The ability of a child to transform acquired information into concrete knowledge influences its later success in education in the same way if not more as knowledge of his/her mother tongue or the ability of socialising. But how to eliminate the handicaps which the child carries with him/her? The answer could be - Grunnlaget – a Norwegian educational method which we are currently beginning to use for work with children from socially disadvantaged environments. And after just six months it is having unexpected success.
Before dealing with the question of how to teach our children to write and to count, we should ask how to teach our children to the process of learning itself. We should try to contribute as much as possible to the child’s thought development process, which will be used later by the child not just for studying his native language or mathematics. It is mainly this field of education that Norwegian method Grunnlaget (Fundament) concentrates on. It was presented in the Czech Republic at the end of last year for the first time in the framework of a seminar dedicated to conceptual teaching, organized by People in Need.
Over the course of a few days, Morten A. Hem and Gunvor Sonnysen, the authors of Grunnlaget, trained dozens of pedagogical workers who have been applying the principals of conceptual education at their work with children from socially disadvantaged environment for six months now. The fresh experience summed up by Karolína Hrubá, the coordinator of low-threshold pre-school training in Bílina: “There has been a great improvement not only in the quantity of knowledge acquired, but the main change was the children’s approach to learning. It has been a magical experience to watch them enjoying every success and being inspired for more learning. It can be best illustrated by an example from our recent trip to the zoo. We were working with a concept of a round shape and children were pointing round objects which they could see around them during our journey and had great fun doing it. “
The basic principal is work with concepts
Grunnlaget is based on the work of a Norwegian educator Magen Nyborg and is intended not only for work with socially handicapped pupils, but in Norway is being used in most of the nursery and primary schools. The principal of Grunnlaget is first to teach children to grasp basic concepts such as colour, number or shape in order to be able to seek differences or similarities between them later. It develops language skills and ways of thinking which are essential for the ability of learning. Newly acquired knowledge is then the fundament for further learning.
The Norwegian method concentrates primarily on work with concepts because they are the key stone which represents the fundament on which the whole process of teaching and learning stands and correct understanding of these concepts influences motivation towards further learning. “To achieve success it is essential that the whole process activates positive emotions which then help to support the craving to learn,” explains Morten A. Hem. The authors of Grunnlaget define the concepts on the basis of understanding similarities and differences. They build on the results of the work of professor Nydborg who found that the most effective way of teaching of concepts is to use concrete objects which are then identified with a term for a concept and then the differences or similarities are sought. The basic working tool of Grunnlaget is naturally language and a collection of various objects. It is advisable to use objects that are familiar to the children, or objects that they like. It is not so important what sort of object it is but mainly they must differ in colour, shape, size, the material they are made of etc.
In the framework of the conceptual learning it is absolutely necessary to work with real objects. Illustration in books just will not do. Children need to learn on the basis of many different sensory experiences enabling them to analyze objects which belong to the same family related to a concept. It is the greatest possible variety which enables them to create conclusions about similarities and differences.
Amongst other methods of conceptual teaching Grunnlaget method includes three processes:
At the beginning of the whole process it is necessary to create an association between elements belonging to the same group based on the system of concepts which gives the group its name. Let’s say number three, then the word number expresses the name of the group and three is the concept concerned. When using this system repeatedly, the number three will activate not only the concept of three but also all other names of numbers learnt before. This way the superordinate concept helps create structure and provides necessary context for further learning.
In Grunnlaget every new concept is introduced by exercises when children connect a word defining a group with a chosen quality of on object. In the first exercise, when the colour red is being deduced, the children are meant to connect the words “the colour red” with the objects they work with. Colour is perceived by sight, but children also touch the objects with their hands. They are brought to the point when they can imagine the new concept in their mind’s eye in the widest possible sense. It means that they should create associations with as many shades of red as they can think of. It is essential that the objects used for teaching differ in other parameters such as shape, size, material etc.
During the exercise it must be emphasised to the children always to specify the name of a quality as well as the name of the concept system. It is not enough to say “The car is red” it is important to concentrate on verbalisation of the concept system and say “The car is the colour red”. The name for the quality is red, the concept system is colour. The role of the teacher is very important during this, and they must use these concepts as well because that way he or she gives them a role model of how the children should express themselves.
The next cardinal task for the teacher to perform is repeatedly to confirm the correctness of their answers. Confirmation of the fact they were right is a reward for the children which motivates them for further learning. The teacher becomes a partner who wants to help the child with the learning process and not somebody who picks up on his downfalls.
In the second phase it is necessary to learn to distinguish members of a group from other objects with which they could be easily confused. Number three then should be easily detectable from number two or four and must not be grouped with a different number of objects. The child understands as well that the concept of three does not change even when different objects are being counted.
Children gradually learn to look for differences between objects sharing a chosen quality. They should learn the difference between something which belongs to a group of a certain concept and what does not. First in the form of exercises they concentrate on single quality, then more complicated tasks are added. Also here also applies that it is the teacher who creates the role model of the language used and formulates the answers which the children then use. These specific formulations positively influence the process of learning because it teaches children more precise ways of thinking.
Next it is necessary to define what makes elements identified under the same name similar. When the group is called three then the similarity is the number. It is important for the child to realise that the number three exists regardless of what is being counted. Through selective generalization the child learns to discover partial similarities. In this phase they start to describe what they discovered, which again adds motivation towards further learning.
Generalization exercises often start with tasks combining discrimination with discovery of similarities. Children answer questions: “Please show me objects which are similar by being the colour red. “ Or “what are the similarities of these two objects?” When the children can identify the similarities, they are asked about the differences. The child learns to connect the already learnt concept systems as for example colour, shape, length etc. which gradually perfects the child’s natural analytical coding.
Positive emotions and motivation
The reaction provoked in the child by the learning process has a great impact on the final result. Positive emotions are connected with strengthening of motivation, while on the other hand negative emotions create blocks. This assumption arises from the motivational power of cognition. The experience of mastering a task gives courage and energy to continue and increases the child’s confidence. Therefore the teacher’s reaction is one of the important factors influencing the child’s motivation for further learning.
The feedback from a figure of authority influences how children perceive themselves in the process of learning. When the teacher shows them what they are good at, it activates their positive emotions and encourages increased motivation. It is bad if the answers of adults provoke stress in children in their activities. In the Grunnlaget method, correct answers are confirmed and what has not been understood or not taught properly is considered to be a misunderstanding which must be overcome. The teacher should understand the thought processes of the pupil. There is always a reason why the child responded in a certain way and the reason needs to be discovered, “says Gunvor Sonnysen.