Reflections on SelfDesigning: Why Mind Map? by River Meyer

how to mindmapYou’ve probably all participated in creating a Mind Map by now, either for yourself or with your child or a learner. They’re fun, creative, freeing; they can begin us on a journey that’s valuable and satisfying. But what are they really all about and why do we focus on them in SelfDesign?

Tony Buzan of Britain is credited with bringing mind mapping to cultural attention beginning in the ’70s, but if we go historical we learn that the idea of visually mapping information goes back centuries. (Apparently Porphyry of Tyros graphically visualized Aristotle’s conceptual categories in the 3rd century, if that’s of interest to you!). Buzan’s idea was based in the theory that while traditional thinking takes people through a left- to-right and top-to-bottom kind of scanning, the human mind is more suited to non- linear, whole-image visualization. Through the use of color, graphics, words and phrases that branch and create arteries of connection, the exercise of mapping can even take on a 3-dimensional feel that confirms a whole-person experience.

While Mind Mapping can be used for organizing thoughts, for making decisions, for establishing a sense of structure or for many other things, we use the process in a very particular way within SelfDesign. Because the philosophy of SelfDesign puts the learner (of any age) at the center of his or her own learning, we begin a Mind Map in exactly the same way: the SelfDesigner’s name or photo is the first element to appear on the page, usually in the center of a piece of blank paper. Think about it by imagining yourself in that position for the moment: your name, and the totally empty slate of whatever size paper you’ve chosen. What world might you want to create?

We often find that when learners do this for the very first time they experience a sense of puzzlement, not quite grasping that they are really being asked to consider their own deeply felt desires or curiosities. For learners who’ve been on a more traditional schooling path, this exercise can even be initially confusing: “Why are you asking me? I’m much more used to being told what I need to learn. No one has ever asked me this before. I don’t know.” And that’s the beginning of the journey.

Sometimes it’s almost as though learners are waiting for the other shoe to drop, expecting at any moment they’ll be told we were just fooling and let’s get down to business now! This is when we need to hold the consistency of our message to them around the idea of self-authoring. We say, “What are you really curious about these days? What pulls you, what are your passionate interests? What might you feel challenged by yet want to take on? Drop into your imagination and see yourself as someone who could be learning about anything; what do you notice there?” And we support them in writing it down, drawing it out or collaging it onto their paper.

There’s often a delicate balance when learners move into the should zone, the place where the voices of others fill their heads. The should of taking math or piano lessons, for instance, can sometimes represent being pulled against one’s wishes or acting out of fear rather than connection to positive challenges. When we notice that, we ask if it’s all right to just put it out on an edge of the paper till such a time when engaging in that learning would truly feel self-initiated. We are looking for a walking toward, for a learners’ knowledge that they see the benefit for themselves in such an engagement.

Interestingly, when the Mind Map process is done over a period of years (or right away for some people), there is a leap into possibility that’s joyful to witness. Young people who suddenly see learning as opportunity rather than as forced activity begin to develop a relationship to their choice making that is self-fed. Adults experimenting with the process may exclaim, “Oh, I get it!” I’ve seen first year Mind Mappers with just a few areas they’re willing to identify, and by year three it’s hard for them to contain themselves to one piece of paper!

How do we want learning to look? How do we want it to feel to those who are actually engaged in it? In SelfDesigning we practice the art of being curious with our learner, of drawing out, of supporting, of saying yes. In return we may see a small flame turn into the fire of self-determined, authentic learning- and the Mind Map often serves as the first step of this exciting journey.

Are you a Mind Mapper? Give it a try and see what happens when you let your imagination fly!

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