, with sixteen
different programs listed as having been utilised
by the group. However, Inspiration® was the most
popular with 94% of respondents having used this
program. Table 3 shows those programs that have
of a range
been used by at least two respondents. (For an
overview of graphic organiser websites of use to
schools, go to the Shambles website.)
In general, teacher librarians liked the simple,
user-friendly structure of Inspiration® and the focus
on process. The strength of Inspiration® is in the
process, in the idea that constructing the mind
maps can lead to creative thinking
The teacher librarians in this study initially chose
Inspiration® because, in many cases, it was already
networked in the school, or inexpensive to buy,
”between ideas, (c) it allows students to record a lot
and it is Mac compatible. The program appeals
to users because (a) it is easy to use, (b) it uses
colour-coding to aid visualisation of the relationships
of information and view a broad topic more easily, (d)
it minimises giving up, and (e) it is flexible enough to
allow students to easily move between the graphic
organiser and traditional note-taking formats.
This research study revealed an impressive
commitment from teacher librarians to their
profession. They thought deeply about pedagogical
issues, showed initiative in developing curriculum
appropriate to their student populations and were
involved in a wide range of curriculum initiatives.
Their curriculum role gave them freedom to work
with information literacy and graphic organisers,
Call for papers
Papers are now being sought for inclusion in the next volume of
Submissions may include:
• research and scholarship
• critical reflections
• innovative practice
• case studies
• educational administration
• reflections, impressions and expriences of teachers
The editor is happy to receive queries or submissions at:
For guidelines, go to: www.ministryofteaching.edu.au/journal/
which are more about methodology and process; in
addition, they are able to operate outside the usual
KLA content constraints. Teacher librarians reported
that a wide range of students in terms of age, gender
and ability level responded positively to curriculum
incorporating graphic organisers, and that graphic
organisers facilitated the development of a range of
literacy types. TEACH
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