My Spotlight on Strategy addresses Thinking Maps and the need for a common language for written expression, especially in relation to special education students and English Language Learners. As a teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, my students often struggle with written expression as English is not their native language. Unlike non-English speaking students, Deaf students have no native written language. The language that they are expected to use is grammatically and syntactically different from their everyday expressive language. This poses quite a conundrum. Students are often hesitant to even try to use written language. They are aware that language is out of reach for them and do not want to even try. Thinking Maps provide a common thread in which students and teachers can speak. Students are no longer expected to learn and maintain new expectations for each class. Graphic organizers are the same in each class, the language and the vocabulary are all the same. Students need to master one set of concepts which are applicable in all areas.
As technology becomes more and more available, the use of Thinking Maps also allows students to connect with one another more easily. I often encourage students to use Google Docs or Google Drawings to complete their respective Thinking Maps. This way students are able to make it their own yet they are able to collaborate with one another in an immediate manner. As an example, I have a student who is sixteen. Prior to entering my class, he literally had not written one word in two years. He was terrified to write. He would sign a story, he would retell, but he would not write. Once given the option to complete his Thinking Map on a Google Drawing, he was willing to try. He had immediate access to sign language dictionaries to locate vocabulary he wanted to use. He was also able to immediately see mistakes and change them. Probably the biggest plus for him was that he was able to see that his work had value. He tested the system, but in the end, his work earned him full credit, something that he had not earned in a long time. While he is nowhere near writing at grade level, he is writing. When presented with Thinking Maps and access to a computer, he will attempt to write. All in all, I believe that Thinking Maps provide access to concepts that were previously limited to students, especially those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing.