Parent: “What subjects do you have today?”
Student: “One subject all day and all week: Learning”
Joined Up Learning!
We have all mentioned so many times that we need to draw closer links between our subjects. I regularly hear students say “that was more like a History lesson than an English lesson” and they are right: we have to reference a lot of historical context in English but students should not be shocked or confused that I am teaching History. We want the students to think of their lessons as learning and not to always break that learning into compartments and categorise what they are learning as a mechanical and isolated process .In my Year 10 lesson today on ‘An Inspector Calls’ I referenced two of our previous units (‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Poetry’). Not one student said “Why are you talking about that text? We are studying a different text this half term?”. In fact they openly instigated a comparison of Eva Smith(from An Inspector Calls) to Curley’s wife(Of Mice and Men) without me prompting them. My Year 10s don’t need to compare these two texts in their GCSE….I don’t care!…..the fact that they can do it is demonstrating higher order skills and has made me change one of my homework tasks to accommodate this thinking across units. What if we regularly did this across subjects?
Why can students use punctuation in English but not in Geography? Students will say that it’s because “Geography is not English so they don’t need to… ” but Geography is learning and English is learning and students should see learning as the main goal and achievement at all times and most importantly the link between all lessons and subjects. We don’t want students in HDHS to be thinking Maths for fifthy minutes and then switch Maths off because they are learning about ART next. Have our students got a little room in their brain for each subject and once a lesson is over they close the door to that room? If they are anything like me, they will walk into rooms and not know why they went into that room and forget the code to open the door to the room, so storing knowledge and skills in an isolated area is not the most effective way of learning. As long as students think like this they are limiting themselves and I could even go as far as to say that as long as we teach like this, we are limiting them. Learning needs to be continuous and not stop and start.
How do we stop students from being subject robots? We need to be encouraging a more holistic and linked approach to learning. I started to think about that with History as part of our new GCSE course and I have made contact with Erin(Head of History in my school) and Sarah(History teacher/AST/Creative and imaginative colleague, Welsh person). Erin has replied and we have found a common ground. Sarah has ignored my email (probably due to jealousy over Ireland on course to win the Six Nations). This basically is at ‘a touch base’ stage and time is an issue but if something will be effective then we need to make time to get it going. At a very simple level I was thinking of History using a clip/image/extract from Animal Farm when they teach Stalin in Year 9 and us in English revisiting the same clip/image/extract in Year 10 when we teach Animal Farm……it should at the very least ring a bell, be familiar and have an “ah! We did that in History!” moment. If we pick this up in Year 10, then there probably are some cobwebs in the students’ brains that need cleaning but perhaps if this ‘linked learning’ was more prominent in our school and more embedded in our school across subject areas, then we will see more independent and higher level thinking. Am I asking for too much?......I don’t care…. We need to be positive in our thinking…… the glass is half full for now but I will find a way to fill up the rest of the glass!
In my trawling through the internet, below is something that I found interesting. I copied and pasted something that I found from the Michaela Community School. It takes the idea of links to a greater height which I find intriguing. I know the Geography department in my school has a theme for year 7 of ‘Around The World’ and in English we have a theme in Year 7 of the ‘Journey of language’. Both Dave(Head of Geography) and I have obviously put this in place for our students to see links in our subjects but would this not be even more effective for the students if there was a common theme running across all subjects throughout a year. In the school I have highlighted below they have put a clear focus on knowledge across a year group and believe that this is a ‘prerequisite of skills development’. If the students embed knowledge across subjects, across a year, they will be better equipped to transfer knowledge and develop necessary skills to be successful learners and successful members of society. http://mcsbrent.co.uk/#/curriculum/ Some subjects leaders might be initially dismissive and say that their subject exists on its own and does not link to every subject .Of course I disagree with this. I got a lot from reading http://www.etl.tla.ed.ac.uk//docs/ETLreport4.pdf and as a result in June 2014, Sarah(not the Welsh one but my amazing, dedicated and open-minded 2iC) and I started to rethink what we teach and how we teach using the threshold concepts/Big ideas as our starting point. This became the starting point for shaping our curriculum from Year 7 to Year 13 and beyond. We still have a lot of work to do but If every subject identified their threshold concepts a joined up learning approach could become more realistic.
In the example below, RE and Art have got involved in ‘Joined Up Learning’. Below is an example at Michaela Community School.http://mcsbrent.co.uk/#/pragmatic-education/
At Michaela, we decide which knowledge to teach based on three principles: schemata,challenge, and coherence.
Our aim is to help pupils remember everything they are learning, and master the most important content. To this end, subject content knowledge is best organised intothe most memorable schemata. So we organise history and English literature chronologically. We start in Year 7 with classical antiquity: in History we study Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Roman Britain; in Religion, we study polytheism, The Old and New Testament, Judaism and Christianity; in English, we study Greek mythology, The Odyssey, Roman Rhetoric, epic poetry and Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; in Art, we study Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, sculpture and architecture. Chronological, cumulative schemata help pupils remember subject knowledge in the long-term: not for ten weeks or ten months, but for ten years and beyond.
The subject knowledge we choose to teach our pupils to master is the most vital and the most challenging content. The pupils we teach often arrive at school far behind, unable to read fluently or multiply. Many have a vocabulary of under 6,000 words, while wealthier pupils often have over 12,000. So the opportunity cost of anything other than the most challenging subject content is high. Only the most challenging topics with the most stretching vocabulary, combined with high support so all pupils understand and use it accurately, will allow them to compete academically with the 96% of private school pupils who reach University. We dedicate extended teaching time for mastery of grammar, spelling and vocabulary, the hidden bodies of knowledge that make for accurate writing. Our pupils will have vivid memories of reading some of the most complex and beautiful texts ever written: Shakespeare’s Othello, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Shelley’sFrankenstein, Orwell’s 1984, Malcolm X’s autobiography, Duffy’s The Worlds’ Wife, and Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom.
Subject knowledge we select dovetails cohesively across and between subjects. At Michaela, our pupils will remember Year 7 as the year they learnt about classical civilisation. Across subjects, they are making exciting connections. Sacrifice, for instance, recurs in the stories of Abraham and Isaac in religion, with Agamemnon and Iphigenia or Minos and Theseus in Greek mythology. Across English and Science, the planet Mercury is named after the swift Greco-Roman messenger god as it is the fastest-moving planet, taking 88 days to orbit the sun. A dovetailed knowledge curriculum allows pupils to make these fascinating connections for themselves, and understand the ideas of democracy, dictatorship, hubris, nemesis, tragedy and monotheism from their early origins.
In short, we select challenging, sequenced, coherent schemata within and across subjects, so that our pupils remember what they’ve learned for years to come.