What can we do in the PWIM lessons when we want to ensure student recognition and clarification of a concept? One possibility is to use a structured inquiry called concept attainment, which is designed to clarify ideas and to introduce aspects of content.
Concept attainment is the search for and identification of attributes that can be used to distinguish examples of a given group or category from nonexamples (Bruner, Goodnow, & Austin, 1967, p. 233). In concept attainment, students figure out the attributes of a group or category that has already been formed by the teacher or another student—as in Chapter 3, when Ms. Lewis had students study categories of words that she compiled from the word list.
As students conduct their inquiries within the framework of the picture word inductive model, you will find that their categories are not always precise or exactly as you would like them to be. For example, students may put words beginning with cl and cr together (when you want them to look beyond the initial consonant) and gloss over the differences, possibly having difficulty recategorizing words into groups other than those that begin with cl and cr. Also, students may not discover important categories in the picture word list or they may develop a group of words in which they have seen only some of the attributes, such as the multiple attribute category of double medial consonants in closed-syllable words (e.g., rabbit, ladder). Part of the concept attainment model requires that students compare and contrast examples that contain the attributes of the concept with examples that do not contain those attributes until they have 100 percent mastery.
Here's a brief scenario of concept attainment being used to clarify a beginning phonics and spelling concept for students who are learning English as a second language.
Ora Kwo is teaching a lesson on English to her students in Hong Kong. She has a chart in the front of the room with two columns labeled Yes and No. She puts clean under Yes and help under No.
“Take a look at these two words. How are they alike and how are they different? Clean has the attributes of our category.Help does not.” She places cards containing two more words on the chart: clear and trim. Then Ms. Kwo says, “Now examine this pair. Clear has the attributes we are looking for. Help does not. What do clear and clean have in common that help and trim do not?”
She presents clip and hip and asks the students to compare and contrast them and to try to discover what the positive examples have in common that they do not share with the negative examples. Ms. Kwo adds clap and lap to the list and asks the class if they had to change their reasons for categorizing their words. A few students raise their hands to say yes. At this point, Ms. Kwo presents several other pairs of words: cling, ring; climb, limb; club, tree. Then she presents lip and asks the students whether they believe, on the basis of their current idea of the concept, if it belongs to the yes category. Of the students, 26 of the 30 students correctly identify the word as a negative example. She infers that the 26 are concentrating on the cl while the others are still not sure whether having either a c or an l qualifies the word. Therefore, she presents these words to be classified: clue, flue; clarify, rarify; clack, lack.
After a few minutes, she adds crack to the board. All of the students identify the word as not belonging to the group. Next Ms. Kwo presents clank, which the class identifies as a yes. She asks them to share their current hypotheses: The positives begin with cl and sound like the beginning of clap. She has them identify what is not critical: meanings of the words, endings, and the number of letters. Ms. Kwo asks the class to turn the words they rejected into words to accept for the list (e.g., transforming an to clan, until she is satisfied that the concept is clear). The teacher asks the class to find additional examples of the category for homework.
We have looked in on a concept attainment lesson in phonics and spelling. In this case, the concept being clarified by students was the initial consonant cluster /cl/. The concept attainment process helps to ensure that students learn the attributes that define a concept (the defining attributes) and can distinguish those from other attributes that are important but do not define the concept. All words, for example, contain letters, but the presence of letters does not define the concept of “words that begin with the initial consonant cluster /cl/.” As we teach students with this method, we help them become more efficient in attaining useful concepts. Concept attainment is a great addition to PWIM units and is an excellent direct instruction model for language study with beginning readers and second language learners, particularly for mastery of phonics generalizations and structural analysis concepts.
This explanation was derived from Bruce Joyce and Marsha Weil, Models of Teaching, 5th ed., 1996, pp. 161–178. See this source for addition information on using the concept attainment model.