Concept Cartoons
Brenda Keogh of Millgate House

Report by Sarah Codrington

Development of Concept Cartoons began with work by Stuart Naylor and Brenda Keogh twenty years ago.  Research in the 1980s posited the value of taking learners’ ideas into account, and that learners should be aware of their own ideas. But it was not clear what teachers should do with learners’ ideas – there were a lot of suggestions around, but no clear way forward. Teachers came from many different backgrounds and had many different approaches as well as different levels of expertise – how to help them all? It was thought that finding a way of helping them to get pupils talking about science idea would help. Concept Cartoons make taking learners’ ideas into account and formative assessment more manageable. Facing up to different ideas and disagreements about them takes the learning forward. Concept Cartoons deal with abstract ideas as well as concrete ones. It is important to get the drawings right.   Teachers of pupils with special learning needs and behavioural problems, who may be particularly reluctant to put forward their own ideas, comment very positively about the impact of Concept Cartoons.  The fact that the pupils can point to a person in the drawing gives them the confidence to express their views since they can then blame the character if ultimately another idea proves more appropriate.

The process of development raised interesting issues about the influence of design features.  Visual clues are important – for instance pupils will assume that the person smiling is the one with correct answer.  Simplified drawings are more effective. The early Concept Cartoons showed one character expressing a misconception.  This led to some pupils, particularly those lacking in confidence, to simply agree with the idea.  Concept Cartoons now include a range of different view based on ideas that are commonly held.

The Concept Cartoons confront pupils with an externalised view of their own alternative ideas, and act as a starting-point for discussion. They encourage learners to engage for longer, and help them to recognise that their ideas have changed. They also enable teachers to get a sense of the ideas held by pupils.

When developing the Maths Concept Cartoons there was some disagreement between teacher trainers and teachers as to relevant content.  If teachers are to explore the value of Concept Cartoons and build them into their teaching, then it is important to take into account what teachers say they want rather than just ideas that others believe will transform maths teaching. They need to address what concepts mean and how to present them, as well as what needs to be covered and follow-up ideas.

Questions to ask about the Concept Cartoon approach include ‘How do Concept Cartoons work?’ ‘How do learners respond?’ What is it about them that seems to make them accessible to such a broad range of ages and abilities?’

Pupils respond enthusiastically to this approach – parents report that when Concept Cartoons are brought home they have been arguing all night.