Figure 1: 5 learning pathway for the concept: interdependence
The model is a fusion of mastery learning assessment (Activate/Assess) with a 3-stage learning taxonomy (Acquire/Apply/Analyse). These stages are based on the New Taxonomy (Kendall and Marzano 2006). The stages also bear similarities to the revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Anderson et al, 2000). Here is the set of learning pathways for the 3 Key Concepts in the Interdependence unit.
Example scheme of work
- Activate: pre-assessment
- Acquire: students develop a firm grasp of the ideas
- Apply: students use the concept in unfamiliar situations
- Assess: diagnostic assesssment
- Analyse: students use higher order thinking
Blueprint is a curriculum framework, not a scheme of work. We are creating additional products with teaching activities and assessment. Here is a what a scheme that follows our learning pathway might look like for the year 7 concept: feeding relationships. Click on the image to to the ‘board’. There you can see the details of each activity.
Diagnose before teaching
Would you be happy if your doctor prescribed you medicine as soon as you came in, without listening to your symptoms? Yet we often do this to students by teaching new concepts before we’ve checking that they’re ready to learn them. Does it matter?
Yes, because research shows that what students already know is one of the most important factors in learning. Teachers sometimes start a topic with a brief review and then launch into the new material. However, this does not fully take into account how students learn: they construct concepts out of their existing ideas by connecting these with new information. So if there are students who didn’t grasp the earlier concepts, they will not be able to make sense of the new ones unless we address their learning gap.
This purpose of the Activate stage is to check whether students are ready for the new concept, before teaching. Activate fits into our mastery assessmentmodel, and consists of two parts.
- Diagnostic pre-assessment: An activity to find out whether students understood an earlier concept, and reveal misconceptions
- Pre-teaching: An interactive teaching activity to help fill gaps in knowledge or inaccurate ideas
Don’t cover – uncover
Acquire is the main learning stage where students build an understanding of the new concept. In our big ideas framework, concepts are complex ideas such as scientific models, principles or abstract concepts that require understanding. These cannot be transmitted directly through a PowerPoint presentation (though that doesn’t stop some people )
Students have to construct the ideas themselves, with teacher guidance of course. There is a time for telling but what is most important is that students gain the insight into the concept
This often starts by exploring phenomena to make sense of them. Then the scientific terms are introduced – labels can be attached to experiences that already have meaning. Often we providing explanations before students have puzzled over questions. This risks students memorising the content, leading to superficial, disconnected knowledge. Not to mention communicating that science is ‘a body of knowledge to be learned’.
>> Building up concepts: Knowledge structure in Blueprint
We believe that there are 3 essential parts of this learning process, and the most familiar explanation part is at the end:
- Engagement: Curiosity in a phenomenon, question or problem that leads to uncovering the concept
- Exploration: Students are actively involved in puzzling out the phenomenon, question or problem and gain hands on experience.
- Explanation: Introduction of the formal concept, models or principle and how it explains the phenomenon, question or problem
Apply means using concepts in unfamiliar situations and is equivalent to GCSE assessment objective 2. This is the point of teaching concepts – for students to use them in new contexts . However, it is far from given that they well, and most students struggle. Psychologist Edward Thorndike lamented the problem of ‘inert knowledge’ 100 years ago. Compartmentalising knowledge makes sense: different situations require us to behave in different ways so we need to store the information about where to use each knowledge.
Researchers have struggled to solve the problem of ‘transferring knowledge’ but the best advice is to deliberately teach for transfer. In other words, expose students to the full range of contexts that you want them to transfer their knowledge to. That means spending more time applying, and this is why there is a specific stage devoted to it.
One part of teaching for transfer is practice. This helps students build up a pattern in the minds that connects the concept with all the different ways to use it, and also when not to use it. This is what characterises an expert’s understanding, and there is no short cut. Students need to be given many situations where they have to think: ‘what concept applies here, and what are the relevant parts I need?’
>> Teach for transfer: Apply thinking strategy
The other part of teaching for transfer is to help students improve the way they think with knowledge. In other words teach students how to Apply. We have broken down Apply into a 3-step process, which can be taught through our Apply Practice Book.
Having taught the concept, and given students opportunities to practise using it, we want to know whether students need more time. So assess is a stage of diagnostic assessment that fits within our mastery assessment model.
- Diagnostic post-assessment: An activity to find out whether students have acquired and apply the concept, and reveal misconceptions
- Re-teaching: An interactive teaching activity to help fill gaps in knowledge or inaccurate ideas
Analyse means using concepts with higher order thinking. It is equivalent to GCSE assessment objective 3 and similar to the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Higher order thinking means going beyond what wast taught. It is reasoning with the concept and new information to make new interpretations, conclusions, evaluations and judgements. We have positioned this stage after the diagnostic assessment, because it is more advanced.
Introduction to ‘Dimensions of Learning Teacher’s Manual, Robert Marzano et al (2013)