What is a Concept?

A concept is a generalization of a group.  When I think of a concept, it’s hard not to think of sorting and classification.  While working as a teacher-researcher for a NSF funded grant, I conducted a study looking into prekindergarten students’ abilities to sort objects by various categories.  These four and five year olds had not been instructed to sort objects by color, shape, or size.  If you know anything about sorting and classification instructional recommendations and teaching standards, you know that the recommendation is for students to  learn to sort by color, shape, and size in prekindergarten and kindergarten settings.  As their teacher, I never “taught” sorting and classification by these three groups, I just asked how the objects, letters, or numbers were similar or alike.  Sometimes the attributes noted were color, shape, and size, but often they were other visual, capacity, and auditory groupings.  

I observed that my prekindergarten students acquired the ability to sort by various attributes through exposure and authentic learning opportunities.  We classified everything, from objects to letters and numbers and by the end of the year, we even sorted three letter (CVC) words.  This knowledge of student learning, has led me to believe that learners of any age, need repeated exposure to concepts while also the ability to make generalizations, and build on prior learning.  Open-ended discussions and formative assessment guides future instructional delivery practices.  I’ve often returned to this period of time in my life and reflected on my young students’ absorption of knowledge.  Sometimes as educators, we over teach a concept and stress memorization and rigid ideas.  Most of the time, we need to allow learners the ability to discover the concepts intended in an authentic learning experience.  Meaningful learning is memorable.

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