Sunday, 9 February 2014

Bringing Elementary to Secondary

People often ask me what I think of elementary school after spending six years as a secondary school teacher.  Honestly, I love it!  The more I think about the elementary school system, the more I realize how limited I was by the timetable and structure of the secondary system.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was restricted by the fact that the bell rang and students had to leave, and by the fact that I was in charge of one subject in its time slot.  The opportunity to facilitate cross-curricular learning opportunities has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that could exist in secondary school.

Through cross-curricular projects and learning activities, my students are able to meet learning outcomes for many subject areas at once.  I love the ability to integrate curricula and feel that it provides me with an opportunity to engage students in learning which connects with the world around them.  As well, this allows students to delve into one project and meet learning outcomes from a variety of areas.

It's no secret that I'm a fan of inquiry-based learning.  I used inquiry in secondary school but I feel that opportunities for this type of learning could be improved by an examination and restructuring of the secondary school system.  One suggestion I have made in my discussions with colleagues is the possibility of enrolling students into cohorts for some of their studies.  I know that this does happen in some schools.  Science Co-op was a program when I was a student and involved combining science courses and work experience so that students could use their time more flexibly for the semester, attending field trips and work experience opportunities.  I think it would be fantastic to combine English courses with elective courses.  Students could explore areas of interest alongside a teacher with the same passions.  They could build their literacy skills while reading and writing about their elective course theme.  What if these courses incorporated mathematics, as well?  Or Social Studies?  Health and Career?  I can imagine how well English 10, Social Studies 10, Planning 10, and a grade 10 elective would fit together.  I know that some cohort-based programs are offered in secondary schools, but would love to see this become a more available option so that students and their teachers can explore the same cross-curricular learning opportunities that I am enjoying as an elementary teacher.  (I am aware that it would be a timetabling nightmare, of course!  I can dream, though!)

The longer I teach elementary school, and learn about my students' lives and interests, I realize how little I knew about my secondary school students.  At the time, I felt that I had strong connections with many students and their parents, particularly if I taught them for multiple years.  Now, I realize how much there is to know about my students.  The advantage of having students in cohorts at the secondary level would have relational benefits, as well.

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