What needs improvement? More higher level questions for class discussion. Or….provide opportunities for critical
thinking. These comments stood out to me in my classroom observations over the past few years as a Collegio (integrated History and Engligh) teacher at Seattle Prep. While I flourished in many ways and students enjoyed my style, the challenge continued to be finding ways to push those students to grapple with higher level thinking. How do I move beyond content and into concepts? This question riddled many teachers and in fact, still provides struggles for many with years of experience. Hence this “radical” approach to thinking was the central focus of last week’s module in the Survey of Instructional Strategies course.
Professor Tracy Williams highlighted in the lecture PowerPoint how the idea of teaching concepts or themes can benefit students regardless of curriculum. She stated: “while content may change from unit to unit and from year to year in a curriculum, the themes remain as conceptual points of reference. The themes have the power of ideas, and ideas are the mortar which holds together the curricular building blocks” (Williams). This is Collegio at Seattle Prep – or at least after we revised the curriculum this summer. In my junior Collegio with the focus on American History, we take essential questions and a theme for each unit and it builds upon the previous unit. In many ways, we stick with the question of what it means to be an American and who gets included in the definition? As we move from the Revolutionary Era to the Civil War we start to see very clearly that the North and South view the definition differently and that African-Americans are not included. Then the students get to wrestle with the theme of power (politically, militarily, economically and socially) and how that influences the definition. The units are not about names and dates; they are about ideas and concepts.
This continues with my senior course called Ecology, Economics, and Ethics: The Global Water Crisis as we teach students to become advocates of change. The course features the issues surrounding water, but it isn’t really about that. We could teach the course on hunger, disease, religion, forgiveness or any other multitude of topics. The theme is how do seniors in high school learn to combat the system and become agents of change? How do they advocate for the disadvantaged? We simply use the content to teach those skills. This is concept learning at its best and it makes me very proud to be a part of it.