Designing and Implementing Concept-Based Curriculum

Catherine Little


In the media, in the educational literature, and in the general public discourse today, there is a wide awareness of the information overload to which we are currently subject. Given our accessibility to information and the ever-increasing capacity of the informational tools close to our fingertips, the role of schools becomes much more a responsibility of helping students find and make sense of information than of delivering it.

Within this context, an approach to curriculum and instruction that focuses on the delivery and retention of facts is neither practical nor productive. Yet as Erickson (2002, 2007) noted, many standards documents continue to maintain an emphasis on a fact-based and topic-based structure. Moreover, in many classrooms and schools, instruction continues to reflect an approach focused on delivery of content rather than on building understanding.

A concept-based approach to curriculum and instruction organises the learning experience more around meaning-making and the learner’s ability to sort, integrate, and transfer understanding in multiple contexts (Erickson, 2007; Partington & Buckingham, 2012). Such an approach may also increase overall meaningfulness and students’ sense of connection to what they are learning (Jacobs, 1989). Several research studies comparing conceptually oriented curriculum with more traditional approaches have demonstrated that students working with a conceptual focus learn the content just as well as or better than their peers in comparison classes, while outperforming those peers in measures of critical and conceptual thinking (Chappell & Killpatrick, 2003; McCoy & Ketterlin-Geller, 2004; VanTassel-Baska & Stambaugh, 2008).

C. Little (*)

Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut, Mansfield, CT, USA e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017

L.S. Tan et al. (eds.), Curriculum for High Ability Learners, Education Innovation Series, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-2697-3_4

This chapter briefly addresses some of the rationale and benefits of a concept- based approach to curriculum and then turns to consideration of some of the issues and challenges presented by such an approach, along with some recommendations for ways of addressing these issues and challenges.

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