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The Learning Maps we’ve previously posted have rightly proven popular, both because of their quality and because they meet a need for tools that help students to structure their work in a simple and effective way – one that has the added bonus of providing a tightly-organised and highly visual method of revision.

Good as they are – and I’d certainly recommend downloading them to see how they meet your teaching needs – they’re generally designed for a specific (AQA) Specification and while they can be edited to meet the requirements of different Specifications, students and teachers, this involves time and effort that might not always be readily available.

This led me to wonder about creating a generic “one-size-fits-all” version of the Mats – one that involved teachers doing absolutely no work whatsoever in terms of creating Mats that could be used in a variety of situations and ways across a range of different Specifications.

What I’ve tried to do in this Mat Template, therefore, is focus on what I think are the key elements students would need to cover for a good knowledge and understanding of a concept, theory or method (although, to be honest, I’m not sure about how well the version I’ve designed would work with the latter). In basic terms, this might involve:

• Describing a concept / theory / method.
• Identifying its key proponents, critics and studies.
• Identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

Concept

The basic idea is that a Mat can be used whenever you want to get students to think and write about a single:

• concept (such as hegemony, anomie, socialisation and the like).
• theory (such as strain, labelling, correspondence theory and so forth) and
• method (such as a questionnaire, laboratory experiment or covert participant observation).

Approached in this way the limited amount of space on each Mat can work to your advantage because it forces students to think carefully about the information they add. It should, in short, encourage a mental filtering process where only the most significant and useful information is added. That, at least, is the hypothesis. Whether or not this proves valid in the testing is something only time will tell.

This selection process is further encouraged in two ways:

1. Although concepts and theories are the building blocks of any exam answer they are generally small and self-contained ideas that can be relatively easily condensed into a limited number of words. The idea here, therefore, is to encourage students to focus on mastering as many of these key elements as possible and this involves keeping things simple.

2. A second Mat template I’m developing focuses on simple activities to encourage students to apply the knowledge they’ve developed in the first set of Mats. When it’s completed you’ll be the first to know (but only if you subscribe to this Blog. Otherwise you’ll have to hope you spot a post on Facebook  or Twitter.

Uses

The relatively loose Mat format I’ve adopted should give teachers a degree of flexibility in how, when and why they use the Learning Mats. Obvious uses might include:

• Revision – the Mats force students to focus on important and essential knowledge.
• Flipped teaching – students can prepare basic information about a theory they are going to apply and evaluate in the classroom.
• Structured notetaking within the classroom – by providing a notetaking template you ensure your students record essential information in a way that’s revision friendly. If a student is absent from a class it’s also relatively easy to get them back up to speed using the Learning Mat.
• Research Search, either for homework or as part of a lesson – students research the information required to fill each box on the Mat.

Get It

The Generic Learning Mat I’ve put together was created in PowerPoint so that if you want to edit it, it’s a simple matter to change things around. It’s also easy to export the Mat to pdf if you want to produce paper or digital copies for your students. I’ve also included an extra “explanation slide” that tells you what sort of information is designed to go in which category on the Mat if you need it.

Although this Template has been designed for an A-level Sociology course and its particular Assessment Objectives there’s probably no reason why, with a bit of tweaking, the generic Mat couldn’t be applied to other A-level subjects, such as Psychology, that have similar AO’s.

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