Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 3

Author: Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

In the first two installments, this series visited integration by creating a working definition and common language to guide the reader through the series with the intended understanding.  Descriptions and examples were given to identify both Direct (Explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness.  These prove to be excellent starting points when seeking points of intersection between disciplines.  This article, now the third in the series, promises to explore the idea of skill building.

As educators we long for our students to be able to apply thinking and learning across and within content areas. We provide experiences within each content area and hope for the moment when the light bulb shines brightly signaling the student experienced some sort of revelation or connection.  We hope that our students continue to build crucial skills in order to be successful not only within their school career but also, more importantly, as adults with knowledge and skills that merge seamlessly enabling them to gain new insight, solve a problem, or make an informed decision.   These areas of success come from the application of transferrable skills rather than any spelling list or set of facts about a science concept.  These transferrable skills are both our hope and joy and our nemesis as educators because these can prove to be quite difficult to identify, teach, and foster within our students.  The new State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) employ such skills to the extent possible through a multiple choice format.  Students must be able to access information previously learned and situations previously experienced and apply this learning to new and novel situations.  These exams are designed to assess a variety of skills along with content specific knowledge.

We have become quite adept at identifying various examples, vocabulary lists, strategies, and techniques within different content areas assessed through STAAR but not as adept in the skill areas assessed through STAAR, not to mention those content areas not assessed through the state program.  The very thing we long for most in our students – the development of real skills – sometimes falls by the wayside if for no other reason than because they are more difficult to identify and teach.  These skills can be found within most any student expectation by reading the verb but this is often still singularly associated with a particular content-focused student expectation.  Every discipline, including Health and Technology Applications, has a focus on skills built within it. It is in our best interest, and more importantly our students’ best interest, to focus on these sets of skills. By learning, practicing, and applying these skill sets students are then far more equipped to access the very content we are struggling to get them to remember and apply.

One example is related to data. Students are bombarded with input on a daily basis; much of which is subconsciously stored for later.  However, there are also times when we purposefully seek data.  There are many reasons that a person may need to gather some information, evaluate the source and the information, manage the information, and somehow make sense of it in order to follow this acquisition with application of some form or fashion, such as planning, communicating, or making an informed and thoughtful decision. Consider the following student expectations:

 

 

These skills found within each of the content areas all deal with data collection / information management. In total, there are at least 23 Student Expectations between these 6 areas of study that relate directly to the skills of obtaining data, evaluating the source and the data itself, and somehow managing the information. While the context is different because of the different disciplines, the core skill remains intact.

 

Just as using Direct (explicit) Support and Purposeful Awareness can serve as starting points to locate potential points of intersection, so can a skill set.  By unifying “how” students work within different contexts throughout the day, a classroom teacher can actually capitalize on the potential to connect through skills.  Students not only have more practice on the identified and planned-for skill, but also they are able to see it in a variety of situations, identify what they are doing, and use the skill to make connections within and across content areas.

 

Take a moment to look through the Student Expectations for each content area and you will see skill sets that naturally merge with skills sets from other content areas. They essentially group themselves into manageable categories making at least the identification of these thinking skills far more obvious than they would be as they exist separately.   After a scan, you will see skills related to:

  • Planning & Development; Problem-Solving & Decision-Making
  • Tools and Technology, including text features
  • Data Collection and Information Management
  • Analysis, Inference, Justification, and Making Conclusions
  • Communication
  • Making Connections

 

As this spring semester progresses, we are working on a tool enabling teachers, administrators, parents, and even students to identify skills that group themselves into broader ideas and applications.  It is sometimes amazing to see what is actually built into our state standards, right before our eyes, which can so easily turn into missed opportunities.  Interested in seeing what this looks like completed?  Keep an eye on The Scoop for more information later in the semester.
In the meantime, take some time to consider making connections and points of intersection for your students through the sheer application of a skill within different contexts throughout the entire learning day.  Both you and your students will benefit!


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