Instead, give your students opportunities to EXPLORE concepts.
Let them DISCOVER the complexities of concepts by INVESTIGATING concrete examples from a variety of times, places, and situations.
In doing this, children will CONSTRUCT UNDERSTANDING of these timeless, abstract, universal, and transferrable ideas that we call concepts.
Letting students construct their own understanding of life's BIG IDEAS is known as inquiry, which is more than question asking. Teaching in this way doesn't come naturally to me, so until it does, I've been trying to follow these five steps.
- Start with a concept.
- Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept.
- Create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example.
- Check for understanding by having them write a concept statement.
- Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.
If you think using these steps could help your students construct their own understanding of life's BIG IDEAS, try them out and let me know how it goes. That is exactly what one second grade teacher did recently. Here is her story:
1. Start with a concept.
In grade 2, teachers collaboratively decided to have their students explore how people influence the world. During this unit of inquiry, students also explore the genre of biography, as they read about various heroes.
2. Pick a specific, concrete example of a person, place, situation, or thing that illustrates that concept & 3. Create an opportunity for students to explore that concrete example.
During the last several weeks, students in second grade have read, listened to, and watched biographies and have learned a lot about specific heroes.
After all this learning about individual heroes, the teacher posed two questions to the students: "Who is a hero?" and "What is a hero?"
Students responded using the Chalk Talk thinking routine (for more on Chalk Talk, see p. 78 of Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison). In the last step of the thinking routine, when students were sharing the thinking, they identified common themes and ideas that emerged. Those were notated by the teacher and are written in black marker and boxed in the pictures below.
4. Check for understanding by having them write a concept statement. (This step is very similar to the thinking routine Headlines found in Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison, p. 111)
The next day, the teacher simply gave students a blank piece of paper and prompted them to write all they understood about heroes. The following were the student responses:
|They stand up for people.|
|(they) doing awesome|
Then, the students worked collaboratively to create one, concise concept statement.
When each individual statement was read, the teacher confirmed with the class if it was true or not. Then, students had to decide if the statement had any new information to be added; if it said anything different.
If it did have some new and different information, students had to work together with their teacher to revise the existing concept statement. The images below show the progression the concept statement went through as the class collectively constructed their understanding of the concept of hero.
First, the students started with ...
Next, they added a couple of attributes and took out the pronouns.
2nd graders then added how heroes did this.
To fit better with the vocabulary of the IB Learner Profile, they decided to replace kind.
2nd graders realized that heroes don't just help people.
The students struggled with what is the "right" thing. That value-laden statement is based on one's perspective and is not an absolute truth, so they knew they had to get rid of it.
But the students felt something was missing when they took out that phrase, so they put the idea back in, while acknowledging that "right" is subjective, based on the perspective of the "hero".
At this point, the teacher invited me into the conversation to see what a fresh eye could add. To make sure that "hero" was front and center, I suggested moving the dependent clause to the end of the independent clause.
5. Reflect on their thinking and decide next steps.
The second graders' understanding of hero is certainly deep and complex. The next step now is to continue to explore the concept of hero: read more biographies, watch age-appropriate biopics, read age-appropriate news articles, interview heroes local to their community, reflect on how their own actions could lead others to believe they themselves are heroes, etc.
As they continue to learn about other "heroes", second graders should be encouraged to continually revisit and revise their definition of hero as needed.
After reading about how one second grade teacher set up opportunities for her students to EXPLORE the concept of hero, instead of directly teaching this big idea to her students, how could you or have you had your students construct understanding of life's BIG IDEAS, known as concepts?