Influential Thinkers, Stage 3: Conceptual Understanding

The Legacy of Dr. Lynn Erickson

Few people have contributed as much to the field of education as Dr. H Lynn Erickson, the godmother of concept-based curriculum. I’m in a sentimental mood as this week marks her last certification institute. She has trained, assessed and certified hundreds of educators on her brilliant curriculum model and now it’s up to us to carry the torch. I’ve been lucky enough to call her hero, teacher, boss and friend. This week’s posts will be a tribute to her work.

Why am I such a fan of her work? Education fads come and go. Most have good intentions and many have positive attributes, even if they are not enough on their own. But if I were to choose just one initiative, just one and nothing else, this is what I would choose. As an advocate and trainer for experiential, social justice, project-based, issue-centered, authentic assessment, critical thinking, disciplinary thinking, inquiry, social/emotional, joyful learning environments and many others — this is a very tough call to make! I think each of these have merit and a great school hits them all — even if it’s very difficult to pull off.

But no other single initiative does more to raise both the intellectual rigor and motivation of students while also honoring the traditional disciplines AND prepares students to tackle problems they’ve never seen before. That’s the power of concept-based.

Don’t just take my word for it:

The National Research Council completed the most significant research on learning to date and found three principles at play in every learning experience. The second of those three is about the importance of organizing discrete facts into a conceptual framework.

Another study called Authentic Intellectual Work and Standardized Tests out of the University of Chicago says this:
In-depth understanding. A knowledge base of value to students involves more than being familiar with a broad survey of topics. Knowledge becomes most powerful when students can use information to gain deeper understanding of specific problems. Such understanding develops as one looks for, imagines, proposes and tests relationships among key concepts in order to clarify a specific problem or issue.”

Do you ever feel like you encounter research but then you have to figure out how to translate it into the classroom? Dr. Erickson’s books show us what to do, step by step.

Speaking of step by step, do you ever feel like you’d love for students to behave more like practitioners in the field but not sure how to get a 6th grader to do that?! The work of Erickson’s colleague Dr. Lois Lanning shows us how. Again, step by step. She authored a book for process oriented disciplines like language arts and music — and her work shows us how to get kids to behave like practitioners in the field. The best book to check out is the one they co-authored.

To paraphrase Tom Friedman: What’s awesome, thrilling and a little bit terrifying to me as an American is that the rest of the world, namely Asia is hungry for this approach to teaching and learning. The International Baccalaureate has taken serious note, too, sending scores of people to the certification institutes and flying Dr. Erickson all around the world to train their coordinators and teachers.

How can something be valued by such diverse groups: super centralized, hyper-serious-about-knowledge-and-achievement, Southeast Asian schools plus the “global citizen” minded IB — as well as seemingly the entire state of independent, don’t-tell-us-what-to-do, uber-patriotic Texas (we are in San Antonio right now for the final institute)? Because concept-based curriculum is good stuff, that’s how!

Lynn, thank you for pushing, pushing and pushing some more against all the fads and criticisms you’ve survived after decades of knowing this is best for learning. We promise to continue improving education for thousands more students.

This week is about your legacy, too, Lois. The two of you have really made an impact that I predict, hope and pray will continue to spread like wildfire throughout the world.

We can’t say it enough but we will try: Thank you.

2 thoughts on “The Legacy of Dr. Lynn Erickson”

  1. Thank you Julie! Your beautiful tribute truly brought tears to my eyes. Tears of gratitude to you, Lois, and the other content specialists (Tanya, Carmella, Tabitha, and Fay) who have helped make my institutes such a success over the past 7 years; as well as tears of joy as I reflect on the 47 years of work in education. How fortunate I have been to work with such friendly, dedicated teachers and administrators all over the world to share my passion for Concept-based Curriculum, Teaching and Learning. I know I leave the work in good hands! Lynn Erickson

  2. I have had the pleasure of attending this last Institute with Dr. Erickson, Lois and the wonderful Specialists this week. I also hope that Dr. Erickson’s powerful work continues. It was great meeting and working with you this week Julie. Best Wishes…Erica

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