Concept-based curriculum

Concept-based curriculum
Providing advanced learning
for all students
*Adapted from materials by Mary Landrum.
Advantages of using a concept-based
Meets needs of advanced students
Works in grades K-12
Acknowledges state curriculum standards as
minimum requirements for students
Creates a culture of learning that promotes
continuous progress for all students
The need for higher standards:
One teacher’s story
A tenth-grade biology teacher said that she had spent years—
more than 5—developing a rigorous and advanced curriculum for
her students. This teacher held a doctorate in biology and
worked with several college-level faculty on developing her yearlong curriculum. Students responded well and worked at very
sophisticated levels initially. However, after 10 years of minimum
student performance standards guiding regular classroom
teachers' instruction, this teacher found that even the gifted
students were not sufficiently prepared for advanced studies.
They had little practice with problem solving, higher-level
thinking, and advanced writing skills. This led her to this
conclusion: minimal standards have dumbed-down the
curriculum enough to stop nurturing the advanced abilities of
gifted learners.
Rationale for using a concept-based
Due to the emphasis on test scores, many school
districts have shifted their focus to struggling
Above-average students are often waiting for other
students to catch-up before teachers move on to
new areas of study.
Gifted and advanced students are used as peer
tutors for students having difficulty mastering basic
knowledge and skills.
Advanced learners should be allowed to continue to
move at a pace commensurate with their learning
district-wide mandate
"Our goals are to meet the minimum
curriculum standards developed at the state
and district levels and to provide learning
experiences that allow all students to learn at
a pace and rate commensurate with their
learning needs, including advanced learners.
We will move beyond a largely factual
curriculum and provide sophisticated learning
for our highest-level students."
What do experts say about conceptbased curricula?
Lynn Erickson, a nationally recognized leader in general
education curriculum design, has said that teaching concepts
help students to understand conceptual attributes by
experiencing a concept across many diverse examples, and
learn how to identify and understand major conceptual ideas
(generalizations) that emerge out of the study of specific topics in
each discipline.
Sandra Kaplan, a leader in the field of differentiated curriculum
for the gifted, has demonstrated how concept-based learning
leads to the sophisticated and complex learning experience that
gifted learners need. It is only with more conceptual learning
(versus factual level learning) that the most sophisticated
learning can occur.
Concepts force thinking to the integration level.
Students see patterns and connections at a
conceptual level as they relate a topic to a broader
study framed by the concept.
Generalizations are deeper, transferable ideas
through time and across cultures. Generalizations
are statements of conceptual relationships. A
generalization is a big idea or general statement
including many concepts or ideas.
Topics are terms used to describe the simplest of
relationships of facts. Topics name a group of facts
that are connected.
Sample topics and concepts
US government
Edgar Allen Poe
short story
Sample concepts and generalizations
Concept = Adaptation
Generalizations include the following:
 Adaptation takes various forms.
 Adaptation follows progress.
 Adaptation is necessary for survival.
Concept = Change
Generalizations include the following:
 Change is continuous.
 Change can be good and bad.
 Change causes change.
Sample concepts and generalizations
Concept = Expression
Generalizations include the following:
 Expression promotes change.
 Expression transcends time.
 Expression is universal.
 Expression affects understanding.
Concept = Structure
Generalizations include the following:
 Structure has parts that go together.
 A structure is only as strong as its parts.
 Structures are natural and manmade.
 Structures can facilitate or hinder change.
The power of concepts:
Another teacher’s story
You all know that I have a student teacher this semester. The other day she
was reading one of our required readings to the children, Bring the Rain to
Kapiti Plain. As you all know I have students of all ability levels in my classroom
this year. They are all over the place. My student teacher used whole-group
instruction as the primary format for teaching this diverse group. After reading
this beautiful African folktale about the circle of life, she asked where the story
had taken place. Of course the students don't know directly from the story, but
rather, have to deduce this information from the clues in the story. When the
student teacher asked the class, ‘Where might this story have taken place?' only
one student responded. Jeremy indicated that he thought the story came from
upper Africa because of the drought depicted in the story and the dark skin of
the characters. Another student added that they were wearing clothes that
looked like sundresses. When she asked the children who spoke to tell her how
they arrived at their ideas, Jeremy noted that there were many clues about the
people's culture. Culture is a difficult concept to understand. It is one that fits
into many of our units of study in second grade. If teachers worked on one
concept and accompanying generalizations all year long, more complex learning
like that illustrated in this example could take place.
Q: I'm a little confused because the state curriculum guide outlines ‘concepts' for each unit
of study, but I’m not sure they match what you have in mind. Can you explain the
A: The state curriculum documents contain discipline-specific concepts rather than
universal concepts. These concepts fit neatly into specific disciplines or have different
meanings for different disciplines. On the other hand, universal concepts have the same
meaning and apply to three or more disciplines similarly.
Q: The textbooks I find available don't begin to include concepts, but rather contain mostly
facts. So where will we find the concepts to teach?
A: Most textbooks contain topics rather than concepts. We want to use universal concepts
that are developed through each of your subject areas. I would suggest that you select
concepts that are rich in meaning in the discipline that you teach in order to promote
complex and sophisticated learning beyond basic facts. Teaching these concepts will help
student learn the basic skills, understandings, and ideas necessary to satisfactorily master
material for required tests as well as guide more complex learning.
Other Questions?
Summer concept-based curriculum
writing institute
July 6th – 20th
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