The Power of Thematic Instruction

I had my first taste of the power of integrating instruction during my senior year in college.  I was taking a diverse group of classes which really didn’t seem to have much in common: Bible as Literature, Aging and Death, Early Childhood Education, and Detective Fiction.  For some reason the content of these four classes flowed together like ballet dancers in Swan Lake.  Looking back I can’t remember any of the specific connections that occurred multiple times each day, but I can clearly remember the excitement and interest instigated by the constant flow of interrelated ideas and the thinking that was generated because of them.  I actually looked forward to going to classes, a VERY unique experience for me.  That experience turned a school hater into a school lover, at least for one semester, and influenced the choices I made as a teacher from then on.

I was already using a thematic approach to teaching preschool–most preschool teachers do–but I began to see curriculum integration as a much broader landscape than what I had perceived up to that time.  I began to see how one subject area can support understanding and develop new conceptual thinking in another subject area; I had never thought about how learning could support learning.  Although it sounds obvious, I found a whole new level in which circumstances in life can be explored, analyzed, and experienced through literature and film and the impact that can make on my personal life.  I had known that superficially for years, of course, but for the first time I began to FEEL it, and then respond at a depth that I didn’t know I had.  The outcome was that I spent hours thinking about school work for the pure pleasure of it, rather than spending as few minutes as possible finishing an assignment.  This was an amazing experience for me.  I hated school, including college.  The only reason I was going was because I needed a license to become a teacher. I was a little sad that I was going to spend my career in school rooms, but since I LOVED hanging out with kids I was hoping I could make school a better place for them than it had been for me.  But here I was actually enjoying school, and nothing about it had changed except my perceptions!

I had taken a number of classes in child development by this point in my life, but had not completed any coursework in teaching.  That came after graduation in a fifth year of education courses.  I was really surprised that integrating instruction had no place in any of my teacher training experiences.  It didn’t really matter, though, because I saw the difference it had made in my educational experience, so I spent the rest of my career trying to create an environment that would allow my students to enjoy the power of integration as I had during one semester of undergraduate work.

It happened again during work on my Master’s Degree.  Not with every class but much of the time I was ENGAGED because I was studying things that I had determined I needed to learn in order to do the work I wanted to do.  That’s when I learned about the power of REAL!

Originally published on 2/23/10 on another site.

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