Below is my summary of David Hyerle's chapter, "Thinking Maps as a Transformational Language for Learning," found in the book Student Successes with Thinking Maps from Corwin Press, 2004. The National Urban Alliance partners with Thinking Maps, Inc. to provide teachers with the tools needed to make thinking explicit for students.
By providing a common language for teachers and students, thinking maps have been closing the achievement gap in schools across the United States. Currently, 4000 school faculties in the U.S. have been trained to use thinking maps in their classrooms.
David Hyerle, who brought the Thinking Maps to schools over 15 years ago, refers to the maps as a transformational language because the maps can be used across disciplines, cultures, and ability levels; they also work with students from kindergarten to college. Once students and teachers have a common visual language, higher order thinking can be explicitly displayed and assessed.
Some teachers believe that the maps are just an interesting set of graphic organizers, but they are so much more. Graphic organizers are static and focus on isolated content tasks whereas Thinking Maps are a theoretically grounded language based on eight fundamental cognitive processes. In fact, since the brain is a pattern detector (binding together data through neural patterns to network information) and since all humans communicate with language, employing a brain-patterned language makes sense.
The classroom benefits for using Thinking Maps are numerous. First, they are flexible tools that can be used in isolation or in combination with other maps to solve multi-step problems and for thorough reading comprehension. Second, Thinking Maps are great assessment tools since they clearly and explicitly demonstrate what a student is thinking. Third, maps provide an opportunity for focused cooperative education, which is a key to bridging the cultural gap between students. Fourth, Thinking Maps allow a teacher to mediate a student's thinking and literacy development, not simply remediate students through repetition of content. Finally, Thinking Maps bridge the cultural and discipline gap between teachers in a school since they provide a common language for instruction.
Hyerle ends his chapter with a call to all people involved in the educational process to use Thinking Maps, not just classroom teachers. Thinking Maps foster constructivist conversations that not only allow for efficient problem solving, but also make staff meetings more reflective and less procedural.