Thursday, July 5, 2012

Teaching the Concrete Kid

(NOTE: This post is written about the Concrete-Sequential (CS) thinking style.  Some of this will also relate to the Concrete-Random (CR) and some of it will not.  CS's require things in sequence and organized - hence, the "sequential".  The CR & CS will both need short, to-the-point lessons and will have a strong hands-on element.  However, the CR will do well with a discovery approach, whereas this would frustrate the CS.  Also, the CR can synthesize a wide spectrum of unrelated stuff, whereas the CS will want things categorized.)

I'm starting to understand how the black/white, yes/no thinking child works, and what will work for this type of child.  So here is what I've discovered:

There is a strong hands-on element for these kids, with practical application.  So anything that makes the learning real and practical for every day life...(although, dd would argue that this is NOT true for Math.  She much prefers a get-it-done workbook approach for Math).

Things need to have a clear beginning and end.  Grammar has 8 parts of speech, learn these and you're all set.  Learn some basic phonics rules and then get on with real reading.  The opposite approach of something indefinite, something that goes on forever, and has no real clear boundaries will fail miserably.


  • Science books with lots of pictures and minimal words are a plus. Pictures with captions, short paragraphs, and passages that get direct, to the point.  Examples: DK Eyewitness Books, Usborne books, Kingfisher (Encyclopedia style books).
  • Science experiments with clear, step-by-step directions, with an intended outcome.  Example: follow the steps to grow crystals, make a rollar coaster, or a catapult.  Or, build a birdhouse, plant a garden, hatch butterflies.  Anything in a kit.   Examples: any experiment books such as Usborne with clear, step by step directions.  Sonlight Discover & Do DVDs.  Aurora Lipper's SuperCharged Science.  Kosmos & Thames kits (or any other kit online).  Elemental Science ties Encyclopedia type books with solid step by step directions for weekly science experiments.
Science - What Doesn't Work
  • Textbook style books such as Abeka or BJU.  I originally thought BJU would work, because it has brilliantly stunning photographs, and the text seems to relate.  However, BJU review questions, test questions, workbook questions all seem to assume a certain amount of abstract learning.  If they tell you a definition, and then re-word the question differently, they assume you are able to understand what they are talking about.  This doesn't work with the concrete thinker, where A = A. 
  • Story style, like Apologia.  The text is too long, too many details, and assumes that its enthusiastic style is being received with interest by the student.  The concrete student gets lost in all the details and says "what's the point?"
  • Science Fair Projects or Discover based learning.  Finding your own observations, asking questions, and then delving in to answer "why?" - this is waaay too open ended for the concrete child.  As much as the rest of us would love to see some innovation and love of delving in, your not going to see this so much with the concreter.
  • Charts, diagrams, lists, or anything that breaks the data down into clear, definable categories.  Example: US Presidents.  Famous Explorers.
  • Story vs. story.  The wrong way to approach history is: the ongoing story that never ends.  When one event leads to another, which leads to another, which leads to another.  If you approach history as a story, give it a very clear beginning, middle, and end.  My concreter enjoyed her Michigan History class, which had a lot of stories; but the stories were broken into separate categories, and each week focused on a different era with a different story, which was inspired by one famous person.  Think: bite sized chunks, with a clear beginning and end.
  • Similar to Science above, the books with lots of pictures with captions, and 1-3 paragraphs on the pages are more likely to hold attention than a text-based history. Examples: American Girl series Welcome to So-and-So's World (Welcome to Felicity's World, Welcome to Kirstin's World, etc.), Usborne & other encyclopedic type books. 
  • Practical, real world useful crafts.  Make an Egyptian scarab out of clay.  Cook like the pioneers.  Eat lunch like the Romans.  Serve stuffed doormice for dinner (just kidding!).  Take their very practical interests and try to tie history into it.  For example, my dd likes cooking and art.  So guess what kind of history we'll be doing?  Lots of cooking and art...
  • Give a good overview.  The concrete student wants to get the main gyst and move on.  So give a general flavor of the time period, with some very clear definitions of beginning/end, famous people, and practical purpose.
History - What Doesn't Work
  • "What are your analytical thoughts?" type questions.  Deep discussion.  How did one event lead to another? 
  • Very broad, you choose type history.  "Research pioneer times and write a paper" - very bad. 
  • Never ending story, textbased, "isn't this interesting" type books (similar to Apologia's science).  Sigh.  I hate to say it, but my favorite history books fit this category: Story of the World, Mystery of History, Christian Liberty Press's elementary history books, etc.  As an Abstract thinker, I absolutely love books like this.  But after assigning the Story of the World series every year and realizing finally that nothing sunk in, I know it's not a good fit.  However, it is possible that SOTW could be implemented differently (pulling in more crafts and activities from the activity guide, pulling in more picture-based books, mapwork, and the memory cards at the back of the activity guide *may have* made this better for my concrete learner).
Hopefully I can add more categories to this list as we launch into another school year.  For instance, I have yet to find what works for Writing with a concrete learner.  I have yet to find a successful grammar.  And we're still figuring out the nitty-gritty of Science and History (although I think if I can follow my own advice, we'll be much more successful next year).

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