Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Today's new learning about concept-based curriculum and instruction

While I was a NIST I had concept-based curriculum PD based on the work of Lynn Erickson, but it's truly an honour to be in the 2 day workshop being hosted at ASB with Lynn.  While I'm familiar with most of what we did today, there's also some new learning for me that I want to share with you.

The Structure of Knowledge and the Structure of Process
Now I've been familiar with the structure of knowledge for many years - this is something developed by Lynn back in 1995 and it looks like this:

Lynn explained today that this model works well with subjects such as social studies and science - those traditionally heavy in content dealing with facts and topics which are locked in time, place or situation - but was seen as less useful in process driven subjects such as the Arts, foreign languages and English language arts which are more skills based and focused on what students are expected to be able to do, not the fact that students are expected to know.  In 2012 Lois Lanning came up with a similar model for the Structure of Process - this was new learning for me.  If we look at the 2 models side by side we can see how they work together.  This image is taken from the Corwin website - the publishers of Lynn and Lois's book Transitioning to Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction.

First of all both these models show the lower cognitive levels of facts and skills at the bottom of the diagrams, moving up to principals and generalizations at the top.  In fact Lynn explained to us today that both are essential in any subject.  For example social studies, which draws upon facts, also requires students to understand skills (for example research skills), and process orientated subjects like art also requires students to develop knowledge and understand facts.  In our table group today we talked about these being like the difference between the consumer and the creator - knowledge being the consumer where facts are put together into concepts and then generalizations, and process being the creator as it is focused on the craft of the subject.

No-no verbs in central ideas
I've talked about these at PYP workshops that I've led when participants have been writing central ideas.  These no-no verbs are:  affects, impacts, influences, is, are and have.  The reasons for this is that they lead to "weak generalizations".  Other no-nos include using the passive voice, using proper nouns and pronouns.  Of course I've seen many PYP units that have these in their central ideas, so what we worked on today was to rewrite the central ideas to get rid of them.  

Moving from Level 1 to Level 3 generalizations
Central ideas that contain these no-no words were referred to as Level 1 generalizations.  To get better generalizations or central ideas it's first necessary to ask the questions "how?" or "why?" Here's an example:

Level 1:  All cultures have celebrations
Level 2:  Celebrations express traditions of a culture

Now for most units of inquiry it would be perfectly OK to stop at a Level 2 Central Idea.  However at times it might be worth going further and trying for a Level 3 generalization.  The example continues as you ask the "so what?" question:

Level 2:  Celebrations express traditions of a culture
So what?
Level 3:  Traditions help unify a people

As you can see, when moving from Level 1 to Level 3 the ideas grow in sophistication and become clearer.  Lynn advised us to be careful with this - roughly 2/3rds of all central ideas should be at Level 2, and only 1/3rd at Level 3 - and obviously you also need to take account of what ideas are developmentally appropriate.

Finally this image is a photograph I took of a cartoon in our workbook.  It deals with what happens in schools when students are exposed to more and more factual knowledge.  In the Early Years, Lynn explained, many things that might later on be regarded as topics in school are actually concepts at that age.  Because of this engagement is high.  However beyond Grade 3, when conceptual engagements decline and factual knowledge increases, motivation also generally declines between Grades 4 and 12 as we have to "cover" more content.  Contrast this with the bottom cartoon, where concept-based instruction is now introduced into Grades 4 to 12. You can see that students become more positively motivated - and that both conceptual engagement and factual knowledge increase hand in hand.  
It has been a great day of learning at school today - and I'm excited to go back tomorrow to learn even more!

Structure of Knowledge image taken from the following blog post:  Concept-based Learning by Edna Sackson
Image comparing structure of Knowledge with Structure of Process is taken from the following blog post:  What you need to know about the Structure of Process by Corwin

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