Concept Mapping and Formative Assessment: Elements Supporting Literacy and Learning

Concept Mapping and Formative Assessment: Elements Supporting Literacy and Learning

Jeffrey Beaudry (University of Southern Maine, USA) and Polly Wilson (University of Southern Maine, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-992-2.ch022
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From the authors observations and those of Kinchin (2001) teachers may know about concept mapping but they do not seem to use it as a consistent, effective strategy. The authors argue that the concept mapping may be better understood by using an expanded definition of traditional literacy, listening, speaking, reading and writing; to include visualizing, visual representation, and technological literacy Sinatra (1986). This ethnographic case study examines the use of concept mapping and collaborative learning strategies in the content area of marine ecology in high school science classrooms. To support students’ understanding of science concept and the improvement of writing students began with a field trip to study inter-coastal zones and follow-up laboratory activities, use of digital image analysis, and collaborative group work. Key vocabulary were identified to begin concept maps, and more vocabulary was added to support multiple revisions of concept maps with concept map software, and culminated with students’ writing. Concept mapping integrated with collaborative learning was used to engage students to construct and re-construct their understanding of a complex scientific concept, the energy cycle. The results showed that students benefited from the combination of collaborative learning and concept maps to focus their writing on key ideas, to organize their ideas, and include specific details. However, the interpretation and integration of quantitative data and laboratory results was not as consistent. Most importantly, initial concept maps and revisions provided the teacher with evidence of student learning in the form of formative assessment products, to guide teachers’ focused feedback and clarify specific ideas for re-teaching, as well as students’ self-assessment. The authors provide examples of concept maps and graphic organizers as formative assessment of students’ knowledge, what Novak (1998) calls heuristic or “facilitative tools,” and as visual representations and structures to provide flexible ways supporting learners’ meaningful learning through speaking, writing and in visual forms (Sinatra, 2000; Mintzes, Wandersee, and Novak, 2004).
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Our aim is to describe the value of concept mapping and graphic organizers for learning in the context of literacy (reading, speaking, and writing, as well as visual representation and technological literacy), and the importance of understanding visual learning strategies as formative assessment. In this paper we discuss 1) the concept of literacy and visual literacy, and visual representation in particular (Sinatra, 1986), and the connection with 2) the role of formative assessment in learning (Black and Wiliam, 1998a). Research reviews on the impact of knowledge and concept mapping (Novak, 1998; Nesbit and Adesope, 2006) indicate moderate to large, positive effects, as does meta-analysis of research on formative assessment (Black and Wiliam, 1998a; Black and Wiliam, 1998b). In order for concept mapping to produce the promised effects on students it must be viewed as formative assessment of students’ knowledge, what Novak (1998) calls heuristic or “facilitative tools,” and “learning how to learn” (Novak and Gowin, 1984; Black, McCormick, James, and Pedder, 2006). Effective use of visual representations and structures provide flexible ways to support both teachers’ and learners’ quest to answer three key, instructional questions to support formative assessment: 1) Where do I want to go in my teaching and learning? 2) Where am I now? And 3) What do I need to do to get there? (Black and Wiliam, 1998a; Stiggins, Arter, Chappuis, and Chappuis, 2004) Concept maps are concrete, formative assessment products that promote dialogue and focused feedback among students, and between teacher and students (Sinatra, 2000; Mintzes, Wandersee, & Novak, 2005). Concept mapping and collaborative learning are strategies that can be “thoughtful, reflective, and focused to evoke and explore understanding” (Black and Wiliam, 1998a).

According to the meta-analysis of research by Nesbit and Adesope (2006) which included fifty-five (55), well-designed experimental studies the average effect size estimates for concept mapping were positive, and greatest for collaborative mapping strategies with mixed ability students, for students with lower verbal ability and weak domain-specific background such as sciences like biology or chemistry. In a previous meta-analysis Horton, McConney, Gallo, Woods, Senn and Hamelin (1993) estimated the effects of concept mapping to improve knowledge is 0.42, and the impact on students’ attitudes and engagement is 1.57. Effect sizes are quantitative estimates of the impact on specific outcomes like achievement or attitudes, and these estimates help to summarize findings across multiple research studies. The effect size of 0.42 means that on average, experimental groups scored higher than control groups by 0.42 standard deviations. Or an effect size of 0.4 would mean that the average pupil involved in an innovation would record the same achievement as a pupil in the top 35% of those not so involved (Black and Wiliam, 1998a). Positive effect sizes of strategies such collaborative learning (effect size = 0.73), nonlinguistic representation like concept mapping (effect size = 0.75), and reinforcement and feedback (effect size = 0.80) are identified by Marzano (2003) as teacher-level factors representing effective, research-based instructional strategies. In Marzano’s meta-analysis What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action, nonlinguistic representations include concept maps and visual representations, the use of images and metaphors, and art forms like the use of drama, constructing models. In addition, concept mapping and visual representations can be used to support other effective strategies like identifying similarities and differences, summarizing and note-taking, and the use of advance organizers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Literacy: “Literacy is a normative statement of what members of a culture should know and be able to do with that knowledge. The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-220) stated that ‘...the term literacy means an individual’s ability to read, write, and speak in English, compute, and solve problems, at levels of proficiency necessary to function on the job, in the family of the individual, and in society’ (Title II, Section 203, Number 12) (Learning to Think Spatially, National Research Council, 2006, p. 4). The definition of literacy is extended to include visual literacy. (See Visual Literacy and Figures 1 - 4).

Concept Mapping: A strategy in which verbal and visual thinking are integrated and displayed in a way distinctive from but traditional writing. Concept maps are constructed by the individual learner, in collaboration with other learners, or created and shared by teacher-experts. Key concepts are arranged in space, not in a linear, grammatically structured form, and may be accompanied by icons and graphic images. Novak and Gowin definition of concept maps specified maps be constructed in a hierarchical format, in which big ideas are linked with verbs or key words to supporting concepts and details. The National Reading Panel (2000) issued a definition of literacy for reading in which concept mapping is included as a key strategy to assist learners in the comprehension of text.

Technological Literacy: The newest phase of literacy development is technology, and the field of technology is evolving very quickly. Technology is cited as a major strategy for reading and writing literacy in national reports, and is the unifying theme of the model for designing instruction, technological pedagogical content knowledge (TCPK). The model includes computer hardware and software, and all types of digital equipment like digital cameras, recording devices, laboratory equipment, and multimedia. Technological literacy is an essential component supporting the accessibility of learners to information as described by the Universal Design for Learning.

Visual Literacy: The first stage of literacy development for learners with all five senses, visual literacy, is followed by language and then written literacy (Sinatra, 1986). (See Figure 1) Humans with sight actively view and seek information as hearing develops. It is the responsibility of educators to create learning environments for all learners to develop cognitive skills. “Language, then, becomes the natural extension of symbolic thought, and symbolic thoughts help form the mental schemata of a visually literate person” (Sinatra, 1986, p. 11).

Universal Design for Learning: Universal design for learning (UDL) is a framework for providing alternative learning strategies for learners. According to the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) “requires 1) multiple means of representation, to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge, 2) multiple means of expression, to provide learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know, and 3) multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners’ interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation.”

Formative Assessment: Formative assessment represents the use of evidence and data to inform teaching and learning. The seven strategies for formative assessment (Stiggins et al., 2004) aim to improve students’ self-assessment, and rely on teachers’ feedback and peer assessment and self-assessment. Three essential questions help to organize the concept: Where am I going? Where am I now? What do I need to do to get there? Formative assessment is another concept with multiple meanings, but can be understood as “encompassing all those activities undertaken by teachers, and/or by their students, which provide information to be used as feedback to modify teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged” (Black and Wiliam, 1998, p. 8). The important distinction here is between summative, grades or test scores, and formative assessment, evidence collected and used to modify instruction and learning.

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