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March 16, 2013

One more thing on Concept-based Curriculum…and transition of course!

by Elaine Cook

Since I have been in education for a long time, it is easy to become jaded about every new education “latest and greatest” way to help improve student achievement.  It would be easy to lump Concept-based Curriculum into this list, but one of it’s basic premises seems to make perfect sense… we have to help students UNDERSTAND what we are teaching them and not simply help them memorize rote facts.  That’s where the concepts come in.  If we are honest with ourselves, we have all memorized facts to reach a desired goal…(has anyone taken their driver’s test lately?)  Yet, it is safe to say that most of the time, those facts are as quickly forgotten as they were learned, since they are no longer relevant to us.    And I will be the first to admit that it is much easier for me to buy into learning something IF I see the relevance of  it.  Bottom line, our students are no different.

Concept based instruction, as we have stated in earlier posts, takes learning from the two-dimensional level (knowing only facts) to the three-dimensional level (understanding the overall concept). Take a lesson on Martin Luther King, for example.    A two-dimensional lesson would be to simply have students read his “I have a dream” speech.  A three-dimensional lesson would be to have students “think about leadership/civil rights/etc as they read his speech, and then discuss  the impact of those concepts  on a much broader level.  Our workshop leaders, Lois Lanning and Lynn Erickson, shared that this helps students to be able to transfer and to generalize this information across the curriculum.  It is easy to see how this would help all students become better critical thinkers, thus impacting their post-secondary success.

This is not to say that facts are not important.  They are obviously the foundational building blocks that support the deeper, conceptual understanding.  And the beauty of concept-based curriculum is that we retain those building block facts longer when we process them on both the factual and conceptual level:  we can start to connect the dots to the bigger picture and it begins to make more sense!  The irrelevant facts  – – when attached to concepts – –  suddenly become relevant!

So, as you work to help your students successfully transition to be as independent as possible, remember to teach them how to critically think and not simply regurgitate facts.  Helping them understand the over-arching concepts is key.  After all, isn’t that what they truly need?

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