Considerations and Recommendations

The issues and challenges described above centre around the initial development and refinement of concept-based curriculum and then around the interpretation and implementation of the curriculum by individual teachers within the context of schools. Given these issues and challenges, some key considerations and recommendations emerge from the literature and from specific experience with both parts of the endeavour. These considerations are grouped in this section into three interrelated categories: (a) aspects of the curriculum development process, specifically regarding how conceptual understandings are developed and communicated;

(b) exploration and communication of fidelity of implementation with regard to concept-based curriculum; and (c) professional development.

Conceptual Understandings

As explored extensively above, concepts and conceptual understandings are most effective in the curriculum when they are presented and reinforced as tools for interpreting the world around us and the disciplines from which our school subjects emerge. This is not to say that all concepts and conceptual understandings are relativistic; there are key principles and generalisations fundamental to different disciplines that guide the development and implementation of the curriculum, but these too should be viewed as vehicles for building, testing, and evaluating understanding more than as specific points of content to be memorised.

Milligan and Wood (2010), in commenting on concept-based curriculum in social studies in New Zealand, raise some key points about conceptual understanding that should guide the curriculum development process. They emphasised that the conceptual understandings we select necessarily bring some aspects of our world into the forefront and leave others in the background; therefore, the very process of selecting and interpreting conceptual understandings for the purpose of curriculum development is inherently value-laden. They also argued that concepts themselves are contestable and that their defining characteristics may vary depending on the context. This relates to Jonassen’s (2006) claim that the most defensible approach to learning concepts is to focus on concepts in use, on patterns of concepts, their relationships, and how we examine essential characteristics as we work to classify new information and to reshape understanding.

All of the perspectives discussed here on concepts and conceptual understanding underscore the point that the purpose of concept-based curriculum is to promote students’ abilities to use conceptual understanding in making meaning of the world, which requires that they hone these understandings as effective tools in context. Successful concept-based curriculum relies on expertise both in curriculum development and in the specific content under study to build those understandings as supports for the curriculum. Curriculum developers should have experience in understanding the ways that teachers and students think and respond in particular contexts and in considering how the curriculum can talk to and with the teacher rather than attempting to talk through the teacher (Remillard, 2005). Content specialists provide deep knowledge of the concepts most critical to the discipline and the guiding principles and generalisations that are most important for learners to understand, and they also know the likely misconceptions about said concepts. Together these two groups or individuals can anticipate misconceptions on the part of both teachers and students, consider how to make the concepts at once rigorous and accessible for teachers and students and think about assessment approaches that encourage demonstrations of deeper understanding of concepts and generalisations rather than reporting of statements memorised as static facts.

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