Using Learning Maps to Guide Student through the Writing Process

In February and March, I worked with one of our special education teachers, Ms. Wilson. I asked Ms. Wilson after a class observation what was really “hitting her in the gut” while teaching writing with her students. As we talked we were able to identify what her goals were for her students. Ms. Wilson was wrestling to find a way to get her writing students to become more independent in their thinking, their planning, and the organization of their writing.

Specifically she wanted to invest time into developing writing centers to meet the needs of her students identified through formative assessments; however, we had to work through together how to chunk their writing down into smaller and more attainable steps. After a couple of coaching sessions, we turned out gripes into goals by deploying a learning map for the students to use as they worked their way through the writing process.

The learning map accomplishes a few objectives. Learning maps are graphic organizers that depict the essential knowledge, skills, and big ideas the student will obtain throughout the unit. It will give the students the opportunity to see the finish line, as well as the steps needed to be taken to get there. It breaks the project up into small bite-size pieces in which students can work at their own pace to achieve. It frees the educator in the room up to have one-on-one conversations with each of her students throughout the writing process, as well as using the steps for formative assessment to drive what the writing centers will cover. This process addresses deficiencies in skills and works to provide timely and appropriate feedback to the learner as well as supports for their further writing. This map helps organize this differentiated instruction.

By creating these maps for the student, it allowed the teacher to plan and develop guiding questions and to unpack the standards so they can identify the skills and knowledge needed by their students to succeed. It also allows the teacher to propose these questions and to create a driving question board to be answered for their students. Teachers then need to ensure that such a tool is not packed away never to be seen again. They should be out in the open and visible, or if digital, referred to and utilized by both the teacher and the students.

I personally prefer a digital learning map because I find it useful to embed online resources I wish for my students to explore or to refer to along the way. If I can provide these resources up front, it frees me up in class to say “read this article or watch this video first before we discuss this any further.” It shifts the ownership of the learning back into the lap of the student while freeing the teacher up to do such things a conferencing for writing centers. Again these maps need to be actively used by all stakeholders consistently and without exception.  

Student use learning maps to redirect themselves back to the goals of the unit in mind. When they are actively used, students are able to frequently review and clarify their learning which most likely includes engaging discussion within the classroom.

A quality learning map does the following:
  • Answers all the guiding questions
  • Has a starting map with only the core idea, paraphrase, and subtopics
  • Has a complete ending map on no more than one page
  • Shows connections through line labels
  • Is organized according to the sequence of the learning in the unit

Here is how we chunked down their biographical writing project:
  1. Find related information
  2. Intro paragraph/rephrasing their student developed driving questions (previous lesson)
    1. What is an introduction?
    2. What is an exciting lead?

  1. Topic Sentences for each paragraph
  2. Outline with Topic Sentences
  3. Supporting details
  4. Conclusions
  5. Mini Writing Conferences
  6. Rough Drafts / Read out loud’s
  7. Revisions
  8. Corrections

Here is the graphical representation that she developed as well as corresponding resources available to students.