International Opinion

How to (De)Construct a Real-World, Interdisciplinary Lesson

By Anthony Jackson — November 08, 2013 3 min read
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What does a real-world, interdisciplinary curriculum look like? How does it build student global competence? And how does a learning community start to develop lessons that build the knowledge and skills needed in the new global age?

I research, speak, and write about knowledge and skills students need for college and the interconnected world beyond. The question I’m asked more than any other is what this type of education looks like in practice. In this blog, I focus on practices at the systems level and at the school level. Today, I will offer a lesson plan deconstruction protocol for educators.

The first step is to check out Just Passing Through: Designing Model Membranes. It’s what I think is a terrific model lesson developed by educators at the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA). The third-grade unit links reading (bilingually, in English and Chinese), science, math, and social studies learning objectives. Students read a storybook in Chinese as a way to explore permeable membranes, bioengieering, as well as diverse organisms and their ecosystems. The thirteen-part lesson includes assessments that are integrated across Chinese, science, math, and social studies.

Use the unit as a discussion piece among colleagues. Deconstruct the lesson as a way to analyze its components--and to gain a critical understanding of how to construct a similar lesson plan that will match your own educational objectives.

Prior to the exercise, participants should read through, as much as possible, this lesson. (Enlist the help of a Chinese language teacher--if you have one--to translate the big ideas written in Chinese that drive the lesson. The lesson is understandable even if, like me, you can’t read Chinese.)

Participants should be a diverse group of educators, including those who teach different grades and subjects; resource librarians; curriculum planners; afterschool trainers; and others who regularly work with the study body. Although this lesson is targetted at third graders, the ideas that drive the lesson have broad applications.

Give participants 30 minutes to read the Integrated Performance Design document and to think about the lesson as a whole. Working together or in small groups, educators should not rely on the author’s outline, but rather speak from their own perspective as science, literacy, foreign language, resource, etc. educators.

Use a note-taking or charting program, record the main ideas that result in discussing the following questions:

  1. What are some ways you would describe this lesson?
  2. What are some of the skills that it could build?
  3. How are the purpose statements connected--or not connected--to academic disciplines?
  4. In what ways do this lesson promote students investigating the world?
  5. How does this lesson teach perspective building?
  6. In what ways do students need to communicate ideas in order to complete this lesson successfully?
  7. And how does this lesson compel students to take action?
  8. What steps do you think the educators took to construct this lesson?
  9. How would you/a teacher assess students’ proficiency level in order to choose target vocabulary and grammar phrases?
  10. What instructional strategies have you used? What instructional strategies are new to you?
  11. How is this lesson collaborative, from a teaching perspective? How is this lesson collaborative, from a learning perspective?
  12. What are other ideas to extend this lesson?

During the debrief, discuss the following:

  1. Of the qualities recorded from the discussion, which ones do you most value?
  2. What are some qualities that are currently not in play in your educational community that you would like to adopt?
  3. What are the next steps to build a global, interdisciplinary unit in your own learning community?

Please share your analyses in the comments area; I’m sure other educators will be as eager as I am to learn from you.

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