Friday, September 13, 2013

Connecting Facts/Details to Concepts in Changing Face of North America

This week, I had an excellent conversation with teachers about the unit Changing Face of North America: Emergence of a New World Society.  In this unit, it's easy for teachers to think that lots of content information is important.  As we look at concept-based instruction, one thing we have to remember as teachers is...more information does not necessarily equate to smarter students.  Concept-based instruction involves helping students to connect the facts they learn to the broader, more enduring concepts.  In turn, we asked this question. "How do we support students in connecting facts/details to concepts?"  For teachers who use a notebook or graphic organizers to help students track their conceptual understanding, we discussed how students would come back often to these notebook pages or graphic organizers as they learn more factual information and work to connect these facts to different conceptual lenses.

The use of essential questions is connected to inquiry (and to concept-based instruction).  As students learn more information, they can approach each essential question with greater complexity.  Essential questions are written with students as the audience while their corresponding understandings are written with teachers as the audience. 

Last, when teachers look at the Stage 1 Desired Results for a unit of study, there are content specific words and phrases that can also be used by teachers and students in classroom conversations (and writing).  These words and phrases are Big Ideas or Organizing Concepts.  In this unit, these words and phrases are connected to history and geography.  Teachers might consider how to weave this vocabulary and these ideas into classroom discussion (and writing) knowing that these big ideas and organizing concepts continue to appear for students from preschool through 12th grade.  
As we move ahead in our learning about concept-based instruction,  explore how students might use a notebook or graphic organizers to connect student learning to the unit's concepts (essential questions, big ideas, and organizing concepts).  These connections help students to make sense of their learning so the unit is not about a string of facts; the unit is about broader concepts and students have the opportunity to connect the facts/details to the broader concepts.

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