The Perfect Study Technique: Mapping the Mind


MAPPING the MIND: The Perfect Study Technique

This is an exciting time to be a learner and an educator. Medical and scientific researchers have joined forces with education to give us a much more comprehensive understanding of the mind and how best to help our young people reach their full potential as learners. Medical/scientific researchers are telling us that the brain is capable of taking in much more information than we currently ask of it.

One of the ways we can begin to tap those unused areas of our potential is to apply the visual, symbolic technique of mind maps to our everyday teaching environment. Mind mapping is one technique that encourages the utilization of the brains full potential. It is a whole brain activity that results in the graphic representation of the intellectual territory covered. It is a process and thus is not content driven, allowing it to be applied to any content area, at any grade level. A map is extremely versatile and can be adapted to any length and type of material. Students can map vocabulary words, a novel or an entire course. Instead of just words on the page the mapper must also interact with symbols, color and shape to represent meaning. The material being mapped and the individual mind dictate the finished product. Because a mind map represents the interaction between the individual and the course content the learning becomes personally relevant as the student begins to reorganize and apply their own symbolic cues to the material. Maps are comprehensive, creative, fun and imaginative.

Mapping is not only creative and fun but it maximizes student participation as one cannot map without being actively involved in the process of divergent thinking. It helps to link ideas and draw relationships between sometimes seemingly unrelated pieces of information. This encourages depth of understanding and critical thinking.

Often students become so involved with the facts and details of the material they are unable to see the whole picture. For older students a map could be used to synthesize a multitude of material into one very concise study. They could incorporate their notes, textbook material, lectures, handouts, and video or documentary material, into one map, thus making the connections between material much easier to detect. When students see the subject on one big map, connections between systems become much more easily identified and the depth necessary to apply terms suddenly appears.

Maps are not used as extensively as they could be with older students. I recall a mother of one of my students arriving for our parent conference with a tactful concern about the time her daughter was spending in her room using color and visual to represent her Grade 12 math notes. The mom, was a bit concerned that her daughter was spending so much time on the ‘art’ that she might be missing the math. I assured her that her daughter, a very diligent student, would be just fine and that I was checking to make certain the content was covered. The mom trusted and the student sailed through her final exam in a class she had always had difficulty with. Researchers have noticed“…it is apparent that visual-spatial modes of thought need far more attention in the educational process, especially at a higher level. While visual approaches have received greater attention at lower grade levels for some time, higher education is slow to change and still relies heavily on traditional academic methods-books and lectures.” ( West p10) Often we do not encourage our students to use all their gifts to learn curricular material.

Maps can be used with students at any age. There were very few students who did not experience immediate benefits from learning to use the mind mapping process. Students of all ages love the creative and visual aspects of mapping but they also come to realize very quickly how much work and thought must go into the process. They realize the amount of material they have mastered (or need to master) when they have a visual representation of it.

The benefits of mapping to the student, I think are obvious, however, one very important benefit to the teacher or parent is often overlooked. Maps are an invaluable assessment tool as they often point out, instantaneously, where the process of understanding breaks down. You have a visual representation of the students understanding of the topic and can often trace back to where understanding becomes muddled or confused. This form of assessment is quick and very accurate. It tells you immediately what you have to revisit or where students have moved to greater depth of understanding.

There are innumerable ways to create a mind map and a number of theorists to aid your search for the perfect mind mapping method. Tony Buzan pioneered the concept of mind mapping many years ago and his books are still absolutely current and a must if you wish to read on. The other person who has just recently created a ‘how to’ manual for mapping is Nancy Margulies. Her book is excellent and is perfect for any age but I have found elementary school educators particularly taken with her book. Margulies also produces a comic book probably most applicable to junior high students but staff also find it informative. (see resource section) There are several differences between Buzan and Margulies but both advocate using a whole brain approach to mapping. Buzan sets a structured format, that he suggests be followed in every map and Margulies suggests much more freedom when choosing the structure of the map.

Mind Mapping Tony Buzan                 Mind Scape Nancy Margulies

*central concept                                            *free form
*main ideas                                                    *anything goes
*add details                                                             words, phrases
*center of page                                              *start anywhere
*one word per line central theme
*branch out grouping or categories
add more details

I have always found a combination of both styles to be preferable. Let the mind of the mapper and the material dictate what form the map should take. The following elements should be included, in any form, depending on the creativity and background of the individual mapper ( see above map for a visual representation of the article) .

To create a map:
* Have a central theme.
* Use a balance of symbols and words‘whole brain approach’
* Color should be used to give a message,to illustrate relationship or indicate a pattern or section.
* The original material must be regrouped
* Personal symbols help connect to prior knowledge.

When working with older students show them sample maps and let them develop their own distinct style but with younger students it is helpful to do some practice with words to symbols and grouping techniques first. Guide all students through a group map first, model your own style and share several of your own maps. Be certain to stress that your style is neither right nor wrong but is just an expression of your personal interaction with the material. Explain what your symbols and colors represent. Show a number of maps on one topic. This will demonstrate to students that maps are distinctively unique and very personal.  The following maps were done by staff or students for various different subjects or workshops…….A map represents the mappers relationship to the material………


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