What strategies can you use in practice to support concept-based learning?

A Concept-based Learning Sequence

A typical concept-based curriculum unit journey can have a predictable pattern, within a lesson or in a unit, and can include some of the following stages: engaging, focusing, investigating, organizing, generalizing, transferring and reflecting (Marschall and French, 2018).

Take a look at the fourteen strategies below, and choose one that you might want to try to incorporate into your current practice to scaffold student learning. In this section, you can focus on the sequential use of these strategies to support your students build conceptual understanding to increasingly complex levels.

Use strategies to support students move from initial levels of conceptual thinking, to more complex thinking levels where they can discover patterns and make connections between concepts in order to build strong conceptual understandings.

Concept Formation

This is a great place to start to support initial levels of conceptual thinking - they are the precursor for more complex conceptual thinking. They can bring clarity and focus to the driving concepts and frame the learning.

#1 Use the Frayer Model, a four part sectioned graphic organizer, as a scaffold to support students unpack driving concepts

  • Ask students to complete each section, outlining the concept definition and concept attributes

  • Invite students to sort examples and non-examples of a concept, providing less sophisticated examples to sort first

  • Students add their own examples and non-examples to connect to their prior knowledge

  • You can use this organizer in individual workbooks, tape it out on the floor for a kinesthetic group approach, or create a wall display version of the model

Concept Organisation

Organization strategies build on formation strategies, useful to support students to organize their thinking, find patterns and make connections between concepts.

#2 Try Visual Note-Taking where students connect key words along with images, colours and icons to support students explaining their thinking

  • Select keywords

  • Visual cues can replace longer text

  • Integrate other graphic organizers such as graphs and charts - simple grids can also provide a supportive organising framework to provide further scaffolding structure on which students can make their virtual notes

  • Use font size and colour to enhance importance or significance

  • Use arrows to link ideas and make connections

  • Encourage the use of English alongside mother tongue language to support translanguaging

Conceptual Understandings

As you move your students towards higher thinking levels, you can use strategies to support students articulate their understandings and connect concepts in strong relationships.

#3 Build a Concept Bank

  • Co-construct a list of concepts with students throughout the unit, which includes the conceptual lens, driving concept and other concepts drawn through case studies​

  • Review concepts to ensure students know the meaning of all the concepts, by giving appropriate examples and non-examples

  • Ask students to make statements of understanding using the concept bank by choosing two or more concepts and state a relationship between them​

#4 Use Sentence Frames for one of the simplest and quickest ways to scaffold student thinking​

  • Pair this strategy with concept banks above to support students who are new to making conceptual understandings

  • Provide any part of the generalizing statement which draws on part of an idea

  • Students need to draw on their prior learning and are still required to investigate facts to complete the generalization​

Try Flipgrid for students to order, articulate and share ideas

Conceptual Transfer

Transfer is the purpose of the concept-based classroom. These strategies can support students to apply their learning and deepen understanding as they validate and justify, and consider the extent of transfer.

#5 On the Line provides a safe environment for students to develop their thinking

  • Students consider teacher created weak and strong generalization statements on a continuum line

  • Students then agree or disagree and explain with evidence the reasons for their opinion

  • Use think time and give opportunity for students to discuss ideas before asking students to commit to a response which can be written and added on the line

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