“Mapping” Exercise: a first-hand account

Workshop 2-20-14At the workshop I attended a week ago on sharing responsibility for classroom environment and learning [with our students], we closed with what I found to be an effective and helpful mapping exercise.

This was a two-hour workshop that included dinner.  After dinner, we did a little bit of looking back at our original beliefs and doubts to see what, if anything, had changed over the course of the workshop.  Then, our facilitator described this final activity.  She wrote a main idea (in this case, “Sharing Responsibility for Classroom Environments and Learning”) in the center of the board and invited each of us to come up and add anything that came to mind on that topic. She encouraged us to show any connections we felt/noticed with reactions other people had written.  Finally, we were instructed to not talk (that was hard).

I have done this exercise many times to help me start to write papers and articles (taught to me by a talented teacher in 10th grade English). It was revelatory to me how I could throw down my non-linear ideas and use them to craft a good thesis statement.  It had never occurred to me that it could be a multi-person effort, and the pay-off of using it in this way is exciting.

The final product does a really nice job representing a range of reactions to the workshop–a range that I doubt would have been presented in discussion.  It helped me see where I fit into the discussion (I’m the person who wrote increased engagement = increased learning), which helps guide future conversations I might have on the topics we explored that evening.

Here’s a close up of one part of the board:closeupSome reflections:

  • this activity makes it a little bit easier for more people to have voice.
  • there may be an awkward moment at the beginning when no one wants to go up because everyone will be watching what they write.
  • this activity works well as a closing frame, but it could also work well as an opening foray for class time in a blended class (students have listened to a podcast and done some thinking on a shared topic before entering the room).
  • photos are important if you want to be able to reflect on the mapping after you leave the room (many thanks to the head of our center for teaching innovation and excellence for taking photos!)
  • We may have small thoughts that we don’t voice because they don’t appear to have connections to the larger points of the conversation; this exercise allows us to express those thoughts and show the inevitable connections that arise.  That’s powerful and exciting!


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