Monday, May 13, 2013

Try To Teach the "Why" with Cross-Curricular Connections

Explaining cross-curricular connections and relationships is a very powerful teaching tool. Not only that, but being willing as the adult in the room to share your purpose for teaching the students certain things and explaining our teacher language and methods to students raises engagement and curiosity--it empowers the students to have intelligent conversations with adults about their learning.

'Cross-Curricular Connections' means "Why"

A very recent example I have from my 5th grade classroom this past week, which also inspired me to write this post, stems from our study of the solar system. Many times throughout a school day I set a purpose for my students and remind them of it for each subject. For example, "Remember class, we are learning this because ______________ and also because ________________".  It is through this type of prompting that I see the greatest curiosity cross my students' faces.  When I spend time telling them that when something is cross-curricular it means that connections are being made in more than one subject, and that a worksheet that has them filling in blanks is really called a "cloze exercise" and forces them to use "context clues" and other comprehension skills as well as communication skills by writing it down--you know, all that jargon we throw around in college and in teacher's planning meetings--THAT'S when they really listen.

Teach the Kids your Instructional Language to make Cross-Curricular Connections

So often we get caught up in covering material rather than teaching it, or presenting the "WHY" behind it.  We teach from the scripted book or from what this leveled reader or that one says about the subject.  Let's teach the kids why.  Let's teach them that these are requirements for us and them and why that is. Let's show them that taking a vote on the class' favorite lunch and making a tally chart which we then create a bar graph from is actually COMMUNICATION of DATA and TRANSLATING it from one form to another.  Let's teach them that answering an extended response question that COMPARES AND CONTRASTS the sinking of the Titanic with the explosion of the Hindenburg is really a way to communicate through writing and translate the information from the texts into a different FORMAT--the Venn Diagram.

Better yet, when we are about to begin a lesson, let's present the topic briefly and then have the students brainstorm a list of possible WHY'S for learning it. 

Cross-Curricular Objective Setting at the Beginning of the Lesson

One of my principals gave us teachers a great push to "begin with the end in mind". It was her belief that whether we were teaching from a district-mandated reading curriculum or not, we should look ahead to the weekly, unit, and quarterly assessments, know what was on them, predict where our kids would struggle and anticipate how to meet their needs instructionally before we even wrote our lesson plans for the week.  Many thought it too much work, simply feeling that if we taught the Reading curriculum that was required with integrity, the students would be well prepared for the test. Well, meeting individual needs doesn't work very well that way and closing or "moving" the gap (as this principal would say) is nearly impossible if you're not willing to be purposeful in your planning.  Within that purpose or objective is where you find your jargon.  Within that purpose or objective is what the kids need to be familiar with.  We should feel confident as teachers that if anyone comes into our room and asks "Hey Johnny, what are you learning right now?" He will answer "Well, we are reading about Jupiter because we need to know about our solar system and after this we will have a cloze exercise that makes us use context clues from what we learned and writing skills to communicate information. This lesson uses Reading, Writing, and Science skills all at once. " 

Sounds like he's a dream student, doesn't he? 
Well, he doesn't have to be. I've been working in very challenging environments explaining cross-curricular connections and it has worked no matter where.

 I challenge you to try teaching the WHY and notice the results!  

Finally, I would be remiss without mentioning Whole Brain Teaching methods in this post. I had the privilage to attend their annual conference in the summer of 2012 and it has heavily influenced my teaching methods and connection-making strategies with my students. Please check out the video below to see a demonstration by Chris Biffle, the creator of the Whole Brain Teaching Method and visit their website.

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