Making Connections: Points of Instructional Integration and Skill Building

Our goal as educators is that our students grow into productive citizens with a wealth of skills to draw from. We want to foster learning so that students are critical thinkers and problem solvers who are able to make connections and apply their learning in new and novel situations. The TEKS call for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. STAAR calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections. Life calls for critical thinking, problem solving, and making connections.  This necessitates that our instruction include and build critical thinking, problem solving, and making opportunities for students to make connections.

In modern education, we are under more and more time constraints with fewer resources. We often feel we are trying to do it all and it seems there just is not enough time. It is easy at times  to become focused on the pure content within our grade level or subject matter, and forget that the skills we wish to build are transferrable skills that apply to all content and simply may look slightly different based upon the context.

As a result, we sometimes find ourselves and our lessons looking somewhat like a solved Rubik’s cube. Although within this particular game, getting all colors onto one side and isolated from the rest of the colors indicates you have “solved” the puzzle; in education this represents ideas, skills, and learning in isolation.

We want students to be able to operate within all of the colors and, in fact, NEED students to be able to operate in a more integrated fashion for STAAR and beyond.

Consider the term interdependence for a moment. What does it mean?

A dictionary definition would be “a relation between its members such that each is mutually dependent on the others.”  For students understanding content and their world, such a definition means nothing and holds little relevance. We learn about interdependence within Science. In fact, this is a key concept in science.  For example, the entire understanding of food chains relates to this idea among many others. Students may build an understanding of this vocabulary word within the Science context and examples, but can they apply it outside of these specifics?

  •  What might “interdependence” look like within Language Arts?

Characters are often interdependent. 

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Social Studies?

Countries in time of war and peace are interdependent upon each other. Economic systems, global economics, are interdependent upon one another.         

  • What might “interdependence” look like within Math?

Concepts such as part/part/whole and balanced equations include ideas of dependence and interdependence.

Would it be better to build on the idea in its entirety with multiple examples in order to assure students can transfer and apply knowledge or would it be best to know this term simply through a dictionary definition, a specific example such as a food chain, or within a specific content? Even if the word is introduced as a new vocabulary term in science, we want and need students to have word study skills that might enable them to determine what this unfamiliar word means, especially within multiple contexts.

That is one specific example with the intention of planting the seed for making connections and continuing learning throughout the day rather than in isolated periods of time or content.

Aligning TEKS to TEKS, side by side can be a daunting process when one considers the number of standards Texas has and how little time there is within a given day.  However, there are a few manageable ideas to begin to take the first small step(s) toward integrated learning throughout the day.  By doing so educators are able to “shave” time off of discreet stand-alone lessons and students are able to see connections and apply their learning across content and contexts.  These processes have the potential to increase efficiency and effectiveness by capitalizing what already exists within the TEKS and conceptual connections.

Within lesson design, we must look for opportunities to make connections and build skills across content.

1. Look across content units within the same time period: big ideas/concepts.

Are there opportunities for direct and explicit support or purposeful awareness or both?  For example, in 3rd grade Science your landforms unit may be within the same time frame as the Social Studies unit on landforms.  This is direct explicit support.  Or perhaps you teach English in 7th grade and the Texas History class covers political change in Texas as a result of the Civil War.  Through resource choice, instruction can support purposeful awareness and support the overall connections and learning associated with the Texas political climate without actually directly teaching the Social Studies TEKS within the English classroom.

2. Focus on transferrable skills across content and context:  TEKS skills strands

Every content has a skills strand, or skills-based student expectations, embedded within the course TEKS.  These are the very skills needed to approach and access content in order to make connections and increase comprehension.  Focusing on the skills across the course of the day rather than “period to period,” regardless of the content, builds practice and repetition and therefore increases skill levels.  For example, if we consider the 3rd grade TEKS and the skills embedded, we can identify basic skill categories, including data collection, analysis, inferring, forming conclusions, and problem-solving.   Similar skills found within these and other categories can be found in Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, Health, and Technology Applications.  Learning effective data collection across content areas allows the students to see the skill applied within different contexts and in new and novel situations, resulting in deeper and broader understanding.

In the end it is the student who ultimately benefits from this direct explicit support and purposeful awareness.  We know the brain is wired for making connections.  By asking where there are opportunities to make connections and build skills during the lesson design process, we make more efficient use of our time while increasing the overall effectiveness of our instruction.


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