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Understanding Integration in Concept Development

19 Dec 2013 by Guest Blogger

One of the more difficult CLASS™ indicators to identify and measure is integration—connecting concepts together and connecting them to previously learned concepts. When assessing this indicator, I ask myself, "Did the teacher ask or state explicitly how two ideas are related?" Two examples of this are:

 

  • "The hungry caterpillar's cocoon is kind of like he's all wrapped up in a snugly blanket, isn't it?"
  • "We've been learning how to put letters together to write our names, haven't we? Well, we can use letters to spell words, too. "

Concept Development is all about helping children think about the how and the why of things. Understanding how and why always involves integrating concepts. One simple way to think about analysis and reasoning is "examining the facts to find reasons for things." A concept may be an idea, a bit of factual information, or even an action that when logically connected with other concepts becomes reasoning. If the teacher asked, "Why do you think the caterpillar was so hungry?" the children would have to piece together information. This would most likely involve an in-depth conversation about what happened in the story, in which the teacher scaffolds with questions like:

  • "Where did he go after he ate all that food?"
  • "What was he doing while he was inside his cocoon?"
  • "Did he come right back out, or did he stay inside there for a while?"
  • "Did he have any food in there?"
  • "Why do we eat food?"
  • "Do you think he ate all that food so he could grow up and turn into a butterfly?"

All of these ideas can make up connections that lead to children's ultimate understanding of why the caterpillar was so hungry. More difficult questions like this do require sustained back-and-forth exchanges and numerous connections.

At the high end of Concept Development, we see frequent examples of analysis and reasoning, and the teacher's questions lead to sustained instructional discussions. Concepts must be identified (analysis) and then explicitly and logically linked together (integration) through the higher-order process of reasoning, leading to new understanding.

What we see when this happens is a teacher who is intentionally guiding children through a series of logical connections; together they are "thinking out loud." In this way, integration at high levels is not only frequent throughout the observation (taking place within several different conversations), but it’s also very explicit. When scaffolding and other attempts do not lead children to uncover connections for themselves, the teacher clearly points them out. When the children do make their own connections, the teacher repeats them so that everything is broken down explicitly.

When assessing the level of integration in an observation, helpful questions are:

  • Did the teacher explicitly ask children to make connections or did she explicitly state the connections?
  • Does the explicit connection of concepts happen frequently throughout the observation?
  • Did children reach new levels of understanding as the result of connections?

We can certainly understand why the indicator of integration can be difficult to assess, let alone to engage in, with young children frequently during the course of a lesson or activity. However, knowing the context and the purpose of pursuing explicit connections (pushing for understanding) helps us better analyze our observations and strive to think up new ways of explaining and exemplifying the indicator to teachers.

Obviously, I love talking about the intricacies and nuances of Concept Development and the entire Instructional Support domain. Through our new Instructional Support Strategies training, I’m able to do this on a regular basis and continue to learn from each of you. Let me know what you think in the comments, or better yet, join us at one of our upcoming Instructional Support Strategies trainings to learn more.

sara-beach.jpgSara Beach is a former Teachstone Staff Trainer. She has frequently presented on topics such as Helping Teachers with the Instructional Supports, through active, adult-learning approaches. She has been an Infant-toddler teacher, center director, education specialist, coach-mentor, and early childhood college instructor, and her highest honor has been supporting teachers.

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