In the old days, high school teachers would disappear into their rooms, close the door, and lecture, lecture, lecture. Today, a few dinosaurs continue this practice, but soon, they, too, will be extinct. Most of us old teachers have adapted to changes and the fresh-out-of-college younglings are creative, energetic, and inspiring.
So, aside from Mr. T-Rex, our teachers of today have been trying to get kids to think. Our new national curriculum, or Core Curriculum as the federal government prefers it to be called, does a great job in promoting thinking and collaboration. Although it is only a matter of time until Old Man Triceratops retires, there are a few Neanderthals who are far from retirement and in need of being dragged into the Twenty-first century. Thus, we have been mandated a “new” curriculum.
I write “new” because it is not so new in Language Arts. We do many of the lessons already – teaching reading and writing skills. The curriculum does offer many ideas for lesson planning, most of which we already use. Nonetheless, one focus in the new curriculum appears to be integrated learning and teaching to the multiple intelligences of the students.
I was involved in an integrated class in 1993-1995. For the first year, our district allowed the science teacher, math teacher and myself a common planning period. During the second year, the district added Spanish I to the integrated team and only the science and math teachers and myself shared a fifteen minute study hall with our students. Needless to say, the integration of all four subjects for many lessons was either contrived or forced. In English and Spanish we were able to compare and contrast mythologies and folk tales. In English class, we could research some scientists or mathematicians. Or, I would help students write lab reports.
The class was cancelled when our district changed school course offerings and science requirements at the junior and senior high school. However, I was able to see how integration can work, and I began to develop ideas that would have students utilize multiple intelligences and promote creativity. I found the projects to be successful when I gave points for creativity (with formats, media, and figurative language) and graded student’s effort, yet I continued the focus on their writing skills.
This year, though, three of my classes had the opportunity to work with the choir director to create a visual and oral presentation for the 9/11 Remembrance and Veteran’s Day Concert. I designed assignments to be used with the songs being performed. I came up with four possibilities students could choose from:
1. Immigration and why people move here.
2. People’s reactions to the 9/11 attack.
3. Explain what happened at the battle of the La Drang Valley during the Vietnam War.
4. Use the novel we read, Sunrise Over Fallujah, to show the effects of the war in Iraq.
I was impressed with the quality of work produced by the kids. It was difficult to choose four to be part of the choir concert. The choir performed for the community on a Thursday evening and for the students on a Tuesday morning.
When I was in choir, we stood on the stage and tried to sing louder than the snores of our parents in the audience. Some of the kids even tried to sing in tune. Not me. My philosophy has always been the louder the better. However, this collaborative effort between my students, the choirs, and a multi-media class produced an entertaining and moving performance. Several choirs moved around or danced. Videos, accompanied with music and slide shows with narrations, were used as transitions when the various choirs entered and exited the stage. The narratives and videos produced a few tears in the audience members as we thought of those who died on 9/11 or in military service.
What did the students learn? They learned a little about the topics they researched. They learned that freedom is not free. They learned that our country is home to people from all over the world who came here to escape persecution or famine and to seize opportunities that seemed to abound in every city and every state. They learned how words can paint a picture and pictures can stir emotions and songs can soothe the soul. They learned that no subject is an island to itself.
Any ideas for our next integration project?