Integrating Subjects in Elementary School
Developing Your Students’ Capacity for a More In-Depth Understanding of the Material
Ralston Elementary School implements departmentalization, in which pupils are taught by a distinct teacher for each subject area, as well as integration, in order to create a learning environment that is more genuine and serves a higher purpose (the combination of two or more subject areas).
“According to Jon Bromfield, a teacher of mathematics and science to students in the sixth grade, “rather than being an expert in seven different things, I can work really hard to become an expert in two areas.” It’s a fantastic opportunity for me to improve as a teacher and become the very best I can be.”
When students are learning arithmetic, it is typically taught in a separate classroom from science in elementary schools. When students are learning language arts, it is done in a different setting than when they are learning social studies. However, when children reach the upper grades at Ralston, they begin to realise how the topics of two different studies are related.
As a result of departmentalization, their teachers are able to develop expertise in two distinct disciplines while simultaneously instructing students in each of those courses simultaneously. The pupils’ ability to apply what they have learned in arithmetic to what they have learned in science will depend on how well they have learned math. They will be able to apply what they have learned in language arts to what they have learned in social studies once they have gained that knowledge.
Pablo, a student in the sixth grade, has this to say about his experience: “It helps me feel more involved.” You will have the opportunity to get more knowledge about the outside world.
How It’s Done
It is vital to have an understanding of how Ralston Elementary School is organised in order to appreciate the merits of the departmentalization approach that is utilised there:
Students in kindergarten and first grade attend traditional elementary school classes, where there is just one instructor for the entirety of their education.
Math, reading, and writing are the three subjects that are taught separately to children in grades two and three by a total of three different instructors. The term for this practise is departmentalization. For instance, every student receives their arithmetic instruction from the same teacher.
There are two teachers assigned to each grade level for students in fourth through sixth grades. One teaches subjects related to mathematics and science, while the other instructs students in subjects related to language arts and social studies. This is departmentalization in addition to the integration of subjects.
Start Small: Establish Departmentalization Across All Students in One Grade
Ralston conducted a pilot programme to implement departmentalization at the second-grade level three years ago. The teachers desired to increase their overall topic understanding, which can be accomplished through departmentalization, and they also desired the capacity to rapidly iterate their courses in order to more effectively meet their students where they are in their learning.
Start Small: Implement Departmentalization Across One Grade
At the second-grade level, there are a total of three different classes.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic are the three fundamental disciplines that are taught individually to each class.
Each of the essential topics will take up a 75-minute period.
In addition, each teacher is responsible for instructing their homeroom class in the subjects of social studies and science.
The students receive instruction in each of the three subject areas from one of the three teachers in a rotating fashion.
Gradually Extend the Implementation Across the Remaining Grade Levels
After Ralston’s second-grade children had a fruitful semester-long pilot employing departmentalization, other teams started showing interest in the strategy. Principal Dawn Odean, instructional coach Anne DiCola, and the teachers got together to examine how departmentalization may be implemented at higher grade levels and what it might look like at those levels.
They started by taking a look at different units of study. Instead of approaching the subject matter in the conventional manner — that is, by teaching math and science separately from one another — they investigated the ways in which the subjects of mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts interacted with one another, as well as the ways in which students could apply what they had learned in mathematics to what they had learned in science, and how they could use their reading and critical thinking skills to better comprehend the ideas presented in social studies. Ralston teachers are only need to teach two courses thanks to departmentalization, which makes it more simpler for those subjects to be combined.
When Odean thinks back on what they discovered, he says, “one of the things we found was that [departmentalization] really helps integrate curriculum and create opportunities for students to apply and transfer — so we could truly demonstrate mastery.”
Today, classes two through six at Ralston use departmentalization in their classrooms. Because they want to focus on helping students feel comfortable and creating strong relationships in a new school environment, they keep kindergarten and first grade in the traditional setting. This means that there is one teacher for all courses in both grades.
Expand Implementation Slowly Across Other Grade Levels
What Does Departmentalization in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Grades Look Like?
At each of the three grade levels, there are two classrooms.
Both social studies and language arts are taught by the same instructor to the same group of students in a single combined class by two different teachers.
Every day, each instructor interacts with all of the pupils in their assigned grade level.
The students attend one of two distinct lesson times that each last for two hours and 15 minutes.
Examine and Improve Upon Your Current Lesson Plans
The fact that teachers are required to teach the same lesson numerous times provides them with the chance to rapidly adjust their instruction in response to the comments and suggestions made by students. This is an additional advantage of departmentalization.
According to Odean, “[The teachers] do their lessons in their content area three times a day in their respective classrooms.” “If they attended a typical elementary school, it would take them three years to complete a lesson three times before moving on to the next one. They are able to reflect, shift and adjust, shift and adjust once more, and ultimately make it the finest that it can possibly be thanks to this strategy.”
Integration in the Real World
Integration is the technique of weaving knowledge from one of a teacher’s subject areas into another in the upper grades. While teachers who practise departmentalization specialise in particular subject areas, integration is the activity of weaving content from one subject area into another.
When students take what they’ve learned in one class and apply it to another, they start to see the significance of what they’ve learned. Ralston sixth-grade students, for instance, were able to measure the slope in the drain in their school parking lot after learning computational skills and measurements in math. This gave them ownership in fixing the school’s water overflow and ice problem, and it showed them that their learning is connected to the real world. Ralston sixth-grade students were able to measure the slope in the drain after learning computational skills and measurements.
Integration In Action
According to Jon Bromfield, a teacher who teaches both mathematics and science to sixth graders, “We wanted to do something that would tie into one of our three broad realms of science.” “Since hydrosphere is connected to watershed, which in turn is connected to how our good friend gravity is continually pulling things down, this makes it an ideal relationship for assessing the slope of the parking lot. You really couldn’t have asked for a better laboratory than this one.”
Students in their sixth-grade social studies and language arts class take breaks during a simulation on the Maya to do research, close readings of articles (ranging from secondary sources to primary documents written in the 1500s), and analysis of their own artistic replicas of primary documents. The simulation focuses on the Maya civilization.
The teachers at Ralston aid their pupils in the process of transferring their talents by departmentalizing and combining two different topics. They have more time to prepare out their lessons and incorporate content more deliberately.
Develop Lesson Plans That Are Integrated
Ralston’s upper elementary teachers have been motivated to develop integrated lesson plans as a result of the school’s departmentalization. Language arts and social studies instructor Laura Hinijos, who teaches the sixth grade, shares three pieces of advice based on what she has learned:
Be transparent. She claims that there are certain days when students approach her and inquire if they will be doing any reading in class. To be more open and honest, she may say something like, “Today, we’re going to be working on our literacy skills in the context of our social studies unit.”
Create structure. On certain days, she schedules set amounts of time for reading and writing. On other days, they concentrate on a concept from social studies, and while doing so, her kids apply the abilities they have acquired in language arts to study and better understand the ideas that are addressed.
Be responsive. She emphasises the significance of having structure in the classroom, but emphasises that this structure must be adaptable to the various activities that must take place there. “The beauty of having that almost two-and-a-half-hour block is that it allows for the flexibility to change some of the other structures if we determine that we need more time on a project and more time working together. During those three and a half hours, the events that are transpiring can be altered at my discretion.”
Examine the Concepts on Different Grade Levels
Concepts from many topics are included into Ralston Elementary’s curriculum. At every grade level, there is one central idea that is covered in each and every one of the lessons.
They discussed the idea of alteration when they were in kindergarten. “Odean explains, “They’re looking at change in science, and they can communicate about those things in reading and writing, as well as in mathematics.” A portion of this integration occurs at the more fundamental level, which is done in the primary grades.”
Hinijos centred her sixth-grade social studies and language arts lessons on the idea of risk, and she had a conversation with Bromfield about how he could work risk into his mathematics and science lessons at the start of his geosphere unit. Hinijos was teaching Bromfield’s students about the geosphere. They generated ideas by asking queries such as:
Create Integrated Lesson Plans
What sorts of dangers do we run with our natural resources, and what kinds of dangers do we avoid?
What kind of effects does that have on our geosphere?
Expectations should be incorporated.
The teachers at Ralston share their kids with those in higher grades and develop standardised goals for all of their students. Hinijos explains that with departmentalization and integration, “it’s more of a sixth-grade decision as opposed to a ‘in my classroom’ one.”
Establish mutually acceptable standards.
Both of the sixth-grade instructors are responsible for the same group of students, and they split the duties of bringing both groups together. They discussed their expectations, and they decided to make sure they were always on the same page. “So it’s not like whiplash for the kids,” Hinijos explains, “we’ve worked really hard on making sure we have those commonalities as far as shared expectations for the kids.” “This is what Miss Hinijos expects.’ ‘This is what Mr. Bromfield expects.'”
Make a pact with yourself on your schoolwork.
In addition to that, they came to collective agreements regarding the assignment. If one of them has their students working on a significant project, the other of them won’t give their pupils a lot of homework because of it. Hinijos elaborates, “We’re trying to be attentive to what the students need, but we’re also trying to be respectful of what the students can manage, and we’re making sure that they’re having a common line of communication from both of us.”