School subjects

We need to stop teaching high school subjects separately

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Alyssa McKee is an English teacher at Frederick County Public Schools in Virginia.

We’re wasting time our time and the time of our students. We run around a hamster wheel giving busy work and complaining when students don’t find it useful enough to complete.

Why do students need to learn poetry in isolation? What about persuasive writing? Wouldn’t it make sense to write an impassioned plea to save the ocean while including relevant research on the chemicals involved in oil spills and cleanups?

We CAN combine subjects with other content areas to create more meaningful work for students. I don’t just speak idealistically, but with the experience to back up my opinion. In a pilot program currently being implemented in a Northern Virginia public school, students combine content and learning areas, internalize and find value in education.

Paired core subjects make sense. When student choice is mixed into the mix, students can make connections that we might never have even thought of bringing into the classroom.

Many teachers shy away from this idea because they may wonder how to pair concepts from two subjects when we as teachers are content specialists in only one of these areas. The answer is that we must be able to trust our students to replenish what we perceive as “gaps” in that progress. The truth is that as a teacher it is scary to bring this type of learning into the classroom because we give up some level of control and the students become the experts.

The result of this concept is deeper learning, more motivation and better relationships and communication skills between students.

Recently, under the program mentioned above, students completed cross-curricular work in science, math, social studies, and English for an entire school year. The result was a deeply engaged group of students doing work that honestly transcended my understanding of other content areas.

Students created projects dealing with water pollution, alternative energy, the opioid crisis, and alternative solutions to each area. Students incorporated calculus, geometry, half-lives, poetry, and countless other concepts into their work. They completely reached and transcended the program.

I didn’t understand a lot of the content they were crawling around in regards to content areas that weren’t my area of ​​expertise, and that was intimidating to me. But why should that limit their work?

This work has also enabled better time management and social-emotional learning among students. By working in a multi-content environment of various ages and levels, real work environments are reflected.

The students learned to communicate with each other, to build on each other’s strengths and to support each other in their needs. Students held each other accountable, had difficult conversations, learned about their own and others’ learning styles, and developed time management skills.

They learned by doing and sometimes fail. Failure in areas such as time management provided valuable lessons for moving forward and trying something different.

Students emerge from a more independent and interdisciplinary learning environment, ready to manage their time as adults. They are prepared for self-learning skills if they pursue higher education, they are ready to balance work and life, and they are ready to work well with others regardless of the environment in which they find themselves.

The problem? We are limited in the scope of transversal work in secondary school. We cannot do this unless the traditional high school timetable model is overhauled.

Going from class to class when the bell rings doesn’t work. This type of work does not always fit well into 90-minute class periods. We cannot do this unless the traditional layout of secondary school classrooms is revamped.

Students sitting face to face in desks while the teacher teaches for an hour does not lend itself to a productive environment. Students in this type of work must have the freedom and flexibility to immerse themselves in their work. We can’t do that unless the traditional high school grading system is revamped. Grades do not always reflect learning and growth.

Whatever the limitations, we MUST find a way to make this interdisciplinary learning more prevalent in high schools across the United States. The students are worth it. Their education is worth it.