How is the concept attainment model different from the concept development model in education?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The concept attainment model in education is credited to Jerome Bruner, and it is a strategy which uses structured inquiry to help students determine the attributes of something the teacher has formed. Students are given examples of items which contain the proscribed attributes as well as examples which do not contain those attributes. 

Students then look at both sets of examples--in groups, single units or all together--and attempt to identify those attributes which distinguish one group of examples or samples from the other. 

An effective example given from one of the links below uses concept attainment to help students determine two groups of math concepts. One pile of facts (in the form of cards or anything else that works) contains math problems that all result in the number ten. For example, 2 + 8, 1 x 10, 14 - 4 are all different ways of expressing the concept of 10. The other pile will contain problems that do not result in 10, such as 11 + 1 or 5 - 5. 

As students see these examples, the teacher should not let them just "blurt" out the pattern when they see it. As more students figure out the concept that all of these cards either equal 10 or do not equal 10, they can begin to offer their own examples in each category without actually revealing the pattern. This not only creates interest and enthusiasm, but it also allows the slower students to keep working while the quicker students work in another way. 

This process is often used to introduce concepts and ideas which will apply to content which is to come, but of course as students get better at it, teachers can use the concept attainment theory to teach virtually any new concept or idea. 

While the concept attainment model is useful primarily at the beginning of a new lesson or idea, the concept development model is perhaps best as a culminating strategy for a unit or lesson.

An example given in one of the links below demonstrates this model as an exercise in teaching theme after the class had read several novels. Here the teacher identifies a theme which can be found in all of the novels and then lists all of the actions of the main characters which fit the theme. For example, she might chose the theme of loyalty and then identify the ways in which all of the main characters demonstrated loyalty in the novels.

Once that is completed, students are encouraged to begin grouping all of those items into identifiable categories. For example, perhaps one common category of loyalty is supporting people when others will not. As students continue to group the items on the theme web, they soon reduce the big master list into four or five identifiable traits of loyalty, such as listening and supporting. 

The concept development process gives you a way to focus on a selected number of "big ideas"--or generalizations--that you want your students to grasp.

This process can be done aloud or individually, allowing all students to participate equally, just like the attainment concept model.

In a way, these two models are opposites. One is most productive to introduce new concepts while the other is best to connect concepts that have already been studied or taught. In both cases, however, students at all levels of proficiency can experience both excitement and success through the process of discovery and learning. 

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