Posts Tagged ‘Concepts and Facts’

The “Big Idea” of Concept Attainment~

Blog for Survey of Instructional Strategies–Module 4:

Throughout the readings and discussions for this week, I have appreciated the relative “rest” that I believe the Concept Attainment instructional model has to offer us as teachers. While the details (facts) are indeed important and clearly have their place, the overarching themes (concepts) are what we hope will stand the test of time for our students. Were we to simply focus on the facts by “knowing all about something” as opposed to understanding the broader concept, we would have difficulty generalizing to other settings and situations.  In this week’s screencast, entitled Concept Attainment to Structures in Disciplines, Dr. Williams addresses the importance of looking for themes and “big ideas” that are “fundamentally worth pursuing”–suggesting that “the content may change, but the themes remain”.

Colleague, Chris, shares: “…if I teach the students how to solve a specific problem, they only know how to solve that problem.  On the other hand, if I teach the students to solve a type of problem, then the students can solve any problem that fits into that category”. While working with my high school students on self-advocacy and communication skills, I try to keep this perspective in mind. So much of what we try to emphasize is “problem solving” on the broader scale of situations in life, such as how to ask for an accommodation in a particular class. My hope, of course, is that they will internalize the process of; determining the need, the appropriate intervention, and how to appropriately make a request—so that they will be able to do the same in college or on a job, if necessary. I want to teach my students to generalize and transfer their understandings and skills to other settings.

Sometimes by asking students to explain what method has worked best for them in the past, we can customize a system that will work well as they take on new responsibilities of more challenging endeavors.  I believe authors Dell’Olio and Donk address the individualized approach when they say, “In the constructivist view of learning, students construct meaning and make sense of information individually….A constructivist might say that teachers are teaching as many lessons as there are students in the classroom”,(p. 134).

As was shown in the “Private Universe” video, misconceptions often persist long past the introduction of new facts intended to convey a different perspective. Students in the video clearly had to wrestle with “the old” in the face of “the new” as they processed the information. Regardless of the concepts we are endeavoring to teach our students—whether they be specific scientific concepts, the concept of what it means to be a “good student”, or the concept of God—there seems to be a definite tension between “old and new”, as well as a “process” to engage in when coming to a new level of understanding. My understanding of the Concept Attainment model is that this approach provides a vehicle to help students process their thoughts and express their understandings.


Dell’Olio, J. M., Donk, T. (2007). Models of Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

A Private Universe. 1987. Produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Retrieved from SPU Blackboard, January 28, 2012 from:

Williams, T. (2012) Concept Attainment to Structures in Disciplines. Screencast retrieved from SPU Blackboard at: