Midterm elections less that a week away. Claims and counter-claims congest the airways. How does one make sense of the conflicting claims? Some have a model through which they sort these partisan messages. Many do not. On what can a concerned citizen rely to make an intelligent decision? Answer: One can only rely on the thinking skills he/she acquired during his/her schooling and the refinements of those skills from life experiences. This post discusses an instruction method that teaches a basic component of thinking; how to categorize.
Categorizing is a fundamental skill of scientists. When we categorize, we place objects with identical characteristics in a collection. Then, we name the collection. The name assigned to the collection is the concept assigned to all member of the collection. The instruction strategy that teaches this process is concept attainment.
Concept attainment is the indirect teaching strategy that leads the learner to a concept to identify the characteristics of the concept. It is similar to the childhood guessing game in which a player identifies an object by the descriptors of the object.
Joyce and Weil present three phases of the Content Attainment Strategy.
Phase One: Presentation of Data / Identification of Concept
Phase Two: Testing Attainment of Concept
Phase Three: Analysis of Thinking Strategies
In Phase one, the teacher presents the objectives of the lesson. Care should be taken to ensure all learners are familiar with the data that will be used to describe the concept. The teacher explains how the data is presented and directs learners to note common characteristics of the data in order to formulate a hypothesis of the concept. Teacher then instructs the learners to expose their hypotheses only when directed.
The objective of this teaching strategy is to determine a concept by the defining characteristics (attributes) found in the data.
The data is presented in a two-column table.
The first column is labeled the YES column. It contains examples of the concept to be determined.
The second column is labeled the NO column. It contains non-examples of the concept
In phase two, learners test their hypotheses by labeling unidentified data as examples or non-examples or by constructing examples based on their hypothesis. It is in this phase that the teacher corrects the learner’s efforts.
Phase three is a sharing time. During this phase, teacher calls on learners to reveal their thought processes and counsels those who need redirecting. The importance of this phase cannot be overstated. For the teacher/classmate exchanges provide useful information to all listening learners.
Research shows that an instructor’s teaching methods influences how a learner learns. In addition, research reveals that during a learning situation, learners shape a construct of their world and they form views of themselves within their construct. As concept attainment places learners in an active participant role, when a learner becomes familiar with this strategy, he:
- Takes responsibility for his learning. Thus, the strategy trains learners to become a life learner, and
- Becomes skillful at using data to formulate and check hypotheses. Thus, the strategy trains her in inductive thinking.
To fully appreciate this instruction strategy, this link leads to an example lesson.