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1. Which disciplines aim for conceptual understanding more than others?

The chapter makes a delightfully contentious statement about conceptual learning in disciplines:  

Comparisons between subjects is fairly rare at the classroom level. Difficulty between subjects of teaching. It is far harder, for example, to teach MFL via zoom than it is to ‘teach’ PE or perhaps even the liberal arts. 

As an academic discipline I agree with the following statement about economics: 

Traditionally, science and economics are two areas that strive to reach the conceptual levels of understanding, but history, mathematics, language arts, and most other subject areas just aren’t there yet in their curriculum designs (Erickson et al, 2000). 

However, on a classroom basis this has not really been my experience. Read John Tomsett’s post here to see some Where is the evidence?

Saying all that, I do agree that language arts seem to be less conceptual and far more task-based in resources available online. 

2. Teachers need to understand the particular definition of terms used in the context of the book. 

Topics = Situated ideas e.g. The Elizabethan theatre audience. 

Concepts = Desituated ideas that are expressed in 1-2 abstract nouns.  Audience 

Generalisations = A statement expressing the relationship between two or more concepts. The audience of a play affects its performance, or The audience of a play will bring different interpretations to a play’s performance 

Another example of a generalisation could be: 

Writers often create a character’s internal and external conflicts to imply a deeper message about life or human nature.

In itself, this feels a little vague for literature. Eagleton argues that the characters must represent ideas. This is his definition of characterisation. However, it is necessary to note that these generalisations will be slightly different across classrooms and contexts due to different knowledge of what the discipline demands. It is ideal to not reveal to the student the generalisation without them attempting to work towards their own. It seems the process of creating and applying generalisations that is most important, rather than arguing semantics as I do here. 

Principles = More underlying generalisations that are true. 

An example: The patterns of sounds and silences in time produce rhythm.

Prosody is undertaught and relatively unnoticed in the classroom, not least because of the undermining of poetry over the past 100 years. I would recognise that in poetry it is the patterning of stresses rather than ‘sounds and silences’ that create voice and meaning. 

However, again the creating and discussion of the generalistion is key for the purposes of the classroom. Such different perspectives of text form should be discussed. 

3. There always exists tension between cognitive load, and testing students on discreet skills.

Concept-based learning aims to reduce cognitive load emphasising how students should be seeking patterns continually. This is a distinct power of concept-based learning.

4. How do we address the need to continually teach ideas and skills in different subjects? Why does persuasive writing in English not seem to transfer to other subjects?

Why do we forget? How do we improve remembering? A key quote from the text:

When teachers implement the curriculum through authentic experiences that mirror the types of knowledge and processes students will most likely continue to use in their futures, understanding is advanced (Erickson et al, 2000). 

I read this idea through the notions of a curriculum that aims to intellectually stretch pupils, the aim I see of CBL. An alternative view would be the emphasising of an adult-needs curriculum. That is not ideal. 

5. Should we organise entire curricula around concepts?

“The fact that experts’ knowledge is organized around important ideas or concepts suggests that curricula should also be organized in ways that lead to conceptual understanding” (Erickson et al 2000).

This is still something of a leap. Can we organise conceptual understanding? To what extent is conceptual understand necessarily tacit rather than conscious? 

We now realize that education needs to increase the percentage of time spent on guiding students to important conceptual understandings. Children with strong conceptual structures in the brain are better able to process the massive amounts of incoming information, and better able to transfer (make use of) their understanding (Erickson et al 2000).

I think this is an admirable aim. Caution should be taken about misapplication of promoting abstraction and process in the English classroom though:

Consider the Kirby post on too time on evaluating.

It must be noted that the authors state repeatedly that the kind of dislocated, skill-based curriculum Kirby derides is not their aim. They are very aware. Situating knowledge is a key element of the Concept-Based classroom.

6. Is there a tension between macroconcepts (desituated knowledge) and microconcepts (situated knowledge)?

Each discipline has its own set of macroconcepts, which reflect its central ideas. As mentioned, some macroconcepts may be important across disciplines. Change, for example, is a macroconcept in all disciplines. But there can also be macroconcepts that are more relevant to specific disciplines. (In drama, for example, the concepts of voice, movement, character, and theme are macroconcepts. Many of these macroconcepts also pertain to literature and to other visual and performance arts, but they do not naturally transfer across to science or mathematics) (Erickson, 2000). 


Macroconcepts can be a vague abstraction noun like ‘transformation’ or ‘change’, or something more subject-specific like ‘theme’. 

But when these macro ideas become the main target of instruction, the value of microconcepts is overlooked. In other words, when an idea is too big and desituated, issues of understanding occur. Complete the process and situate the knowledge. 

7. Shall we rewrite curricula? 

The changes that will improve intellectual development, as well as academic performance, require curriculum rewrites—at not only the school district level but also the state level. Too many academic standards are incoherent in their cross-disciplinary design (Erickson, 2000). 

This is the thorny issue: rewriting a curriculum alongside all other classroom responsibilities. However, this should be an iterative process, one that I am taking in considering how to create thesis statements under these models.