Exploring Integration in Elementary Curriculum, Part 4

Author:  Lori Reemts, Education Specialist: Elementary Generalist

 

As this series on exploring integration winds down, it is a great time to recap three major areas as well as add a few closing remarks addressing the question “So now what?”  Thinking back to the first installment , we began by creating a common working definition of integration and what that can and cannot mean in terms of classroom instruction. We all want it; we all feel we need it if for no other reason than to address time constraints, but we aren’t all in agreement of what “it” even is.  When considering the three areas of curriculum (written, taught and assessed) the greatest opportunity for true integration can be found within the taught curriculum. What happens in the classroom is key.  Even with the most beautifully written curriculum, connections and true integration simply cannot take place until what is written comes to life through purposeful instruction.  Instructional integration provides the points of intersection, the rich discussion and the multiple opportunities to use knowledge and skill throughout the entire learning day.

 

The second installment then shifted our focus to defining some of the opportunities found within the standards.  Direct (explicit) Support and taking advantage of Purposeful Awareness during instruction provides students more than one discrete opportunity to experience something and often provides multiple contexts in which to do so.  Examples of direct support, such as concepts found within the Social Studies Geography strands and the Science Earth Science strands, can be found throughout all of our standards.  Keeping vocabulary and concepts alive through various contexts is a major benefit of using Purposeful Awareness.  This can be seen, for example, with the term “consumer.” Though the foundational concept is the same, the application within a science lesson on organisms and environments is slightly different than that of a social studies economics lesson.  Knowing and referring to the standards as the starting point of any lesson design is the best way to take full advantage of these two techniques.

 

The third installment highlighted transferrable skills.  Our standards are full of skills that we hope each of our students develop and utilize to be successful in whatever path they take. In essence, these “transferrable skills” comprise the core of we are told to highlight on our professional resumes and the like.  However, it seems they can become lost in all of the standards and even more so when the learning day is segmented.  By identifying these skills across content areas we can better teach them, practice them and help students become aware that they are indeed using them.  The skills themselves are important as they are where that added layer of rigor and application come from, but they also serve as vehicles to obtain the very content knowledge we need students to comprehend within each discipline.

 

Finally, the question “So now what?” comes to mind.  We are now set to take the first steps in the journey to transform and integrate our instruction through these points of intersection but…just what do we do when armed with this information now?  Over time this type of thinking and approach can become quite second nature, but it takes quite a bit of purpose at first. If we do not plan for the connection, the question, the link, the use of vocabulary in another context and the relationship between the standards, they simple do not occur. The frantic pace of the day, the fire drill, the lack of sleep or the unexpected question or result can derail the best of intentions.  Once a point, or multiple points of intersection, has occurred there are decisions that must be made.  Is this the best place to start at this time? Do I have a resource to do this? What do I need to gather?  Is there someone, such as our librarian, who can assist me?  Take the thinking and begin linking it to the tangibles that exist and can exist within a classroom lesson, discussion, and experience.  Be purposeful. Start realistically for yourself.  Manageable pieces lead to a much more satisfying and organic end result.  Begin with just two content areas or one or two skill areas.  Perhaps even begin with one content area finding points of intersection WITHIN that given content. How does this unit connect to the unit we did 6 weeks ago?  Engage in this thinking with your students and don’t be afraid to think out loud or let them do so before it is time to “answer.”  Knowing that there is more time spent up front, it is important to keep the end in mind and realize that the time will be made up two or three times over in the long run, not to mention it is what is best for learning.

 

Interested in a more detailed discussion or information?  Contact Lori Reemts, Elementary Generalist.


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