Learning, Understanding, and Conceptual Change

This week (our first week!) in CEP 810, we were asked to read the first three chapters of Bransford, Brown & Cocking’s (2000) How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Afterwards, we responded in an essay with our thoughts on learning, understanding, and conceptual change based on the reading and our professional experiences. The full essay can be found HERE. I chose to focus on the learning processes of experts and novices and how they differ based on the organization and thought processes that each puts forth during their learning. I then discussed teaching methods which help to promote learning and understanding. I incorporated Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison’s “Making Thinking Visible”, a teaching method I was introduced to last year (see my references list after the essay for the text citation). I found it to be very helpful in guiding my students through new learning and bringing their prior knowledge to the front of our lessons. Enjoy!


4 thoughts on “Learning, Understanding, and Conceptual Change

  1. Whitney, I thought your essay was thought provoking in that it captured the essential concepts of learning as well as providing your own teaching techniques and experiences. The key in knowing the difference between the two types of learners is that they “do not rush for the first answer that comes to mind”. As you have stated, allowing young learners wait time gives them the opportunity to successfully come up with a solution. Encouraging “think before you speak” in the classroom will enable students to practice these expert learning techniques so that they begin to use it themselves.

    Activating students’ prior knowledge was something I discussed in my essay as well. Along with using it as a power teaching tool in bridging old information with the new, teachers must also be mindful of misconceptions and how to intervene. I have also had the problem of pacing in content areas especially when the majority of the students do not grasp the concept. My teaching partner and I would converse daily of each other’s progress and see if our students were roughly progressing the same. If one of us struggled with a lesson where the students were unable to grasp or comprehend the concept fully, the other would go over the lesson giving brief teacher and student moves. Not only did another teacher’s style aid a student, but it also built the other teacher’s methodologies and techniques that they can use if and when the occasion calls for it. At other times, we would coordinate with the 5th grade teacher and ask if couple of the students would come and teach our 3rd grade class on various math concepts such as simplifying fractions. As you previously stated, this provides students with multiple and various opportunities to become fully immersed in the subject.

    I also love the concept of “making thinking visible” which is demonstrated through KWL charts. Visuals such as anchor and KWL charts assist students in revisiting their misconceptions and discuss how and why their ideas have changed. This is especially useful since most of my students are English language learners. Not only are the students seeing a thinking process, but it also creates comprehensible input for them in order to be successful.

    The last thought that really resonated with me was “technology is constantly changing, and teachers need to prepare their students for what is to come.” This is the very reason why I and others in our program joined in order to be proficient in educational technologies for our students. It will be paramount for all teachers to be “accomplished novices” in technology and constantly stay on top of all the new technological developments as they become the “it” tool in the classrooms.


  2. Whitney, I enjoyed your essay. I’m strong believer in trying to access students’ prior knowledge of a subject and build upon it. The way that you discussed how expert learners will look for connections to their big ideas and novices often need further instruction and/or additional real world examples made me wonder how best to help students learn to make connections. It seems to be very commonplace for teachers to give leading questions to help create links between concepts, but are we really teaching them to create the links or are we simply helping create links. Both are important, but if we can successfully teach to the student to strive towards linking concepts to the greater picture independently, we’ll certainly be helping more in the long run. Why does it seem as though some students naturally search for connections and others don’t? It seems as though additional real world examples and further instruction will help a student understand a concept in isolation but doesn’t help to engender searching for connections.
    I like the phrasing of “making students’ thinking visual.” As a secondary math teacher I often run into a problem where students are able to successfully complete a problem but afterwards are unable to tell me, in general, how they did it or what it means. I find myself asking them for a step-by-step description, which is more manageable for them. Having them describe their processes, I’m hoping to draw out some form of metacognition in order to apply a process to a similar problem. I think that talking with them about making their thinking visual and looking for overlaps in methods would be a great help to them.


    • You should check out “Making Thinking Visible” by Ron Ritchhart. It’s a bit lengthy, but they have thinking routines for before, during, and after a lesson. There are so many to choose from, but they provide really great descriptions on each routine and give an example from someone who used it before. The only difficult thing is saving the time in your lesson to really go through the routine process and their thinking after the fact, but that comes with time. It’s really great to see how much they are able to visibly show, and provides a different format for exploration of concepts!


  3. Whitney,
    I thought you made a few excellent points! As educators we are constantly reminded that we need to treat all students as individuals. It means meeting the needs of the novice learner, the expert learner, and everyone in between. First we must be able to distinguish between them.
    Writer’s Workshop is an excellent example of one way that you are teaching your students to become expert learners. Your mini lessons are grouped around one big concept or idea. You are modeling every day how to chunk their thinking, to organize ideas into categories that are centered around a bigger category.
    Giving proper response time, and explaining that expert learners take time to think through their solutions before responding is an extremely important concept and skill. I think many teachers do practice using appropriate wait time, but I wonder how many actually explain why they are waiting, and what the thinkers should or could be thinking about during that time.
    A great point you made, that is simple but too often overlooked, is the need for educators to really identify the ways their learners process learning and information. This helps the educator decide what strategies to use, which ones will be effective. We have been working on that during professional development for the past two weeks. Our staff has been deeply embedded in data analysis: looking for trends and patterns, and looking at the questions, along with similar questions on tests, to determine where errors are coming from. Is it students not being able to make a calculation? Or is it a reading and vocabulary issue? Or is it a poorly worded question? If we do not spend time analyzing results and data, along with the actual assessment questions, we many never use the correct teaching strategy to correct the misconceptions.


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