Concept Classification/Principles for Teaching

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Overview[edit | edit source]

Not surprisingly, the principles for teaching concept classification reflect the phases for learning concept classification:

  • Prototype formation
  • Discrimination
  • Generalization

Prototype formation[edit | edit source]

First, the learner should form a prototype. You can facilitate this by presenting a prototypical example. This example should be very common and highly representative of as many examples of the concept as possible.

Discrimination[edit | edit source]

Next, the learner should learn what the members of the concept class have in common so that she or he can distinguish them from nonmembers. These commonalities are the critical characteristics, and their acquisition can be facilitated in two major ways. One way is to tell the learners what they are. This is called a generality, or definition, of the concept. The other way is to contrast an example of the class with a nonexample that is as similar as possible to that example. This is called a matched nonexample, because its variable characteristics and all but one of its critical characteristic are matched with those of an example. The example and matched nonexample are presented simultaneously to facilitate identifying the critical characteristic that makes one an example and not the other.

Generalization[edit | edit source]

The learners must also learn to generalize from the prototype to all other members of the class. That is, they must learn how examples can differ from each other and still be members of the class. This requires learning which are the variable characteristics that should be ignored. You can facilitate this learning in two ways: by presenting a generality which identifies the most common of the variable characteristics or by presenting examples that are as different as possible from each other. These are called divergent examples. Of course, divergent practice is just as important.

It is helpful to notice that two learning processes occur in concept classification tasks. One of them is acquisition of some general representation of the concept in memory, which is probably a combination of the generality and the prototypical example. The other is learning to apply the concept representation to the classification of new examples. Acquisition of the generality is usually facilitated by presenting the generality and the prototypical example simultaneously. You could even make a game out of the instruction by presenting lots of examples without the generality and having the learners try to discover the critical characteristics (discover the generality). But this is very different from facilitating application of the generality, which requires presenting divergent examples and practice and matched nonexamples.

Therefore, there are two kinds of learner participation which can be designed into the instruction: one to facilitate acquisition of the generality, which is inductive in nature, and one to facilitate application of the generality, which is deductive in nature. Inductive participation alone is insufficient if concept classification is your objective.

So what tactics should instruction have for concept classification tasks? It may be helpful to distinguish between routine tactics (which are routinely included in all instruction for concept classification) and power tactics (which are usually only used to strengthen the instruction for difficult concept classification tasks. This distinction may well be useful for teaching all kinds of skill application, and perhaps even for facilitating other levels of learning.

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