How can you plan to support conceptual understanding?

Tailor your Planning Approach

Planning helps us as teachers to make sense of our curriculum, and make deliberate choices to prioritize what we want our students to learn. While you will have your own approach to planning, you can consider how you might incorporate elements of Erickson and Lanning’s concept-based approach into your current planning.

A 10 Step Approach

A thinking classroom requires a thinking teacher, and a typical 10-step unit design process (Erickson, Lanning & French, 2017), can help you bring concept-based learning into your practice. Take a look at the steps below for an overview.

  1. Create your Title: Make the unit title a question. As opposed to traditional unit titles, questions help to ignite curiosity.

  2. Select your Conceptual Lens: Define the key concept which guides you in the direction you want to take the unit. Contextualized competencies for learning and relevant real word issues focus relevance.

  3. Standards and Content: Honour the curriculum by cross-checking standards and critical content. Check the learning is age-appropriate and ensures sufficient relevance and challenge.

  4. Create Generalizations (Sometimes referred to as Essential, Conceptual or Universal Understandings): Connect two or more of the identified concepts together to make understandings. Erickson and Lanning suggest avoiding the use of weak verbs (influence, impacts, affects, can, is, are, have), while French and Marschall suggest writing five to nine statements in total for a unit.

  5. Guiding or Essential Questions: Plan a mix of factual and conceptual essential questions to guide students in unpacking the essential understandings. French and Marschall advise three to five of each question type, with a couple more questions for a unit which provoke debate.

  6. Double Check Content and Skills: Ensure you identify what you want students to know and be able to do. Plan to use strategies and resources which support development of transferable skills for future contexts.This could be done in step 4.

  7. Assessment: Use rubrics to support student assessment. Performance, product creation and student-initiated action are all strategies that enable students to demonstrate how they apply understanding, knowledge and skills to new situations. In this transfer students stress-test understandings, reflect and deepen understanding.

  8. Design Learning Experiences Embedded with Reflection: Design scaffolded experiences through a meaningful and authentic inquiry process. Reflection journals scaffold and frame student thinking.

  9. Write a Unit Overview for Students: Write a brief unit overview that you will share with your students prior to the start of the unit. This ignites student curiosity.

Reflect - Act

  • Set aside an hour.

  • Select one of your current units that you might want to develop - perhaps one that is just in need of an update or refresh.

  • Work through the slides below that take you from Step 1 - 6. Brainstorm using the webbing tool that is introduced with example and template.

Planning Template

As you move on from the webbing tool, consider incorporating any adjustment in your planning into your current planning template. Or you might find it helpful to consider using the planning template provided to support your planning approach. Our journey as curriculum writers will all be different, and we will approach curriculum unit design and development from different perspectives. It is a journey that we continue to be on as teachers. That is what makes us artists, designers, curators and choreographers of learning. We need to acknowledge it takes time and thinking. It is helpful to consider where you are in your beliefs, understandings and perspectives.

You can start small, incorporate into your planning or practice any elements of this concept-based course that make sense to you where your professional expertise identifies it fits best. With active practice, peer collaboration, coaching and feedback, supportive materials, and reference to key reads, you can continue to travel on our journey adjusting your practice to suit the needs of your students.

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