Learning Maps

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Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_map

The London Underground Map is one of the most iconic transit maps in the world. Initially developed by Harry Beck in 1931, the map prioritised the topology of the railway over the geographical and physical location of stations as it was this that, he believed, was important to travellers. Since Beck, the map has been altered and adapted by a number of people, and indeed the map we have today is not exactly the version designed by Beck. However, the concept behind it remains.

I’ve been fascinated by the tube map for years and since moving to London have come to rely on it in many ways. In my first few months here, it was key to my exploration of the city. However, now that I’ve been here for a year and a half, I’ve come to almost memorise the stops and stations that I use most frequently and have almost internalised sections of the map. I can now travel without it.

In September, I introduced a ‘Learning Map’ into my classroom. Based (very loosely!) on the design of the tube map, I planned to ‘display’ the ‘journey’ of learning that my class and I went through in our first English topic: Wolf Brother. Considering their learning as a ‘journey’, I thought the tube map would be the perfect back drop to initiate a dialogue of learning. The stations were our learning objectives and at the end of the line there was a destination: an outcome of the topic. Each lesson we would review our ‘journey’ so far and discuss what we would have to do next in order to get closer to our destination.

The map became an interactive part of our lessons as work was immediately blue-tacked to the nearest station to illustrate what had been learnt and to help us visualise our ‘journey’ along the way. New lines were built if we, as a class, recognised that although what we were learning was important in enabling us to reach our current destination, it would also be important during other topics and so connections to other areas were constructed. The value of the dialogue that this ‘map’ raised, in terms of evaluating and reflecting on our learning progress, was incredibly beneficial to the development of English skills in my class. It was this dialogue that proved to me it was worth keeping.

Most fascinating was that, like I did with the tube map, the children began to internalise our journeys. Now, I no longer have to introduce the children to the stops I think they need pass through in order to reach destinations, but as we revisit areas similar to our previous topics (e.g. narrative writing), the children are able to ‘plan’ the ‘journey’ themselves. Now, my class reflect on and consider the ‘stations’ they need to pass through in order to successfully reach their destination before we begin and we plan the ‘journey’ together. More than this, they reflect together on whether stations we previously visited need to be visited again, or whether we need to visit a different station in order to develop our skills differently. There is a rich dialogue of learning.

In my teaching practice, issues surrounding displays have always bothered me. This ‘niggling’ began when studying for my Bachelor of Education degree when in the third year we were faced with an assignment on ‘The Importance of Display in the Primary Classroom’. At this point in my studies, I could think of nothing more uninspiring than researching and writing an assignment on displays. I was more interested in developing my philosophy of education, exploring the potential role of technology in the future of learning and identifying future trends in learning that could enhance and innovate my practice. However, since graduating, it is clear from my work in schools that the value and attention given to displays remains prominent. And since qualifying, I have found myself part of many conversations regarding how to create effective displays.

What this ‘display’ has taught me is that the aesthetics of the classroom environment should never be prioritised over the content; the effect on children’s learning and achievement should always be considered. Too often still the focus of displays is to make classrooms ‘look nice’ and I think it is crucial as a teacher to find a balance between what is visually pleasing and progressive for learning.

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