Teachers' Tales

Delivering an interdisciplinary curriculum through high quality texts


by Amy McIntosh
on December 14, 2015

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There are as many ways to teach English as there are teachers and students, so it’s important to fill your toolkit with as many methodologies as possible. At Spofforth Primary School, we’ve discovered that delivering our curriculum through high quality texts, using one book as a jumping-off point for multiple exercises, can be a useful way to ensure lessons are more that individual, discrete units; rather, they can become themes for a holistic range of activities.

Teachers take the lead in selecting texts for their classes, and the school supports them in taking time to research the options thoroughly. The quality of the text is essential to delivering on the long-term plan, particularly if it is somewhat interdisciplinary. Once selected, the teacher will then outline the medium-term lessons based on this text, linking in the other subjects which are on the long-term plan (for us, long-term means a two year rolling programme).

We encourage teachers to bring learning to life, and ensure that tasks are purposeful for the children. For example, when reading Charlotte’s Web, one of the characters in the book is at risk of being killed during the story, so a student decided to write to the RSPCA, as the charity helps to save animals. The class sent a letter to the RSPCA, and received a reply – subsequently, they even came to school to deliver an assembly and support the children in running a charity cake sale for their charity.  We raised over £100 from the cake sale, which was presented to the RSPCA during a later assembly. This adventure integrated multiple valuable aspects of education – letter writing, persuasive writing, building a project and seeing it to completion. And the best part is the it was driven by the students themselves.

Open-ended questioning is a key part of delivering the curriculum in this way and we use this throughout the text and subjects. Learning journey displays in school show the questions which the children will be exploring and the progression that the learning will take. Here is an example of a learning journey with evidence of pupils’ work to answer the questions along the way:

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From our experience, the children respond well to this teaching method, as more of their subjects link together – making the planning, teaching and learning more fluid. I have personally found text-oriented learning to be much more time efficient when it comes to planning, as ideas are generated from the book.

Though the initial organisation is a bigger project for the teacher, ultimately, structuring lessons this way can help reduce friction and improve efficiency in lesson-planning. We also use the one-book approach so all the children’s English and Topic work is documented together, making it easier for pupils to connect their learning across the curriculum and subjects. They can then act on feedback from previous sessions.

The integration and cross-disciplinary benefits of this teaching model have proved enormously helpful in our classrooms. We believe that this philosophy will drive motivation throughout the school, and help create lifelong learners in our students.

Amy McIntosh is a literacy leader and class 3 teacher at Spofforth Primary School in north Yorkshire.

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