3. Using Conceptual Planning


Gifted learners are inherently conceptual learners. A powerful drive to feel that learning has meaning, direction and purpose is a strong characteristic in these students. They are not satisfied with just learning set content. They want to know how, and why, and what if. And they ask, with a genuine desire to know, “Why should we learn this? What’s the point?”

Conceptual planning is a simple three-question framework which helps teachers see how to add this dimension to their planning.
First it guides teachers to re-visit their own existing thinking around a topic, helping them to take a really fresh look at the ideas involved and to identify the aspects that are going to make this topic meaningful for gifted learners:

  • Why are we teaching this? Why is it important for students to learn about this topic?

Next it gives teachers an opportunity to practise linking a standard topic to conceptual enquiry, the “how” and “yes but” questions that come naturally to these youngsters:

  • What are the concepts necessary to achieve in-depth understanding of this topic?
    • For example, in a lesson on native birds, children examine the difference between a dictionary definition of “habitat” – “natural home or environment of an organism” – and the more searching conceptual definition – “realising that a whole collection of factors must come together to create a place where a species can survive, and that changing a factor may mean the species cannot survive”.

Finally it provides for that kind of issues discussion so dear to the heart of many gifted youngsters – the “what if” and “why not” questions:

  • What significant issues could arise from or are related to this topic?
    • A senior high school unit asked students: “Is it reasonable to expect students to learn a specialist subject like trigonometry if it is clearly not relevant to their proposed future careers? For example, should a future English teacher study this?

This approach is fully covered in our online Certificate course and in our teachers’ manual Differentiation Made Practical which has numerous examples to support you in exploring it in your own teaching.

  • Differentiation Made Practical, Cathcart,R., (2010), published by Essential Resources, available through www.learningnetwork.ac.nz or most booksellers.