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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"History Day"

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching today is covering the curriculum. To do this well requires a great deal of creativity and flexibility as a teacher. The growing trends of differentiated instruction and cross-curricular assignments provide a vehicle to deliver content in a new and efficient manner. Gone are the days when learning is compartmentalized as "Literacy," "Science," "Math," and "The Arts." Now we are becoming increasingly aware of the potential to capitalize on the centrality of literacy in all subjects (math too!). By incorporating literacy expectations into our social studies and other areas of the curriculum, not only are teachers able to cover more of the expectations underpinning their grade assignment; they are also able to assess students more readily in all facets of learning.

Students who were previously thought of as being weak in science or literacy, could have been weak in concentration at the part of the day that these subjects were being taught. Perhaps our 'social' students can benefit more from group work in math depending on the time it is delivered in many cases. Using a cross-curricular approach provides a path to learning that may seem unconventional in nature, but it resonates with many teachers as "learning environments" not unlike the 'common curriculum' days. One of the ways that a teacher can approach these 'environments' is to dedicate a whole school day to a theme that covers multiple curriculum areas. Instead of building formative tasks and assessments over a three-week period; try to build on these things over the course of one day and see what happens.

In my class, I have created a "History Day" before, during which students are given academic tasks for history that also touch on arts, math, literacy, gym and even social studies activities - all of which must be completed during the course of the day. It is incredible to observe how well students who struggle with transitions and separated lessons can excel during a day when you clearly state ALL of the learning expectations first thing in the morning and then give them the WHOLE DAY to complete them. The 'independent work' and 'self-regulation' themes emerge in students when they know the exact moment that work is due, and feel a sense of ownership for the product that is created by a fairness in the time-frame given. The work assigned can be worked on in any order that they prefer and some tasks that involve partners or groups have to be organized with the timeline in mind.

There are many things that 'learning environments' can offer you in meeting the demands of the curriculum - it is only a matter of plotting out your course and trying it. Only with new eyes can we recognize new solutions to old problems.

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