I like that word musings, especially when it’s all by itself. No articles, definite or otherwise, to suggest how many will follow. And it certainly doesn’t posses the authority of Action Plan, whether it be an or the… Maybe my musings will one day lead to my action plan, but I’m not there yet.
But I think I’m somewhere… Here’s a link to the requisite “slides”.
Musing the first…
When I talk about interdisciplinary assessments, I really mean assessment. One. (And possibly more of an of learning than an as.) Not a multitude of units or projects loosely united by a theme, but a whole. A thing. A deliverable, to borrow a term from bizspeak.
Sure, there can be parts, and maybe they can be ongoing assessments as learning. But if they’re pieces, I want to see them put together, the greater-than-the-sum. And I don’t want to see the seams.
I want to see answers to questions that matter; solutions to wicked problems; innovation; action plans.
Why? you may ask. Perhaps it’s the sense of accomplishment and the tangibleness of a thing that can be shared, showcased, disseminated, and, most importantly, consumed.
Musing the second…
When I first questioned if students of English had more to bring to the cross-curricular table than communication skills alone, I did so anticipating the answer of, Of course we do.
Of course we do. But instead of issuing an impassioned apologia, I’ll link to one instead: Inspiring Apple Commercial. And for those of you who are partial to the source material: Clip from The Dead Poet’s Society. Those about cover it.
And that’s why we still study Shakespeare; and that’s why we shouldn’t stop.
But how would this fit on a rubric?
Sublime transcendence: thorough; considerable; some; limited.
I do believe students of English and the arts can bring this concept of humanity to the wicked problems or questions that matter, but I wouldn’t want to have to mark it. Perhaps someone more capable than I can create that rubric.
So maybe I need to rephrase the answer: Of course we have more to bring to cross-curricular projects than communication skills, but we won’t. Let us be the custodians of communication, and we’ll be happy.
Let us be the custodians of communication, and we’ll be happy.
As the only discipline with an entirely skills-based curriculum, it makes sense that we leave the content to our colleagues in other subjects. Just leave the communication to us.
Musing the third…
The job sharing I muse about above may seem simple, but I think it provides an integral first step towards truly meaningful (dare I say, authentic) interdisciplinary projects. No more creating a project on flowers in biology then writing a poem about a lily in English. Instead, why not have the English teacher assess how well the student presents his or her final product, whether it be spoken, written, filmed, or all of the above. (More on this a little later.)
No more creating a project on flowers in biology then writing a poem about a lily in English.
Easy, right? Yep. And scalable, too. Simply add as many teachers who are willing and who also have direct curricular links to the content being studied. (Of course timing and co-ordinating one of these wicked-problem projects would be tough and require total buy-in from all involved, but wouldn’t it be nice if the curricular connections were one less worry?)
But what if there aren’t enough curricular connections? What then?
Musing the fourth…
I wrote earlier about how disheartening it was to tell grades eleven and twelve students they couldn’t work on a particular topic because they didn’t fit nicely into the curricula of the courses they were taking at the time. The first-step I muse about above went a long way to salvaging a fabulous initiative, but I think we can go even further.
If we assess the skills and thinking that a discipline fosters, we’ll open up a trove of authentic learning opportunities for our students.
I initially thought that merely making a semantic switch would work (from cross-curricular to interdisciplinary), but I realize we won’t get far if we stray away from the curriculum. But let’s entertain that difference for a movement. If we focus too much on the content in the curriculum itself, we’ll constrict the learning opportunities for our students. Is DNA grade 11 or 12 Bio? But if we focus on the thinking and skills fostered by the discipline, those constrictions all but vanish. The question, then, becomes, How would a biologist approach this topic? How would an historian? An economist?
If we assess the skills and thinking that a discipline fosters, we’ll open up a trove of authentic learning opportunities for our students. And with a focus on the demonstration of skills, which particular content a student choses to showcase those skills is immaterial.
Musing the fifth…
Look… There’s nothing revolutionary now about saying skills, critical thinking, and habits of mind are more important than content. No one talks about 21st Century “content musts”. And, almost as equally obvious, of course content is essential–you need something to think critically about. So I guess I’m musing about removing some of the obstacles to true interdisciplinary learning–curricular ones.
The Ontario Science Curriculum for 11 and 12 has three overarching goals (page 6):
- to understand the basic concepts of science
- to develop the skills, strategies, and habits of mind required for scientific inquiry
- to relate science to technology, society, and the environment
Or, in a nutshell, to think like a scientist.
The Canadian and World Studies Curriculum for 11 and 12 includes these among its overarching goals (3):
- develop practical skills (such as critical-thinking, research, and communication skills), some of which are particular to a given subject in Canadian and world studies and some of which are common to all the subjects in the discipline;
- apply the knowledge and skills they acquire in Canadian and world studies courses to better understand their interactions with the natural environment; the political, economic, and cultural interactions among groups of people; the relationship between technology and society; and the factors contributing to society’s continual evolution.
Many math teachers stress the benefits of gap analysis, a tool that lends itself to all problems, even ones without numbers.
The curriculum for 11 and 12 math doesn’t have an easily-copyable-and-pastable bullet on problem-solving skills, but perhaps that’s because their importance permeates the strands and learning objectives. Many math teachers stress the benefits of gap analysis, a tool that lends itself to all problems, even ones without numbers.
Yes, I focus on the senior grades, not just because I teach them but also because students are less likely to take similar courses the older they are.
Musing the sixth…
So what would a rubric look like for one of these El Dorado-esque projects? Who would assess what? Good questions…
Let’s concede communication skills to the English, if only because it’s the one course that all students have to take.
For the former, just like any other but with (potentially) one major difference: the Knowledge and Understanding category would likely bow out if the content is not directly a topic of study for a given curriculum. Of course, if the content is related, then back in it comes.
For the latter, and for simplicity’s sake, let’s concede communication skills to the English, if only because it’s the one course that all students have to take. Check.
The rest, then, would depend on the disciplines involved and the nature of the projects. All relevant teachers would simply divvy up Thinking & Inquiry and Application or even divide them, depending on what they need to assess for their own courses.
I first envisioned only a two-category rubric–Inquiry and Communication–but what could be a better way of assessing skills and methodologies than by applying them to new content not covered in class by the teacher? Maybe Application is the assessment saviour here.
Musing the last…
If the English teacher, at least for these interdisciplinary projects, will be the custodian of communication, must we require the students to work within a prescribed medium? If you want. But why not let them choose? For my students this year, they can choose whatever medium they like: report, video, presentation, short-doc, multi-media–anything, really. And I’ll assess them on how well they communicate their thinking and methodologies.
And if you need to flesh out a particular strand, then do so.