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Why is it important for children to move from concrete to abstract comprehension?

As children progress through their academic careers, they move from learning in a concrete, hands-on manner to an abstract, more theoretical understanding of concepts. This shift is particularly important when it comes to comprehension: both of what is said in conversations, and in the interpretation of texts. In this blog post, we will explore why it is important for children to move from concrete to abstract comprehension and how this transition can be facilitated.

What is Concrete Comprehension?

Concrete comprehension refers to the ability to understand information in a concrete, tangible way. For example, a child might use their senses to explore and understand a physical object, such as a toy or a piece of fruit. Blank’s Level 1 questions are the most concrete, and only require a child to respond to what they have just seen or experienced. They may be asked to match, point to an object, or name an action that they can see. This allows us to start to direct their thoughts to specific illustrations and clues, such as facial expressions, which we can then build on.

Level 2 questions are still concrete but start to look for more detail, such as functions, locations, or specific descriptions. The child may be asked to comment on something that they recently heard, rather than just saw. This shift to the auditory modality is more challenging, and more abstract. It also starts to draw on memory.

What is Abstract Comprehension?

Abstract comprehension, on the other hand, refers to the ability to understand information in a more theoretical, less tangible way. This might involve analysing ideas or concepts that are not directly observable, or exploring themes and hidden messages in a text. Level 3 Blank’s questions are increasingly abstract, and the language load also increases. For example, a child may be asked to follow a two key word instruction in Level 2, but this shifts up to two steps in Level 3. Therefore the child has to retain that information in their memory, as they begin the task. Questions will also consider comparison of items, which is more challenging than the contrasting required in Level 2. The concept of prediction, and what might happen next, is also introduced. Level 4 Blank’s questions are the most abstract and here we support the child to consider why..? What would happen if…? Why can’t we..? The stories we use allow us to draw both on the imaginary and the real, as we encourage links between the book and real-life experiences.

Why is it Important to Move from Concrete to Abstract Comprehension?

Moving from concrete to abstract comprehension is important because it allows children to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the world around them. Abstract comprehension skills enable children to analyse and synthesize information, draw connections between different ideas, and develop more complex thoughts and opinions. The steady transition from the concrete to the abstract is carefully supported in our resources as we move through the levels of questions.

Facilitating the Transition

Facilitating the transition from concrete to abstract comprehension can be a challenging task for teachers and parents. Here are some tips for supporting children as they move towards more abstract comprehension:

  1. Build on Prior Knowledge: When introducing new concepts or ideas, it is important to start with what children already know. This can help them to make connections between new and existing knowledge, which can support their understanding of abstract concepts.
  2. Use Visual Aids: Visual aids, such as diagrams or pictures, can help children to understand abstract concepts by providing a concrete representation of the information. This is why we have designed a Describe It! Mind Map, to support children to consider ways in which items are the same, or different, and to ensure the deep semantic embedding that we need for rich vocabulary development.
  3. Encourage Critical Thinking: Encouraging children to ask questions and think critically about the information they are learning can help them to develop more sophisticated understanding of abstract concepts. Model your own critical thinking by providing ‘think alouds’, and demonstrate the type of thought processes we go through as adults.
  4. Provide Opportunities for Reflection: Reflection can help children to make connections between different ideas and to develop their own thoughts and opinions.

In conclusion, the ability to move from concrete to abstract comprehension is an important aspect of children’s academic and social development. By providing opportunities for reflection, critical thinking, and building on prior knowledge, clinicians, teachers and parents can support children as they develop the skills needed for abstract comprehension.

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