Teaching students to learn conceptually

NOTE: This blog, as all our other blogs on conceptual learning, is based on the work of  H. Lynn Erickson and Lois A. Lanning.

Planning is done. You have around 3 – 5 powerful statements of conceptual relationships, a conceptual lens, questions that lead to discovery of the relationships and a list of corresponding facts and skills for powerful synergistic thinking — what do you do next?

It is essential to teach students about learning conceptually — sadly, most of them are not used to this type of learning. Here is a quick outline of one way to do it:

  1. Experts: Ask students to think about what makes someone an expert and how they are able to remember so much. Tell them we are on the path to becoming experts and that you will let them in on a little secret about experts.
  2. Structure of Knowledge: Teach them that experts organize information in their heads via a conceptual framework. Teach them briefly about the components in the Structure of Knowledge using an example they already know and understand.
  3. The difference between facts and concepts: Ask the students to sort discipline-specific concepts and facts into two piles. Have them come up with definitions for each.
  4. Statements of conceptual relationships (generalizations or principles):  Show them some examples and ask: What are they? How do they help us organize information? How do they help us figure out new situations?
  5. Improving statements of conceptual relationships: Show them a few with weak verbs and proper nouns and ask them to fix them. Show them that asking “how” or “why” often helps us to make them stronger. Asking “so what” increases their significance.
  6. Discovering conceptual relationships: Show them three statements of conceptual relationships and a few facts. Ask them which statement corresponds to the facts. Do the reverse: Show them one statement of conceptual relationship and have them choose which facts support it.
  7. Transfer: Show them new situations. Ask them which conceptual relationship best unlocks the new situation and discuss why or how.
  8. Reflection: Ask the students to again articulate the difference between a concept and a fact. How is learning about a concept different from learning about a fact? What is the definition of and importance of conceptual relationships? How do we improve statements of conceptual relationships? What are some ways to discover conceptual relationships? How do they help us to unlock unfamiliar situations?

I will soon post an actual example lesson! Let us know what you think.

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Categories: Stage 3: Concept Based Curriculum and Instruction

Tags: , , , ,

4 replies

  1. Great blog Julie! Thanks. Lynn Erickson

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  1. What does it look like to teach students to learn conceptually? | Education to Save the World

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