ATT: Focused on Conceptual Understanding

In the IB, the approaches to teaching (ATT) skills are linked to our pedagogy which goes beyond what and how we teach and encompasses how we support, develop and interact with our students -- it is a teaching style. To ensure we are the best educators we can be, we need to identify our own strengths and areas for development and participate in continuous professional learning. Reflecting on our own practice, collaborating with peers from the wider IB community and communicating how and that we are learning is all part of this learning journey.
One of these ATTs is focused on conceptual understanding. This includes taking students beyond our course content to more complex application and understanding and to consider less objective ideas such as change, culture, and ethics.
Each IB subject (at each level -- PYP, MYP, DP, and CP) has their own unique concepts as well as some shared concepts. You can find the unique concepts for your IB subject in your subject guide.
Let's look at what conceptual understanding actually is.

Concepts: “Broad, powerful organizing ideas that have relevance both within and across subject areas” (IBO, 2015). Understanding: Construction of an accurate and stable representation of any situation we encounter; it can be for something concrete, like an item or a phenomenon, or it can be abstract, like a notion. Conceptual understanding: Representations referring to a concept, as a group of ideas with regularities or patterns. (

How can you use the ATT Focused on Conceptual Understanding?
1. Build up the concepts in your class as your students learn
This means that you are scaffolding the content so students are able to think more critically and independently about each concept you introduce and teach. By slowly introducing more in-depth conceptual knowledge to your students, their thinking skills and types of knowledge about concepts will increase and grow.

2. State the concepts for each lesson
By stating the concepts in class, your students begin learning this new vocabulary and can more easily make connections between different concepts and topics in your classroom. This way your students are more active in their learning and their understanding of concepts increases.

3. Encourage students to find links between topics of study
Give students time to think about the links and connections between different units and topics in your class. This is a learning opportunity for them to think more carefully about their own conceptual learning, the key concepts in your subject area, and allows their brain to develop a concept map that can link other subjects together into one body of knowledge.