What’s the Big Idea?

big ideaIn his book To Sell Is Human, author Daniel Pink shares a lesson he learned in law school.  His professor instructed students to “find the 1%.” What he meant was that students would benefit from wading through all the details and arguments to find the true legal issue – the real heart of the matter – in the cases they were examining.  

Authors Jay McTighe and Harvey Silver would likely concur with Pink’s professor.  In their book Teaching for Deeper Learning: Tools to Engage Students in Meaning Making, McTighe and Silver encourage teachers to focus on the big picture concepts, because they contain that which is transferable into other areas.  They provide the following four reasons to focus on major concepts:

  1. Too much information exists.  The authors cite rapid increases in knowledge and proliferation of access to that knowledge as areas of concern.  In other words, there is too much information, it’s changing too quickly, and much of it is readily accessible. As such, we need to focus on bigger matters that are readily transferable. 
  2. Covering too much content leads to superficial learning and student disengagement.  Focusing on fewer big picture items allows for greater engagement and deeper exploration.  
  3. Large concepts offer greater opportunities for retention and use.  Knowledge is not just about a list of facts or figures.  It involves relevance and application.
  4. A rapidly changing landscape requires the ability to transfer.  When the world changes quickly, students who are taught a specific set of content skills can be easily left behind.  The big picture concepts are more readily adapted and transferred to new situations. 

As you prepare for next week, think about the major concepts that students need to learn for the purposes of transferability.  Emphasize those big ideas, so your students get a wide view of their learning. They will benefit greatly in the long run because of your efforts!

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