How to Teach a Concept Attainment Lesson

Hi, this is Jennifer Gonzalez for
Cult of Pedagogy. I’m going to demonstrate an instructional
strategy called Concept Attainment. This is a really cool technique for
introducing a new idea, for helping students grasp a concept
that is abstract, complicated, or difficult to pin down with a simple
definition. In science, this could be something like
the concept of mammal, or in math, linear equation.
It could be a social studies topic like communism, or a grammar term like noun.
In health, it might be the characteristics of a balanced meal. In corporate training, the
characteristics of effective feedback. In a place like culinary school, this may
be the qualities of a good stock, or in music, the characteristics of the
Baroque style. In PE, maybe it’s the proper form of
something like a golf swing. Here’s how it works: First, the teacher
shows a series of examples. We call these Yes and No examples. The Yes examples embody all of the qualities of the idea that
you’re trying to show them. And the No examples might have some, but
not all, of those qualities. As they watch these examples, students
develop a common definition for all of the Yes examples — or they attempt to do this. Then the students test and refine their list by looking at more examples. So I’m going to demonstrate this by showing you a short lesson on
figurative language, which is a concept we look at in language arts or English classes. Now before I start, I’ll say something like
this to my students: At the beginning, start with the simplest, most obvious kinds of examples, so students can identify the basic characteristics. Here’s a Yes example of figurative language: “Joe is a beast when he’s hungry.” And here’s a No example: “Joe is cranky when he’s hungry.” It’s important that your No examples not be so obvious that they’re not taken seriously. For example, if you’re running a workshop
on appropriate dress in the workplace, you don’t want your No examples to be so
outrageous that participants don’t really have to think to discern a difference. Here’s another Yes example: “This class is like a torture chamber.” And a No: “This class is boring.” At this point, students should already be starting to develop a theory
about the concept you’re presenting. You might ask them to share their
thoughts, or keep silent. Now that you have these
first few examples, show a few more, gradually adding more
that stray from the basic level. On the Yes side, I might add:
“The flowers smiled up at the sun.” On the No side:
“I had fun at the party.” In this case I’m starting to not do
such an even parallel between the two because I’m starting to want to broaden their
understanding of this concept. I’ll add:
“My computer refuses to cooperate.” Now ask students to come up with a list
of attributes that describe this concept. In this case, some students initially thought that my examples were all similes and metaphors. They suggest these, so I put them down,
because we’re sort of brainstorming right now. Then they looked more carefully at the
last two Yes examples and realized a more broad description was
needed to cover all the examples. So we cross those out, and change the definition to: “Comparing something human to something not human.” But then that idea was scrapped when
they realized that “class” and “torture chamber” weren’t exactly human and non-human items. So an even more broad definition was written: “Comparing two unlike things to make a point.” So here they’re starting to get the idea that figurative language is where you are using some sort of device
to make a point instead of just saying it plainly. Now that students are satisfied with
their definition, we test it by giving them more Yes examples. Hopefully some that might challenge the
group’s definition further. So I would add on: “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Here they’re still sort of comparing
raining to the idea of cats and dogs flying out of the sky to make a point, so this kind of fits the definition. But then I give them this one: “I’m dying of thirst.”
Now we’re really starting to stretch. This is an example of hyperbole, so it’s an exaggeration. After seeing two more Yes examples, students revise their last definition, which was this, and they change it to this, “Saying something that isn’t literally
true, but gets a feeling across.” In this definition, one student used the word “literally,” which happens to tie directly into the
concept I’m trying to teach them… Figurative language is the opposite of literal language. At this point, I can spend a few minutes
giving students the formal definition for figurative language and the terms for the examples I showed them.
Now if you’re a language arts person, you’re probably thinking that I have not
included all types of figurative language. I’m not using sound devices in this one,
like onomatopoeia or alliteration because I think they start
to get pretty far away from the idea of “speaking figuratively,” and I’m trying to
get my students understand the concept of speaking figuratively versus literally. So I would add those other types once
they’ve got a good foundation in figurative language. Okay, so now I’ve completed my first
three steps of Concept Attainment: Yes-No examples,
Students develop a definition, and then they test and refine their
definition by looking at more examples and seeing if they hold up. The final step is to have students apply
their learning in a new task. This could be something really simple
like having them come up with new examples of figurative language. Or if they’re currently working on a piece of writing, I might ask them to go into their drafts
now and find three places to add figurative language. That’s Concept Attainment. I learned the steps of this strategy from Silver, Strong, & Perini’s
wonderful book, The Strategic Teacher. The Concept Attainment strategy is based
largely on the work of Jerome Bruner in his book, Beyond the Information Given. If you have used Concept Attainment and
have more information to add, please let us know in the comments section of this video. Happy teaching, guys!

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