A Million Little Connections, Not Pieces

In a stack of papers called Connections.

  • Feb
  • 06
  • 2006

Without starting a master’s dissertation about this subject and hibernating for weeks of investigation on the topic, I haven’t read as much research as I should or as is out there. A few things popped up in my email over the last few days and I’ve been thinking about this. A holistic approach to education remains the only sound way of looking at academics, something schools need to do far more regularly and systematically. The message from research stands clear: we are all linked and everything is connected.

Music, Math, And The SATs

Students enrolled in music programs or who have some kind of background in music perform better in math and on the SAT. Explaining the popular “Mozart Effect” parents talked so much about once upon a time, an article from the Boston Globe back in 1994 hit on a connection between both performing and listening to music and higher brain function. Now, “higher brain function” does not necessarily translate into better performance in school and society, but it’s a positive thing no matter how you translate it; we want people with higher brain function because all kinds of good things come from such function. No one has a better life for having lower brain function.

Use Regularly

A report linking regular computer use to better performance in key school subjects shows another connection between the different classes in school.

The Small School Connection

Looking at what’s happening at my school, the whole small school movement is, in part, an attempt to show the connection between classes. Frequently, small schools focus on common behavioral expectations, particularly at the beginning. But that is the initial step in showing a connection between all the courses a student encounters during the day.

Just as readily, this connection could be in aligning content in the courses, skills learned in one class in time to coordinate with skills covered in another (say, history class covering McCarthyism just before English class starts in on The Crucible). At my school, the teachers of the small school are scheduled to meet regularly and discuss curriculum. Those meetings haven’t seemed to work toward such an end, but the concept is there and a central part of successful small schools, I believe.

Tandem Classes

My first years of teaching saw my involved in tandem classes, first between English 3 and US History, then between English 2 and World History for 2 years. My set of sixth period students would all go to the same history class for seventh period and kids from sixth period history class would all come to seventh period English class. I don’t have data from that time (those first few years are all about learning to teach, not collecting data on such matters), but I know that students paid more attention to their grammar and spelling on history papers they knew would come under my scrutiny as well as the history teacher’s. We began to establish the connection between the courses: that paper turned in to the history teacher had to take into consideration all the same things it would if it was a paper turned in to the English teacher because those considerations are for creating a successful paper, no matter the teacher-audience.

A Big Project

Often, school subjects are talked about in isolation. But we need to start looking at a student’s entire education program, not just individual courses, successes and failures seen as aberrations instead of indications of a problem with the course load. We all operate in a vacuum when we ignore the other subject areas and that’s just not the way life is. I’ve never used solely one content area’s knowledge for a task; it’s always a combination of many things I’ve learned over the years. Even when writing.

Just once, I’d love for the math, science, history, and English teachers to get together and work with a finite set of kids, developing a plan for some type of final assessment, something each teacher can use to evaluate the student’s progress in that particular course but is seen by the student as a single project. Aspects of all subject areas play a role in the final assessment of student skills. Perhaps a mock trial is the best arena for this kind of project, something that I can easily see fitting in English (speaking and research skills, not to mention written depositions and such), science (maybe it’s a trial that involves forensics or some other scientific concept), math (I think I’m bordering on physics, that marriage of math and science as I see it, but angles, speed, directions, lengths, all could play a role in the trial involving a car accident), and history (reviewing previous court cases for precedents set or other trials that are similar in nature, even understanding why courts are run the way they are).

Care Through Connections

As adults and educators, we clearly see education as the great equalizer, but the myopia of youth does not allow that perspective. The more students understand these connections between subject areas, the fewer students will ignore an entire class. Sure, math will still be the strong subject and the kid will still hate English, feeling that he just “doesn’t get it.” With an understanding of how skills taught in English will improve math performance though, that student will be less likely to shrug off English as unimportant and put math up as a priority. Venturing a further guess, the more emphasis on connections between courses, the greater the amount of concern a student will have for a good education.

And once we get students to care about education, there’s nothing that can stop them.


1. Hassan says:

[2/10/2006 - 12:17 pm]

I visited your nice weblog . It was really useful . I am an English teacher , so if you think we can help each other and be ( let me say friend ) you can visit my weblog and let me know your comments . if you want we can exchange links .By the way your template is really beautiful if it is possible plz send me its code through e-mail . thanks alot .

2. Matt says:

[2/12/2006 - 6:21 pm]

Here I am teaching a class in sociolinguistics for educators and found your site. It’s very infomative. Mock trial sounds like fun.

3. Penelope Millar says:

[1/23/2008 - 7:16 pm]

I know this is an older post but I needed to second and third this idea. I’ve seen it done occasionally in middle schools that have a “team” system, but some do a better job than others. What you’re talking about is what I want all of teaching to be. Even if you can’t always get all the core subjects together, I keep thinking that history & english should always be cotaught. English teachers have to teach about history to explain the setting of the book, history involves plenty of reading and writing, why are they separate?

4. Todd says:

[1/23/2008 - 9:12 pm]

I enjoyed the tandem teaching experience and would gladly do it again (given the right teacher). Thanks for the echo. I’d still love to work in this kind of environment, where all subjects are working together toward one goal. Subject-area isolation is a big part of what’s making education seemingly irrelevant today. Because English, by itself, actually is quite irrelevant. So is math and so are all the other subject areas. When they come together is when they are useful.