Including academic and content vocabulary in the local curriculum will support instructional targets, promote vertical alignment across grade levels by establishing the use of common terminology, and ensure that the terms are both taught and assessed.
Get students up and moving with this quick assessment strategy! At the end of a lesson, make a statement or ask a question regarding content. Students will move to the corresponding corner of the classroom to share their response to the prompt. Responses can be degree of agreement (strongly agree, disagree, not sure), answers to specific questions, or self reflection of content understanding (I’ve got it! or I still need some help!).
Teachers and students alike experience their day in a schedule of time based on various academic subjects. Your morning may consist of a block of English Language Arts, followed by science, social studies, and fine arts classes, and the day might end with Math. We spend a great deal of time learning these schedules and routines, perfecting them to make sure adequate instructional minutes are met. Breaking up the school day based on subjects does seem to be a very manageable way of ensuring all students are spending equal amounts of time learning each disciplinary area.
Perhaps just as important as making sure students are immersed in all subjects equally, is the importance of creating an authentic learning environment where students are able to apply the skills they learn throughout their scheduled-subject day. Another factor of importance is to deliver instruction in a way that allows students to connect their learning to real-world experiences. As adults, we find ourselves applying the skills and knowledge we learned throughout our educational experiences to navigate and survive in the real world. As we travel to the grocery store, we might use a map to get there (geography), need to assess our needs and wants as we navigate the aisles (economics), and calculate the amount of money we need to give to the cashier (math). All of these academic disciplines come into play together in one real-world experience. Using this example, we can already see the first of many benefits of cross-curricular instruction.
What is Cross-Curricular Instruction?
Cross-curricular instruction is an instructional strategy that offers a way for teachers to plan lessons that incorporate more than one disciplinary area. This allows students to broaden their lens of understanding and apply skills and strategies they learn in lessons to deepen their overall understanding and make authentic, real-world connections. Cross-curricular instruction also allows students the opportunity to learn skills in different contexts. For example, if a student has a passion for science, they may be more engaged and willing to take risks by applying concepts they have learned in math. If a student is apprehensive about writing, but passionate about history, incorporating writing into social studies lessons allows them to have a positive mindset and increases their engagement with the skill they are practicing. Cross-curricular instruction also lends itself to project-based learning. This authentic learning experience and strategy allows students to further put into practice the skills they have learned in their studies. Students are able to make meaningful connections to each curricular area, but also see the learning experience as a whole.
Planning for and implementing cross-curricular instruction may seem like a daunting task. Although we want to create meaningful learning experiences for our students, we are still tied to state standards and maintaining the fidelity of our curricula. To get started using cross-curricular instruction, consider using the following tips:
Have a Plan One of the key steps to ensuring success with cross-curricular instruction is clear, long-term planning. Mapping out priority learning targets for each curricular area will help those involved in the planning process have a clear vision.
Clear, Natural Connections Another important strategy is looking for authentic links between subjects. The connections between disciplines should be natural, not forced. Choose areas where the connections occur naturally and make sure that these connections are concrete enough for the students to understand.
Plan Thematic Units Thematic units are a great way to get started with cross-curricular planning. You can take one idea or theme and tie it into many different subject areas. This strategy will allow those connections among subjects to occur more naturally. Once a theme is established, you can choose a key concept to guide instruction, and then lessons within that key concept from different subjects.
Reflect As with any new initiative or strategy, reflection is by far the most important component throughout the process. The willingness to be flexible in your planning, to go back and reflect on different strategies and the effectiveness of lessons is what will bring your cross-curricular experience to the next level.
Using these strategies will help with planning and implementing opportunities for cross-curricular instruction. Finding a link across subject areas will allow your students to experience a truly authentic, engaging learning experience where they can apply new skills in a multitude of ways.
As I reflect on the past 25 years or so of working directly with school districts of various sizes, I debated my last topic for an E-Hint. A staff colleague asked, “In your work, what have been the most important things districts can do to change school culture through curriculum development, instructional planning, and local assessment development?” So, I created this list of actions that I feel lead to the most significant impact for districts implementing the model. I daresay that these actions would lead to positive effects within any school district. They have led to intense study of best practice through research, consistent improvement of student learning, and powerful conversations between and among teachers, administrators, the board of education, and community members.
To achieve significant results, a district must establish:
- a “district” mindset for the governance of curriculum, instruction, and assessment by a representative group of teachers, administrators, board, and local stakeholders.
- This district mindset demands that members put aside their titles and their individualism to make decisions that will positively benefit the school district.
- District personnel bring their expertise to the table, but the stakeholders are free to discuss as equal participants in the decision-making steps involved.
- a climate of accountability for teachers and students along with district-level and building-level leadership.
- As with many action decisions, if no one is checking, it is natural to do what is “easier” when stress and deadlines encroach on planning. Accountability structures lead to productive actions for the entire school staff and foster a sense of daily accountability for students.
- a Long-Range Plan to outline timeframes for curriculum development, instructional planning, and local assessment development.
- Teachers and teacher teams will not have to wonder when changes are to be made to a curriculum, leading to instructional planning adjustments, assessment revisions, and the potential for new resources.
- Administrators can budget time and finances, for upcoming needs in advance.
- district-wide parameters for grading policies that positively impact student learning.
- Stakeholders should have opportunities for research and dialogue to identify and implement best practice grading solutions regarding the why and how students are evaluated for their performance.
- Teachers’ closely held beliefs about grading are often shared while decisions are made about what scores are “fair” to include and how to incorporate the scores into a “grade” for students.
- An environment of equity and fairness results from the discussions.
- a common, local curriculum aligned to standards allows teachers of the same grade level or course opportunities to have planning conversations.
- Teachers collaborate to develop instructional plans with common outcome targets, leading to using all teachers’ expertise of the same grade level in each classroom. Teachers learn from each other in pursuit of common goals.
- The common, local curriculum establishes the Tier One curriculum on which to base intervention plans.
- common assessments with descriptions of defined performance levels.
- Teachers carefully align local assessments to make sure they are assessing the established curriculum.
- Subjectivity is removed from grading as much as is possible.
- Results are shared within the grade level or courses to determine best instruction practices on a specific curricular goal and identify the most effective instructional strategies.
- Teachers can implement interventions in a timely manner.
- Communication regarding student progress can be more specific and include celebrations or clear steps for improvement.
- a seamless progression of content and skills in each subject area for efficient instruction.
- There is a clear “roadmap” of the students’ journey of content and skills.
- Teachers can identify where or when students may have experienced a loss of successful learning.
- Teachers can rely on the learning in previous grade levels to provide the basis for new learning expectations.
These strategies or steps to improve curriculum, instruction, and assessment alignment lead to better communication between and among all stakeholders and provide stability throughout a school district. While these actions would lead to positive effects within any school district, it is often impossible to maintain the priority without a district-mandated structure explicitly designed to require discussion.
Yes, the end of the school year is in sight. Teachers are worried about finishing the curriculum, checking in books, taking posters off the walls, entering grades, and all of their other year-end tasks. Administrators are ticking items off of their unique building goal lists and sending out reminders and final instructions for the last days of school, all the while contemplating their summer worklists. In anticipation of the end of the year, we experience a seemingly abrupt conclusion followed by a collective sigh. Afterward, the thoughts of “Oh, no, we forgot… “ settle into our minds.
Let’s start now to check off the tasks and items that are complete or need follow-up.
We can then take time to reflect and celebrate the positive accomplishments that we might otherwise overlook in a rush to the end. The provided checklists are republished to serve as a guide to districtwide and classroom reflection and to remind us of all the tasks that require completion or monitoring to start the next year.
It is a familiar scenario and solution. The pressure is felt to improve reading skills to score higher on standardized tests. Elementary teachers can’t extend the school day, so they borrow time from a content area which doesn’t have a state assessment or one not as often. Social studies and science take a backseat. Even though this move seems logical with the best intentions, the results are counterproductive. Since the 1990s, the amount of instructional time in science and social studies has decreased over 90 minutes per week. It is often the first place teachers look to “pull” students from if they need interventions. Unfortunately, by cutting these courses, the opportunities for developing content vocabulary and knowledge about real life is also reduced.
Why teach social studies and science? Social studies classes provide content knowledge, but most importantly, students learn the foundation for why it is necessary to contribute to society as a good citizen. Science activities are a way to capture the interest of students with fun, hands-on, and minds-on lessons. Learning activities related to science and social studies help students develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills while connecting concepts to their world.
Support for the Key Shifts in English/Language Arts Standards Many states have revised their English/Language Arts Standards in recent years and have outlined key shifts from past standards. Continuing to schedule regular science and social studies classes allows opportunities to teach needed skills. The background knowledge gained from social studies and science provides the context to understand new and complex text for greater comprehension. Reading about science is no replacement for phenomenon or inquiry, but it can help build the knowledge base for “doing” science. Plus, citing textual evidence from informational text helps provide pieces necessary for accurate analysis of an investigation.
Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension English/Language Arts Standards require students to use domain-specific words in their writing and while speaking. Science and social studies classes provide opportunities for students to learn word meanings, read and hear them applied correctly in context, and use the words for communicating. Students receiving explicit instruction over the meanings of affixes and root words benefits the current class, but that knowledge is utilized by the students to become stronger readers in all classes. Vocabulary acquisition improves the comprehension of complex literary and informational text.
Student Engagement A significant, well-documented reason to keep regularly scheduled science and social studies classes, is that students love the activities these topics provide! The natural fit for collaboration and project-based learning allows students opportunities for implicit learning, developing good work habits, and applying what they learn to their lives. Learning while having fun is impactful in many ways!
Teachers are well aware of the importance of reading on grade level by the 3rd grade. If this doesn’t happen, opportunities to be successful in the future will be more of a challenge. Capturing every moment available for learning is critical. If you are interested in utilizing an integrated approach to teach more than one content area at the same time, download CLI’s FREE Civic Education Resource, Life, Liberty, Law. This resource is aligned to National Standards in Social Studies but also references ELA, Math, Science, Fine Arts, and Social/Emotional Learning Standards. Get yours at cliweb.org/resources-2.