Teaching of Concept and Principles

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Se. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations.

— Percy W. Bridgman

A concept is a class of stimuli which have common characteristics. These stimuli are objects, events, or persons. These stimuli are objects, events, or persons. We ordinarily designate a concept by its name, such as book, war, and student, or dedicated teachers. All these concepts refer to classes or categories of stimuli. Concepts are not always congruent with our personal experience, but they represent human attempts to classify our experience at least crudely.

Concepts are distinguished by their attributes and the values of their attributes. Some concepts have more attributes than others and that some attributes are more dominant or obvious than others. Concepts with a few obvious attributes are easier to learn than concepts with several obscure attributes. As a teacher  you must determine the number and relative dominance must be given special emphasis. Large numbers of attributes can be reduced by ignoring some and focusing attention on others of by combining the attributes into a smaller number of patterns. Identifying the type of concept you are teaching makes clear the relationship of the attributes and the possible level of difficulty of the concept. Conjunctive concepts are generally (but not always) easier to learn than disjunctive or relational concepts. The student, of course, should learn the same relationship of the attributes which you used in identifying the type of concept with which you are dealing.

A principle is a statement of the relationship between two or more concepts. Principles are sometimes called rules or generalizations. A fundamental  truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.

Types of Concepts

Attributes combine in three different ways to produce three types of concepts:

A. Conjunctive Concepts

B. Disjunctive Concepts

C. Relational Concept

Conjunctive Concepts

In Conjunctive concept the appropriate values of several attributes are jointly present. They are often the easiest to learn and to teach because of the additive quality of attributes and values. More simply, attributes and values are added together to produce a conjunctive concept. The student must simply learn a list of attributes and appropriate values.

Disjunctive Concepts

A disjunctive concept is one that can  be defined in a number of different ways. In such a concept, attitudes and values are substituted for one another. Disjunctive concepts are often difficult to learn because of the seemingly arbitrary equivalence of their attributes. Disjunctive concepts are, in effect, rules which the student must learn to apply to equivalent stimulus situations.

Relational Concept

A relational concept is one that has a specifiable relationship between attributes, like time ,many, few, average, longitude, mass and weight etc.. These concepts are more difficult to learn. Since the concept does not adhere in the attributes themselves but in a particular relationship of the attributes, it is easy for the child ( and even the adult ) to become confused.

Uses of concepts and Principles

There are various ways in which concepts are useful in the student’s education and one way (as stereotypes) in which they are not always useful but are at least influential.

Concepts reduce the complexity of the environment

As concepts are not particular stimuli, but classes of stimuli. If one is forced to respond to each stimulus one encountered as unique, the complexity of the world would overwhelm us. This complexity is especially evident with the present knowledge explosion, which forces us to develop efficient categories of information to spare ourselves the distraction of  fine detail. The fact that we can group events into classes is an important source of mastery over our environment.

The learning of concepts and principles, therefore, enables the student to grasp, in an array of environment stimuli, similarities and dissimilarities and differences which he would otherwise have great difficulty coping with. Education, in this sense gives the student environment mastery which he would otherwise lack.

Concepts help us to identify the objects of the world around us

This use is closely related to the first use, we have described. Identification involves placing an object in a class and, therefore, reducing the complexity of the environment. Identification are never absent from our experience.

Concepts and Principles provide direction for instrumental activity

By using concepts and principles we know in advance the actions we can take; placing the object or person in the right class enables us to arrive at important decisions. This use is probably very important in problem solving. In problem solving, it is possible that we try different classes for an object until we find one that it fits in and one that solve the problem.

Concepts and Principles make instruction possible

The steps involve for the teaching of concepts and principles are largely embodied in a set of verbal instructions. These instructions would not be possible if the student have not already learned some concepts and principles.

Suggested Instructional Procedure for The Teaching of Concepts

Jhon P.De Cecco and William Crawford describe the teaching of concepts as a series of seven steps which conform to the four components of the basic teaching model. Step 1 and 2 pertain to instructional objectives. Step 1 requires a statement of the objective and step 2, a type of task analysis. Step 3 provides the student with the appropriate entering behavior. Step 4 through 6 is specific instructional procedures for concept teaching and step 7 deals with performance assessment.

Step One-

Describe the Performance Expected of the Student After He Has Learned the Concept

In the case of concept learning, the expected performance is the correct identification of new examples of the concept. For the concept direct object, this could be the expected performance; When given new examples of direct objects in English sentences, the student will correctly identify them. You will note that this description of terminal behavior requires a performance quite different from rattling off this definition; A direct object is a noun or pronoun which receives the action of a verb. The student might very well memorize the definition and fail to identify direct objects. And, conceivably, the student could correctly identify direct objects and not give a very good definition. The description of the expected behavior should not include the requirement that the student give a definition of the concept.

Describing terminal behavior has two purposes. First, the teacher has a means for assessing the adequacy of the performance and for determining the need for further instruction. The teacher at a given point in time may not desire that the students for completely able to identify and use the concept. In the beginning, for example, the teacher may be quite satisfied to have the students recognize direct objects only in simple English sentences. Later, he may want the students to recognize direct objects in compound sentences in both dependent and independent clauses. Still later he may want the students to use direct objects in various sentence contexts. The prior description of the students’ expected performance  clearly indicates to the teacher and to the students the degree of adequacy the students are to attain at a particular time. Second, the students have a way of assessing their own performance and of determining when their learning is complete. The students’ self-assessments then become a way of generation their own reinforcement.

Step Two

Reduce the Number of Attributes to be learned in Complex Concepts and Make Important Attributes Dominant

In this step what you learned about the values, number, dominance and relationship of attributes can be put to pedagogical use. This step requires you to make an analysis to the concepts you decide to teach your students. The determination of the values and the number of attributes can be made before instruction is underway. The determination of the dominance of the attributes requires experimentation on your part and observation of which important attributes students are likely to ignore. After you have made these determinations, you must devise procedures for teaching the concept. Two general procedures reduce the number of attributes of complex concepts: You can ignore some of the attributes and focus on those you think most important, or you can code the attributes into fewer patterns. The choice of which attributes to ignore requires that the teacher have considerable familiarity with the concept and its ordinary use. For a complete comprehension of the concept, the learner would have to learn all the attributes listed.

Step Three

Provide the Student with Useful Verbal Mediators

The teacher should ascertain the child’s knowledge of the words used as attributes and attribute values and his knowledge of the relational words that are necessary. In this step you can see how verbal and concept learning are related. Considerable evidence indicates that the learning of certain names or labels (as verbal mediators ) facilitates the student’s learning of a concept. Some studies even indicate the type of verbal association which can be most helpful. THIS STEP PRIMARILY CONCERNS ENTERING BEHAVIOUR. In this step we establish the verbal associations necessary for learning the  concept. We are beginning to realize that verbal learning and concept learning have much in common.

Step Four

Provide Positive and Negative Examples of the Concept

In discussing this step, we shall use the word EXAMPLE rather than INSTANCE or EXAMPLER since EXAMPLE is used more frequently in discussions of teaching. A positive example of a concept is one which contains the attributes of the concept. A negative example is one which does not contain one or more of  the attributes For example the positive examples of the concept of bird are canary, hummingbird, and robin , while negative examples are dog, cat, snake, fly, bee , and even bat. The research on the concept learning indicates that provision of negative and positive examples is a major condition of learning. We can even say that the use of positive and negative examples is an essential condition for the learning of concepts. The presentation of mixed series of positive and negative examples is usually more effective than the presentation of a purely positive or a purely negative series.. Presentation of only negative examples makes concept learning extremely difficult. As for number, you should present enough positive examples to represent the range of attributes and attribute value. In the case of negative examples, you should present at least enough of these to eliminate irrelevant attributes which students are likely to include as part of the concept.

Step Five

Present the Examples in Close Succession or Simultaneously.

In this step we are concerned with the order in which the examples as a whole and the types of examples are presented to the learner. The learning condition which this step seeks to provide is contiguity- the almost simultaneous presentation of the examples of the concept. A study by Kates and Yudin indicates the presentation you can make; SUCCESSIVE PRESENTATION, in which one example is shown at a time and removed after twenty seconds; a FOCUS CONDITION, in which two examples are presented together- the focus example (which is always positive) and the new example ( which is positive or negative ) and the SIMULTANEOUS PRESENTATION , in which each new example is shown with all the previous examples remaining in view. They found that simultaneous presentation was better than the focus condition, in which, in turn, was better  than successive presentation. Apparently, simultaneous presentation is superior because the student does not have to rely upon memory for previous examples.

Step Six

Provide Occasions for Student Responses and the Reinforcement of these Responses

Student responses and reinforcement of these responses are crucial learning conditions for concept learning. The primary purpose of reinforcement is to provide informational feedback to the student  on the correctness of his responses. Since this feedback is crucial, any inconsistency, delay, or failure to provide it will impair student learning. However because the student knows which terminal behavior he must acquire, he can to some extent monitor his own learning. Since reinforcement has motivational aspects, negative verbal feedback may impair concept learning by discouraging the student from making early guesses which can be confirmed. The teacher should remember to focus on the reinforcement of the student’s responses and not on the student. The mode of response should not be shifted, at least in the early learning of the concept. It is quite possible however, that the shift from spoken or written responses is less inhibiting than the shift from drawing to writing or writing to drawing. Various mechanical and electronic devices may maintain consistency of response mode and informational feedback better than we can now do under ordinary class room conditions. These same contrivances may also provide students with more occasions for reinforced practice than we can provide.

Step Seven

Assess the Learning of the Concept

In this step you are providing both contiguity and reinforcement. Here you should present several new positive and negative examples of the concept and ask the student to select only the positive examples. The available evidence does not indicate weather this step is necessary  fo concept learning. It is important in concept teaching because it is our means for assessing the students performance. It also provides the student with additional opportunities to make responses for which he can obtain his own or the teacher’s reinforcement or both.

Suggested Instructional Procedure for the Teaching of Principles

We shall now describe the teaching of principles as a series of six steps. Steps 1 and 2 pertain chiefly to instructional objectives,. Step 2 requires a task analysis. Step 2 also specifies the prerequisite entering behavior, while step 3 assists the student in the use of the appropriate entering behavior. Step 4 and 5 provide the essential learning conditions of contiguity, practice, and reinforcement. Step 6 pertains chiefly to performance assessment.

Step One

Describe the Performance Expected of the Student after He has learned the Principle

As in the case of concept learning, , this step allows the student to monitor his own performance and to generate his own reinforcement

Step Two

Decide and Indicate which Concepts or Principles the Student must recall

In this step, you must analyze the principle to determine what the component concepts are, and you must assess the entering behavior of the student to determine whether he has mastered these concepts.

Step Three

Assist the Student in the recall of Component Concepts

In this step you provide contiguity by having the student simultaneously recall the component concepts.

Step Four

Help the Student to Combine the Concepts in the Proper Order

In this step you also provide contiguity of concepts and  contiguity for the proper relationship of the concepts. The student’s learning requires guidance here. It is not enough to ask him to order the concepts properly. Your questions must guide the ordering.

Step Five

Provide for Practice of the Principle and for Reinforcement of Student Responses

We may well assume, if steps 1 through 4 are properly enacted, that the student knows the principle and that no further practice is necessary. Instructional conditions, however, are not always  optimal, and there is usually the practical necessity of providing for review and reinforcement beyond the original learning situation. In the case of plurals, students have the opportunity to identify plurals in their reading and to form them in their writing. Of course , the instructor must monitor the students’ practice and reinforce correct responses and point out incorrect ones. Reinforced practice of a principle is particularly  crucial when the learning of one principle interferes with the retention of others.

Step Six

Assess the Learning of the Principle

Here we must refer to step 1 to remind ourselves what performance we selected as our instructional objective. Our objective indicates that it is not enough to give the student a list of positive and negative examples. To be certain that the student has not given a rote definition, you should test further to determine how well he has acquired the new principle.

I once knew an otherwise excellent teacher who compelled his students to perform all their demonstrations with incorrect figures, on the theory that it was the logical connection of the concepts, not the figure, that was essential.

— Ernst Mach


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