Friday, April 11, 2014

Writing conceptual statements with students

In a Primary Years Program, we must find a balance between “acquisition of essential knowledge and skills, development of conceptual understanding, demonstration of positive attitudes, and taking of responsible action,” (Making the PYP Happen, p. 10).

Learning specific factual content and skills is important, however educators must also identify the timeless, abstract, universal, and transferable concepts they want their students to learn. “The factual knowledge is what students must know in order to describe, discuss, explain, or analyze the deeper concepts. One cannot understand the conceptual level without the supporting factual knowledge. But there must be a synergy (emphasis added) between the two levels if we are to systematically develop intelligence,” (H. Lynn Erickson, p. 3, Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom, 2007, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press).

As students work within the synergy between specific knowledge and universal concepts, they should make their thinking visible by synthesizing their learning into a conceptual statement. Erickson, calls these statements generalizations: “Two or more concepts stated in a relationship that meet these criteria: generally universal application, generally timeless, abstract (to different degrees), supported by different examples (situational). Enduring, essential understandings for a discipline,” (Erickson, 2007, p. 31).

Not long ago, I was working with fifth-grade students on the concepts of decisions, choices, and impacts by studying specific decisions Nelson Mandela made in his life and the impacts they had on his life, his country, and the world. (To get a more complete idea of what I did in that lesson, see my last blog post on Flow Maps.) Once students had read about, described, discussed, explained, and analyzed Mandela’s decisions and their impacts, I wrote the words, “Decisions, Choices, Impacts” on the board and asked the students, “based on what we learned today about Nelson Mandela, his decisions, and their impacts, what can we say that we learned about decisions, choices, and impacts in general?” I told the students that the first idea didn't have to be perfect, but we just needed to put something up so we could start to work with it.

The first student volunteered the following statement:

Next, a student tried to offer a completely different statement and I encouraged her to make edits to the one we already had, instead of completely starting over. Another student suggested the following edit:

When I asked her to explain her thinking (in order to make it visible!), she said, "because you could do something bad and it will also impact your life."

Then, another student mentioned the following edit:

I asked her to explain her thinking and she said that our decisions have impacts right away and when you grow up (we had discussed short- and long-term impacts during the lesson). So, we shouldn't just say, "when you grow up." I asked her if there was anything we could add instead, to communicate that decisions have impacts in both the short- and long-term, so she proposed the following addition:

After that, a student said he wanted to make the following revision:

When I asked him to explain his thinking, he said, "We can do lots of things - like pick something up (as he mimed picking up an object) - that don't impact our lives. But we talked about what happens when we make a decision."

At this point in the lesson, students weren't volunteering any more edits or revisions to the statement, so I read it aloud to them: "If you make a decision it can have an impact on your life in the future." Then, I told them we had to "test" our statement to make sure it was conceptual:

"Does this statement apply to Nelson Mandela?"

YES! the students responded.

"Could this statement apply to us?"

YES! the students responded.

"Ok, if this statement applies to us here in Minnesota, would it apply to a student in France?" 

YES! the students responded.

"If it applies to us here in 2014, would it apply to a 10-year-old in 1914?"

YES! The student responded.

Although I knew that our statement met the criteria for a generalization as outlined by Erickson, I had one more change I wanted to make. I told the students that since our statement applied to everyone, I thought we should change the pronouns "you" and "your" to "we" and "our". They consented and we were left with our final version:

Note: ordinarily, when crafting conceptual statements, generalizations, central ideas and lines of inquiry, it is advised to avoid pronouns. However, in the moment, working with the fifth graders, I felt using pronouns in our conceptual statement was appropriate to keep our statement directly relevant to the lives of the students.

After reading about how fifth graders wrote a conceptual statement based on the synergistic learning they had done, how could you or have you written conceptual statements with your students to synthesize their learning?

No comments:

Post a Comment