Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction (CBCI)

What is CBCI?

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instruction (CBCI) is curriculum and instruction that focuses on intellectual development, mindful learning, and creative expression in order for a learner to develop a deeper meaning of content taught to them. The purpose of CBCI is to foster higher-level thinking and create bridges that allow content to transfer from one context to another in order to help learners develop meaning into their learning. Critical thinking is a major component in CBCI because it requires learners to to examine factual information critically, relate new learning to prior knowledge, and see patterns and connections across content.

If you would like to watch a quick video that provides a little more information about CBCI, please check out Jennifer Chang Wathall YouTube Channel! She has some videos that discuss CBCI, as well as some other great teaching information videos. You can also follow her on Twitter @

Three Influential CBCI Points

1.Synergistic Thinking: Creating complex thinking by creating synergy between the simpler and more complex processing centers in the brain. This requires the mind to process information on two cognitive levels- the factual skill level (lower) and the conceptual level (higher).

2.Integration of Thinking: Thinking that rises above the facts and basic skills to recognize patterns and connections that occur in interdisciplinary or intradisciplinary contexts. This must be considered when designing a curriculum and instruction.

3.Knowledge and Process Based Units: Organizing units around authentic experiences that mirror the types of knowledge and processes students will continue to face is crucial for preparing students for their future.

4.Transfer Learning: Deeper understanding and higher-order thinking are the result of one’s ability to transfer knowledge and skills to a new or similar context. CBCI is designed to facilitate high-road transfer that can go from one context to another when there is a connection between past and current learning. To see more information about the image above, click the link to visit the tweet.

    The Importance of Teachers Incorporating CBCI

    As educators, our goal is to inspire students to be the best version of themselves and prepare them to face the complex world of the 21st century. Incorporating CBCI practices into our curriculum gives us the opportunity to prepare our students for the real world by providing a powerful framework for the development of intellectual beings. CBCI promotes opportunities for students to construct deep understandings of the content being taught to them. We want students to build understandings based off of our teachings, but also understand how they arrived at these understandings to foster meaningful learning. By focusing on the development of a students’ deeper conceptual understanding of a given content, you provide students with meaningful information that will assist them as they get older. Designing and implementing CBCI, encourages synergistic interplay between the concrete and abstract concepts, which allow students to have increase motivation to learn and become personally invested in their learning.

    Check out this twitter post about the importance of CBCI!

    Why CBCI for Students?

    In order for students to be successful in the world outside of school, they must be able to think critically and make connections across multiple contexts. To make these connections, students need to systematically build knowledge, conceptual understandings, and processes and skills throughout their school years. Motivation can be a major impact on a students’ learning and CBCI can inspire them to think independently and creatively. When teachers encourage students to think for themselves, students feel a sense of personal satisfaction due to the development of a meaningful connection with their learning. Students who are able to think at complex levels across multiple contexts will develop deeper understandings that align more with concepts and generalizations than simple facts and skills. CBCI allows students to develop the understandings that I have listed above and will help students function in today’s society.

    Check out the following link, where Sarah Plews provides her insight on the importance of incorporating CBCI components into today’s curriculum and the benefits students gain from CBCI.

    How CBCI Influences my Teaching

    As I learn more about CBCI, I realize the importance of incorporating it into the curriculum I teach. Here are three ways that CBCI influences my teaching:

    1. I use a Notice and Wonder routine when introducing a new read-aloud or math concept. During this time, students work in pairs to share what they have learned so far and create questions that the class focuses on throughout the entire time working with a specific content.
    2. I incorporate multiple subjects within a lesson in order to create pathways across content areas. For example, when learning about numbers 0-10, we incorporate counting picture books and then students develop a mini picture book of their own while continuing to work on counting to 10.
    3. Throughout the lesson, I give ample time for students to work collaboratively with their peers. I truly believe that students learn best through hands-on activities, especially when working with others.

    My Work in Progress Kindergarten CBCI Unit Plan

    For my CBCI Unit, I will create a unit plan that is focused around students’ writing process of an animal narrative piece. In this unit, students will be expected to write narrative piece that is centered around an animal that was taught to them from several read-alouds. The books will be a mixture of fictional and non-fiction. There are several components that are either missing or incomplete. The following is a rough draft of my future CBCI Unit.

    1. Unit Title: Writing an Animal Themed Narrative (Kindergarten)
    2. Conceptual Lens: Depicting Story Elements in a Narrative
    3. Web Strands: Reading Comprehension (Story Elements), Writing, Animals, Purposeful Drawing
    4. Unit Web: Possible standards to be discussed: Reading (RL.K.3, RL.K.10, RI.K.1, RF.K.1, RF.K.3), Writing (W.K.2, W.K.3, W.K.5), Language (L.K.1, L.K.2), Science (K.LS.1), Fine Arts/Visual Arts (2PR, 2RE). Texts include both fiction and nonfiction books focusing on animal themes. I will continue to work on the unit web as I start to relate the standards to the actual lesson plans and learn more about how to create unit webs.
    5. Generalizations: a) Writers create narratives to tell a story which may serve as a form of an entertainment, educational, or inspirational piece. b) Narratives can be fictional or based on facts. c) Writers include several story elements (characters, setting, problem, events, solution) when they write a narrative to allow a reader to understand what is happening in the story. d) Events in a story must be written or read in a logical order. e) Animals, even in a fictional story, have basic characteristics that need to be mentioned.
    6. Possible Guiding/Essential Questions: Factual Questions: Why do authors put events in a sequential order?, What story elements must a narrative have?, What are some characteristics of animals that you have learned about in this unit? Conceptual Questions: Why can you write animals as having human characteristics? Debatable Questions: TBD
    7. Critical Content: TBD
    8. Key Skills: a) Modeling a Story Map- identifying story elements, editing elements, sequencing events in a logical order. b) Interactive Writing- create a class narrative, collaborating between peers, revising elements, brainstorming original ideas, bring in current knowledge/experiences. c) Character Designing- The narrative includes animals with their characteristics. Students have the option to give their animal characters human characteristics. d) Use new knowledge from the unit and their imaginations to create a story that include pictures to support their words. 
    9. Culminating Assessment Task: TBD
    10.  Learning Experiences: TBD
    11. Unit Overview: Writers have the ability to use their imagination to create fun and informative narratives. During this unit, you will learn about different farm animals in various ways. We will see how authors depict animals in both nonfiction and fictional stories. We will examine artwork pieces that portray animals and how they live. After learning all of this, you will become writers yourselves! Your job will be to write a narrative story that features farm animals as the main characters. These animals can even have human characteristics. You will work with your peers in developing each other’s narratives. At the end of the unit, you will present your narrative to the class.
    12.  Teacher Resources & Notes: 3-4 books (f or nf), 1-2 visual artwork pieces, 1-2 supportive musical songs, story map pdf, K writing pdf that includes both writing lines and illustration boxes

    I believe the most challenging part of this CBCI unit will be making sure that I give my students enough exploration and independent learning moments. Many Kindergarteners enter school with very little background in reading, writing, and other fundamental skills. Due to this, I feel that sometimes I need to have a lot of explicit teaching because they have not been taught basic skills yet. I need to make sure that I am teaching facts and skills, but at the same time allowing them to make their own meaningful connections with learning experiences.

    TCE Thresholds Concepts Connected to CBCI

    Threshold Concept #1: Curriculum is more than standards, textbooks, or courses of study.

    • Content taught in schools must reflect situations and skills that will allow students to be successful as the enter adulthood. The skills we must teach our students, must go beyond the facts listed and inspire students to develop conceptual understandings and create a synergy between the lower and conceptual levels of thinking.
    • When students make meaningful connections with their learning, they are able to incorporate knowledge they have attained and apply it to complex situations they will face. Once students make meaningful connections, they will be able to make decisive and logical decisions about social justices.
    • At Mt. Healthy, we strive for students to have their own voice throughout their learning experiences. Both our reading and math curriculum encourage students to complete notices and wonders about their learning, explorative learning, and partner discussions of ‘how’ and ‘why’.
    • As an educator to teach CBCI successfully, I must give my students the opportunity to create those meaningful connections with their learning, instead of me telling them why it is important for them to learn the skills being taught.
    • Check out this blog that provides insight on a workshop that discusses the importance of inquiry-based learning and how we need to switch our mindset from thinking beyond the facts to conceptually thinking!

    Threshold Concept #2: Teachers and students engage in critical-consciousness.

    • Sometimes in the education field, standards and state tests can take over what others believe teachers should educate students on. However, teachers need to be preparing students for life outside of school, where they can solve real world problems. In order to do this, conceptual and critical thinking need to be embedded into our curriculum.
    • CBCI develops both conceptual and critical thinking, which allows students to prepare for complex social issues they will eventually face in the outside world. The perspectives and learning that students receive in school, will prepare students to develop their own views of society and social issues.
    • In order for me to make sure that my students are engaged in critical-consciousness, I must make sure that I am aware of my students’ backgrounds, experiences, and previous learning. Once I incorporate and understand who my students are, then I will be able to foster deeper levels of understanding and design cross-content lessons to make sure they are prepared for the real world.
    • Check out the link below to read more about the importance of critical-consciousness in education. In this article, it describes critical thinking, dialogue, and problem solving as key components to critical-consciousness. Which all three are components of CBCI!
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