Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Big Picture to Details OR Details to Big Picture Within Concept-Based Instruction

Implementing a curriculum grounded in concepts has caused my brain to buzz in ways that I've never experienced before.  In talking with colleagues, there are those who call themselves "big picture thinkers" and those who say they are "detail oriented."  In both scenarios, adults either begin with the big picture and then learn the details based on the big picture, OR, they learn the details and connect them to the big picture.  The big picture and the details work in concert, together, to create well-rounded understanding.  While we talk about our adult learning styles in this way, I wonder if we might look at how this is connected to the learners who sit in front of us.  It begs the question, "How do we think about different approaches to concept-based instruction by thinking about the connection between the BIG PICTURE (enduring concepts and understandings) and DETAILS (facts and skills)?" If you're unaware of these ideas, look into some of the examples at the very bottom of this post.

In concept-based learning, or 3D models of learning, we are looking to connect the facts and skills with the more enduring concepts and understandings. In discussion with teachers, it seems like the majority of social studies classrooms begin with learning activities grounded in the details (facts and skills) and then students are asked to connect the details to the big picture (enduring concepts and understandings).  In this post, I hope to offer an example of how we might beging with the BIG PICTURE and shift learning to the DETAILS through reframing our instructional intent with resources.  In doing so, this example might help teachers to see how resource-use is flexible as we construct learning for students.  For example, I was recently exposed to this wonderful set of resources on Women's Suffrage

I like this set of primary sources and think it would be valuable to use with intermediate students.  Unfortunately, the content does not live in 5th or 6th grade for my school district.  For me, it was helpful to reframe my thinking to consider how this resource set might be used in a conceptual way by introducing the BIG PICTURE of learning prior to looking into the details. .

When I look at the planning tool teachers use for 5th grade U.S. Constitution, I notice some conceptual pieces that would allow me to connect these resources to the BIG PICTURE.

Understand: 1. American citizens are granted the legal right which the Constitution promises. 2. Actions illustrate our commitment to civic ideals.

Essential Question: 1. Who is a citizen? 2. What responsibilities comes with rights? 3. Are all people living within the United States granted the legal rights the Constitution promises? Why or Why not?  4. What are ways poeple might demonstrate commitment to civic ideals?

Concepts: Citizenship, Rights, Democracy, Individual Rights vs Common Good

By using these resources, we can begin to address larger, more complex ideas.  Instructionally, I might create small sets of these resources to be used within an engaging scenario prior to the study of this unit's BIG PICTURE.  These primary sources allow students to begin exploring the more enduring concepts of the study prior to using resources connected to what students should KNOW.  These resources are a wonderful entry point to have these concept-based discussions with kids so that they have context for why they begin to learn about DETAILS such as the Bill of rights and individual rights, or civic ideals and their connection to the responsibilities of citizens.

Once again, I find that concept-based learning blows me away and how concept-based learning has completely changed how I look at the teaching and learning cycle.  As you approach learning with your students, start to pay attention to how you are organizing instruction (Big Picture to Details OR Details to Big Picture).  Try to do it both ways, and in the process, you'll probably also begin to notice how much more you're beginning to understand what concept-based instruction looks and feels like.

Are you a big picture thinker or detail-oriented?
Details Make the Big Picture
Seeing the Big Picture in the Tiniest Details

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