How do we create new habits for teacher collaboration and more engaged student learning? Cross-curricular projects!
Collaboration makes so much sense as a teacher! So much sense that we try to get students to learn how to do it well. Unfortunately, as teachers, we find it difficult to do ourselves. We have all been trapped by master schedules and no common planning time. If we want it we have to actively search for and think “outside the box” for ways to make common-planning time happen. Here are some ideas:
I am not suggesting you take on more work but to work differently. Once you identify the new collaborative planning time - use it! Have focused conversations on ideas for cross-curricular projects or units. This is counter-intuitive but it does NOT put more work on your plate just different work. The conversation needs to start with the content standards of both classes and finding natural connections between content and skills. Lets look at a Biology / ELA cross curricular project and some specific content standards from each class.
You can combine the four goals! We will get into awesome project ideas in a moment, but at the very least have students write a 5 paragraph essay about the ethics of bio-engineering in plant or animal organisms. Or try a more complete student-centered cross-curricular PBL project where students create a visual multi-media response to the Driving Question: "How close is science and society from actually having a “Dr. Frankenstein?" I imagine students could be pretty intrigued by that.
For this project idea students would still need to learn all the specific Life Science concepts, facts, and processes with cells and living systems. If you have a good lab that engages students and includes a written lab report then have the report written in the ELA class time. Writers workshop strategies, and revisions can teach the CCSS ELA standards. The Science teacher can assess the science content learning through more precisely written lab reports. The Science teacher is happier because the reports are not as bad as they have been in years past. The English teacher is happy because s/he did not have to “teach” the topic of the writing. The students are happy because they didn’t have to write a different paper about a completely different topic in English class! The Science class could then have a quiz on the information learned through the lab.
In the ELA class students read recent articles from Scientific American, National Geographic, and other popular science magazines. You should be able to easily find some great resources with bizarre scientific research about medical transplants after amputation or loss of limbs, connecting artificial limbs to brain neuron cells, and the morality of human cloning. Be sure to include key sections from, or the whole book, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. (Abridged versions for lower level readers can be found easily!). Use any student-centered discussion strategy to get kids talking about the readings and the science content.
In ELA students then write the script, screenplay, and story board of their multi-media response to the DQ. It needs to accurately contain and use certain science concepts. This part will be assessed by the science teacher. The writing gets assessed in ELA. The finished product after being presented to doctors, science researchers, religious leaders, and parents in one or both classes can be assessed by the students using their own rubric (and the teachers after school with appropriate snacks and beverage!).
Students are more engaged, both teachers feel like they had less grading and students actually learned more, most everyone had some fun, and the community partners are amazed with the ability of “your” students! Just through teacher cross-curricular collaboration!
It takes a commitment to work through and create new habits, but go for it! Open your classroom door. Invite others in. Look for cross-curricular opportunities. Trust your colleagues' work. Limit staff meeting “nuts and bolts”. What collaboration structures have worked for you?