Thinking maps

Using thinking maps to analyse your written data.

Graham Chisnell

In developing a culture of research at Veritas MAT, I have been thinking about how we can best support our staff team in analysing their qualitative data by using visual representations. Adapting the use of Thinking Maps we use with pupils, we can help the researcher to filter their thoughts as they analyse their findings.

Mind Maps were popularised by Tony Buzan who developed the use of mind maps to categorise learning.  Here is an example of the chap himself inside a mind map.

Thinking Maps were developed by  David Hyrle and Yeager in 2007 for use in schools to help students to reason and recall. They involve a range of map templates that help students to develop thinking. 

The first strategy to use in analysing your data is the constant comparative method. This is used when you have collected evidence in words and don’t want to convert the data to numbers through further analysis. This process involves reading through the evidence collected and comparing similarities, differences and anomalies to spot patterns in the words. The researcher is encouraged to read their data over and over to compare and contrast and allow the information to come together to present patterns of information they can analyse.

Analysis of words in your evidence base

Gary Thomas once again provides a helpful checklist for the researcher analysing written evidence. I have simplified this in these steps:

1.      Read through your written data.

2.      Mark up your data, highlighting points of interest, similarities across the data, make notes about parts you find relevant or interesting.          

3.       Draw initial thoughts together linked to your research question from your first read through.        

4.       Use your initial thoughts or emerging findings to re-read the data to seek for further patterns relating to this.

5.       Make notes of key patterns and helpful quotes from the data that can be used to answer your research question.       

6.       Draw out the key themes from your analysis and map these out and illustrate this with the quotes you have highlighted.

Mapping out your findings

Creating a visual map of your analysis of written evidence can help your researcher to visualise the patterns in their analysis. There are a few ways this can be done, let’s look at these.

Concept maps

I first came across thinking maps when lecturing in primary education at Canterbury Christ Church University in the late 1990s. My students were grappling with how to make effective notes and I used the mind maps of  Tony Buzan (Buzan, The Mind Map Book, 2009) to help them to connect their thinking during lectures. This process looked at recording key words, images or ideas and making connections through link arrows to define how these ideas were interrelated. 
David Hyrle (Hyerle, 2011) took Buzan’s idea of the concept maps and applied this to structure a range of thinking maps. These maps can also be really helpful when analysing written data. Here are a few.

Flow map

The flow map helps the researcher to define the cause and effect within their research. The researcher will have reviewed the raw data and if there is a clear sequence of consequences from their data, this can be recorded in a flow map. A teacher researching the impact of the introduction of a new retrieval practice initiative in history could record their analysis using this template. The teacher’s research question is ‘Does retrieval practice affect pupil’s confidence in geography?’ Each new action leads to a new observation in the study over the course of three terms. Each term the teacher introduces a new element of the strategy and reflects on the impact the has on the pupil’s perceived confidence. The map produced is shown here.

Double Bubble Map

A double bubble map allows the researcher to compare and contrast two things. For example, a researcher may be pursuing the research question, ‘How does teaching style effect student motivation in history?’. Their observations have been recorded in narrative form and the researcher has also used discussion with staff and pupils using the pyramid method. In reading through the narratives, the researcher uses the bubble map to map out the similarities and differences between the motivation of students to a didactic textbook-based approach to teaching as opposed to a discussion-based approach. The double bubble could look like this:

The researcher has used this double bubble to start to focus on the key similarities and differences they have noted in the written data. With this clarity, the researcher is now in a position to draw together their analysis of their key findings.

Tree map

The purpose of the Tree Map is to help the researcher classify their findings into key branches. This does not help the researcher consider the interconnectivity of their findings, but helps clarify the grouping or common threads to their findings. An example of this would be seen in a research question, ‘What are the most effective strategies to encourage reading at home for my reluctant readers?’. The researcher may have used a range of research tools to gain data from their pupils, staff or parents. The reading through of the evidence base then led to the following summary in a Tree Map.

The researcher can then unpack the common themes drawn from the evidence base. This researcher then went on to produce a second Tree Map outlining the main themes from the parent’s response. This allowed the researcher to compare and contrast the two viewpoints in their research analysis. The invaluable insight to how both parents and pupils of reluctant readers responded led to a strengthening of practice to support this group of pupils to increase their confidence and motivation to read.

And finally…

When thinking about analysing your qualitative data, you can use these maps to help crystallize your thinking and use them to present your key findings by seeking for similarities and differences and points of interest in your evidence base.

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