Concept Based Learning – The Missing Piece

Concept Based Learning – The Missing Piece

A key element of the 4MAT model of teaching and learning is the idea of organising content under an overarching concept. That is, you find in the content the “big idea” or “deep knowledge” that all the smaller bits of information ultimately link into. And yet, when we look at this in our training it always comes as such a challenge for some teachers. To quote a well-known scientist of his day – Why is this so?
In recent years our education system is well set-up and neatly organised. Dissected into a bewildering array of separate facts considered essential by the powers that be, from an early age we are introduced to these little bits of information that don’t seem to go together at all – I mean if we don’t show our students the links why should they find them? Heaven forbid that we would expect a student to be able to recall how to read a pie chart that they learnt about in Maths while looking at results of an experiment in Science. After all, why should they? That piece of knowledge belongs in another world – a separate room… in a separate block…in a different text book…with a different teacher. As Marion Brady stated:

“We take the compartmentalisation of knowledge for granted. So deeply ingrained is the idea that knowledge is best transmitted to the next generation in neat, discrete packages, that we can hardly imagine schooling organised in any other way. Dec 2004, Phi Delta Kappan

And yet research tells us that there is another way – and it is a better way, for our students and their brains. We all know that the brain works on connections, so knowledge that is presented in a way that is connected to something that the learner already knows is more powerful than trying to install facts that seem unrelated from the learner’s perspective. A good concept acts as a kind of portal that provides access to thinking that would be considered inaccessible otherwise, and for some of our classrooms remains just so.
A concept is an essential understanding that sits at the heart of our content. While curriculum is organised in a way that seems to put the content at the centre of what must be learned, in reality the content is just a contextual example in which the concept is demonstrated. Students need this understanding for the content to make sense. And here is why it is such a challenge for teachers – we are so used to being told what to teach next that we don’t bother trying to find the answer to the more important question – Why does this learning matter? And we really need to ask this question. So often the answer is, because it is the next module in our teaching sequence. However, once you find the real answer you have discovered the essence of why the content is important and this is where you need to start when you begin to teach. The right concept can provide a road map to navigate the content to come and lead your learners to deeper understanding.

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