03 SES 01 A, Interdisciplinary and Concept-Based Curriculum Issues
The notion of concept-based teaching and learning (CBTL) is not new. Originating in the work of Hilda Taba in the early 1960’s, the fundamental assumption of concept-based teaching and learning is that in order for teachers to teach effectively, they needed to understand the two levels of knowledge: facts and concepts.
Since Taba’s work, the concept-based teaching and learning approach has resonated and influenced research, curriculum design and teaching practices, as well as nurturing fundamental arguments and contemporary debates on the role of factual knowledge in today’s curricula.
The International Baccalaureate Organisation has been at the forefront of attempts to develop curricula to go beyond the transmission of facts. The research study reported here was commissioned by IB to assess how consistent the efforts to encourage concept-based teaching and learning have been.
The major research questions of the current study were:
- What are effective approaches to concept-based teaching and learning, according to a systematic review of current literature in the field?
- What are the existing approaches to and understanding of concept-based teaching and learning embedded in the relevant curriculum documentation of each IB programme?
- Are there developments in concept-based teaching and learning that are relevant to, but are not yet reflected in, IB programmes?
The first step in the study was to undertake a literature review to identify effective approaches to concept-based teaching and learning and how conceptual understanding might be assessed in developmentally appropriate ways. The literature review used a rigorous search strategy, combined with both forward and backward snowballing. In total 158 items of research literature were consulted, ranging from books to theses to chapters and journal articles, with the vast majority dated 2000 or later. The purpose of the current presentation is to report the major outcomes of this literature review.
The next step, reported elsewhere, was to closely examine the four International Baccalaureate programmes to determine the ways that such approaches were embedded in each set of guidelines and integrated across the programmes, based on a comprehensive curriculum audit framework. Based on the literature review, thirty-three principles were extracted, grouped into five themes: The nature of concepts; Concept development; Concept-based teaching – key features; Classroom interaction in concept-based teaching; Assessing conceptual understanding.
The principles were used as an audit tool to study the curriculum documentation for each of the four IB programmes. Based on this tool, a number of comparative analyses were carried out: generic comparisons between the four programmes and an analysis of several individual subjects across the four programmes.
The aim of the element of the study which is reported in this paper, was to undertake a systematic literature review to identify effective approaches to Concept-Based Teaching and Learning and to the assessment of conceptual understanding. Our first step, therefore, was to develop a range of linked search terms, including “concepts”, “concept development”, “concept-based teaching”, “concept-based learning”, “assessment of concept development”. These terms were used for our initial literature searches, guided by the research questions underpinning the project. Thus, our literature review was structured into four main headings: 1. What are concepts and how do they typically develop in learners? How is this development influenced by teaching, maturation and/or experience? 2. How can the development of concepts in educational settings and conceptual understanding in specific areas be assessed in ways appropriate to the particular learners? 3. What models of CBTL have been proposed and how do these align with typical concept development? 4. What teaching approaches and strategies appear to facilitate the development of conceptual understanding? The overall aim of this literature review process was to produce a set of research-based principles for and features of effective concept-based teaching, which could then be used as a template for subsequent auditing of curriculum documents. The research method for the literature review presented here was based on the guidelines given by Kitchenham and Charters (2007) and Petersen et al. (2015). It involved three main phases: 1. Planning: this refers to the pre-review activities, which aimed to establish a review protocol beginning with the research questions, and going on to define inclusion and exclusion criteria, sources of literature, and the search string. 2. Conducting: in this phase the initial searches were conducted and relevant studies selected. An on-going record was kept of themes emerging, and a thematic map was gradually built up. 3. Reporting: this final phase involved the production of a written review suitable for external consumption and in a form suitable for subsequent use as an audit tool for extant curricula. Inevitably, the process of locating literature relevant to the research questions was not quite as simple as the above phase description suggests. We did at several points also find it necessary to conduct forward and backward snowballing activities using the reference lists and citation records of selected studies, in order to identify additional relevant studies (Wohlin, 2014).
The literature review was structured around the four research questions and for each, the aim was to gain a critical understanding of the key ideas and to extract principles related to each area. These principles were: Concepts are mental representations of categories of objects which develop spontaneously as children make sense of the world. Schooling needs to build upon these spontaneous concepts by deliberately introducing learners to a wider range of scientific/academic concepts. Children’s concepts are generally localised to a particular area of expertise and may not generalise to other areas without deliberate prompting. Students learn best when concepts are taught in the context of a specific domain of knowledge and when they are solving authentic problems. Talking to learners, whether through structured interviews or guided questioning is one of the most effective ways of accessing their thought processes. Asking students to express their ideas graphically can also provide a powerful window into their understandings. Concept-based teaching is a form of inductive teaching in which learners are guided to understand the big ideas rather than being taught directly about these ideas. In concept-based teaching, teachers are not required to teach ALL the factual content of a subject but should select only material they need to ensure that students can access and learn the big ideas. The big ideas of a subject take the form of concepts and generalisations which help learners manage and make sense of the massive amount of information they encounter. Such categorisations function as “hooks” on which learners can “hang” new information. Dialogic teaching has been shown to lead to enhanced learning and is characterised by features of classroom interaction such as, collectivity and reciprocity. Active learning pedagogies have been shown to improve student conceptual understanding and involve students actively reflecting upon what they are learning.
Kitchenham, B.A., Charters, S. (2007). Guidelines for performing systematic literature reviews in software engineering. Technical Report EBSE 2007-001. Keele University and Durham University, UK. Medwell, J., Wray, D., Bailey, L., Biddulph, M., Hagger-Vaughan, L., Mills, G., Oliver, M., Wake, G. (2019) Concept-based teaching and learning: Integration and alignment across IB programmes – A report to the International Baccalaureate Organisation. The Hague: International Baccalaureate Organisation. Available at: https://www.ibo.org/contentassets/318968269ae5441d8df5ae76542817a0/cbtl-final-report.pdf Petersen, K., Vakkalanka, S., Kuzniarz, L. (2015). Guidelines for conducting systematic mapping studies in software engineering: An update. IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 64, 1-1 Taba, H. (1962). Curriculum development: theory and practice. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace & World. Taba, H. 1966. Teaching strategies and cognitive functioning in elementary school children. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco State College. (Co-operative Research Project, no. 2404.) Wohlin, C. (2014) Guidelines for Snowballing in Systematic Literature Studies and a Replication in Software Engineering. In Proceedings of the 18th International Conference on Evaluation and Assessment in Software Engineering (EASE). Available at http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.709.9164&rep=rep1&type=pdf
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