How We Learn
A personal journey into how we learn and communicating the science behind learning.
The big idea here is, when teaching and learning, we should start with multiple concrete examples first and then carefully move toward more and more abstract ideas.
What are Concrete and Abstract Ideas?
Defining concrete vs. abstract seems simple at first but understanding it and using it to help your teaching is not always as easy.
Concrete concepts: These are concepts that are more physical and tangible.
Abstract concepts: These are concepts that exist more in thought.
But in actuality, concrete vs abstract varies at different levels and for different experiences. These concepts are dependent on prior knowledge and specificity of the task or situation.
Example: House seems like a concrete term at first, but when we stop to think about it, it can become more abstract.
There are many different kinds of houses, what they look like how we can describe them, can make a difference.
Does a house = a home?
Do the materials that make up a house matter?
Can an apartment be a house?
At what point does a house become a mansion or a hut?
Why Is This Important
When teaching or learning a new concept it is important to start with multiple specific concrete ideas/examples. The more tangible and interactive (interactive means involving the senses: movement, touch, taste, smell, sound, visual) these examples are the better.
Ex. If an example of a house is used to explain something, and a student has only ever lived in an apartment.
This helps them to understand exactly what connections are trying to be made.
It highlights areas of confusion or lack of knowledge a student might have.
It helps them be more specific about which questions to ask to further their knowledge.
It allows them to try to make specific and explicit connections to the concepts that are important.
It can also highlight any areas where students might not have the appropriate background knowledge. This allows the teacher valuable information that will help them adjust their teaching to meet the learners needs.
Concrete to Abstract In Real Life
What MIGHT this look like in real life?
Teaching Rotation vs. Revolution
Concrete Examples might be:
Act out examples of rotation vs. revolution
Watch videos of the difference between rotation vs. revolution
Look at a diagram of rotation vs. revolution.
More Abstract Examples might be:
Worksheet describing the definition of rotation vs. revolution.
Paper and pencil activities on rotation and revolution.
In the beginning, multiple concrete examples should be used to help make the initial direct and explicit connections to the ideas and concepts that are supposed to be learned or that are important for a specific learning objective.
Later, more abstract activities can be used that help students make deeper and broader connections which in turn creates more opportunities for further transfer of knowledge.
Concrete examples also have another important element to them that is useful to know. This is called Concreteness Fading.
Concreteness fading is a process by which initial learning with a concrete representation occurs, and then over time, key components of the concrete representation are replaced by more idealized and abstract representations.
We saw this effect when we talked about the benefits of spacing and spaced retrieval.
If you want to learn more about Concrete Examples: