Identifying What to Teach: Using Concepts, Generalizations and Driving Questions, pp. 7 of 9

You may be saying to yourself, “Teaching concepts and generalizations is fine for older learners, but primary children aren’t ready for such higher order learning.”  The fact is that primary level teaching must be about concepts and generalizations or your learners will never be able to learn.  Even very young children are constantly making sense of the world around them.  They are sorting and arranging new information and experiences all the time. A curriculum based on concepts provides learners with tools to help them in this process. Your students, like all of us, are likely to forget bits of information.  What you are helping your learners, even very young learners, to do is to grasp big ideas upon which they can build as they continue to gain information and experiences.  In fact, rather than wait until children are older before focusing on concepts, it is best to start introducing concepts to them at a young age so that they can develop a schema for more complex information when they are older. As they revisit these concepts they would have developed conceptual frameworks or schemata for integrating a lot of new information. Concepts and generalizations should form the core of your teaching units or themes. These big ideas can take your learners beyond specific topics to broader understandings which can go beyond the classroom. 

Driving Questions

Generalizations are crucial to establishing the understanding goals for a lesson, a unit or a course.  However, it is questions that can drive teaching and learning. When you frame your unit understandings as over-arching questions, worded in ways that are appropriate to your learners, you provide the direction for inquiry. Over-arching questions signal to learners that they are going to be figuring something out, rather than simply taking in pre-determined facts. A few carefully worded questions can become the driver for the activities of a unit and a lesson.  They can provide coherence for your learners as they work to make sense of what they are learning.

Driving questions can and should be posed at a variety of levels. The most over-arching questions would go through an entire semester or year; they would provide the framework for your work in social studies overall.  Such questions could be asked over and over again and answered with increasing thought and sophistication.  For example, the question “What does it mean to be a Singaporean” has no easy or “right” answer.  But it can be examined and re-examined throughout the year.  These questions should be broad and few in number.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!