I am an extremely visual person when it comes down to learning. I image stories, phrases, equations…whatever the context might be.
There has been a lot of uproar regarding Cambridge English’s pledge to remove the phrase “learning styles” from the Celta and Delta courses. “The decision was motivated by the lack of supporting evidence for the theory and by the awareness of its potential detrimental effect on student learning, said Ben Beaumont, Trinity Tesol qualification manager. References to learning styles in the syllabuses have been substituted with ‘ways of learning’ and ‘learning strategies’. (http://digital.elgazette.com)
Although learning styles have been discredited by the neuroscientists, I cannot believe teachers were actually teaching all their students in their preferred styles. When you have 20 to 30 students in a classroom, it is unreasonable to think that you can teach them individually in their favoured style. We do, however, need to vary our teaching styles so students can benefit from them. Not because we should teach in a learner’s preferred style, but it just makes teaching more interesting not only for the learners but for the teachers, too. As I began stating in this article, I am a visual learner. So, when I am studying, preparing a workshop, preparing a class or a presentation, I like to use graphics organizers to organise my thoughts. My favourite one is mind mapping. Now, I have no intention of making all my students experts at mind mapping in the classroom, or teach by only using mind maps if I happen to know my students are visual learners, but I do intend to show them that there are other possibilities when it comes to studying on your own. Learning styles are preferences, you use them when you study alone and occasionally students can profit by other ways of presenting or developing a certain topic, however, I do not believe that students to not learn if you do not use their preferred style. Teachers should, and I believe they always have been, use a variety of teaching styles in their classroom.
I sometimes wonder whether it is a matter of being a little extremist. When the communicative approach was trendy, grammar was no longer permitted in the classroom. Drilling was a sin in the classroom, following the Audio-lingual approach. Now, drop learning styles. The middle path is my motto. Do not scrap the past from your present, however always look into the future. It is how you put a certain approach into practice that is the real issue.
Getting back into what should be the main objective of this article, my aim is to share with you the benefits of mind mapping. Why should we use them in the language classroom?
Mind mapping is a visual tool that can be used to brainstorm vocabulary, learn grammar, to organise your thoughts when making a draft before your essay and for many other purposes. It is a way to connect thoughts in a logical manner (not forgetting that what is logical for you might not be logical for me!). According to Budd (2004) “a mind map is an outline in which the major categories radiate from a central image and lesser categories are portrayed as branches of larger branches” (Budd, 2004, p. 36). A mind map has a central idea (it can be an image or a key word) which then branches off into many secondary ideas enabling students to see the relationship between the topics.
It is a creative tool that can be used by all ages, even young learners, because it relies on the mapper who can modify its features to fit the necessary goal. As it is an associative tool, it makes it easier to retain information and generate ideas in a simple and logical way.
In addition to helping students organise their thoughts, mind mapping is a great source for teachers as well. Not only can you prepare classes and workshops, you can also use it as a starting point for a warm up in your class, for an argumentative discussion for your students or even a summary of the content of the semester. It can also be an enriching tool to understand your student’s thoughts and thinking processes.
Today there are many software generators of mind maps that can help you, although I do prefer to do mine using paper and colourful pencils or pens. I suppose I am still from the old school generation. The most popular softwares are: MindMeister, MindMaple, Inspiration, The Brain and Bubbl.us.
Why don´t you try it out in your classroom or as a classroom preparation? Let me know how you get on. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org