Teaching in Isolation

When people hear the term “teaching in isolation,” they probably think it has something to do with PLCs or collaboration (or its lack thereof). But there’s another kind.

I believe many teachers make the mistake of teaching every skill set or unit separately, in essence in isolation. Instead of teaching sentence structures, then comma rules, then vocabulary, and then the reading content, why not combine these after introducing a skill at a time.

For instance, my department’s curriculum calls for Sophomore students to learn how to integrate correctly about 18 comma rules, active voice, parentheses and semicolon rules, and so on all the while teaching the content (the readings). Most teachers with whom I speak teach the list of comma rules and then a book and then active voice and then a book and then semicolons and then a book, etc. What drudgery for kids!

I prefer to combine these elements after teaching one skill at a time. As an example in a typical week, I would introduce the week’s vocabulary on Monday and one comma rule Tuesday. I would also ensure none of these activities would exceed 10-15 minutes, so we could continue discussing the novel and work on the writing skills (thesis statements, quotation use, etc.).

Thus, a Wednesday assignment might be: explain where an example of situational irony is employed in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar using 2-3 sentences. Include two vocabulary words and a coordinating conjunction (correctly using a comma) in the answer. If I were to go a step or two further, I might add the requirements of using active voice or labeling the independent clauses or some other part of the sentence.

On Thursday I might have the students do a similar response using dramatic irony, active voice, two different vocabulary words, and another coordinating conjunction.

These short responses might take a few minutes of class time but could be shared with partners, shown to the class, or turned in to me to check for understanding. It doesn’t have to be graded–not everything does–but used as a practice and a risk-free attempt to incorporate seemingly separate skills.

I like having a grammar/punctuation focus of the week as well as a writing skill of the week to use with the reading and vocabulary. The more that I teach these together, the more I have seen students use them in their own writing. Exposure and practice, practice, and practice. Repetition isn’t always such a bad thing. Neither is avoiding isolation.

Mini-lessons and recursive teaching works.

5 thoughts on “Teaching in Isolation

  1. Mrs. Chili

    My kids don’t know what to do with me.

    I announced to them on the first day of class that I don’t DO worksheets or grammar quizzes. 14 little jaws dropped to the tables and fourteen little minds simultaneously, though silently, hissed “YES!”

    That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t learn grammar (hello. Have you MET me? OF COURSE we cover Grammar!), it just means that we learn it as a part of the work we’re doing with the reading and writing and not as a separate (and meaningless) exercise.

    These questions are going to come up all by themselves (“Mrs. Chili, why do you keep putting little purple commas all over my papers?”), so I don’t go out of my way to put lessons together – the lessons will come to me when the kids need to understand a particular convention or practice.

  2. Melissa

    This post drew great excitement from me, as well as deep, heavy sighs. I am in my second year of teaching high school English, and I am routinely bowled over by the huge gap between what the curriculum standards of grammar and writing require, and the needs and skill levels of my students. My students are all in the lowest-level of tracked classes, and most of them barely eked out of the previous year’s class with a passing grade. They need serious interventions in reading, writing, and grammar.

    I think the idea of integrating grammar and writing into the curriculum instead of isolating it is brilliant; being new at this, however, means the idea of how to successfully integrate skills while managing everything else I’m doing is overwhelming. It IS much easier to do workbooks and mini-lessons and never tie it into how students actually write, but I know the payoff there is far less than the methods you employ.

    I guess this is a roundabout way of saying that though this seems like a lot of work on my part, I do think and hope that it will pay off for me to try with my students. Thanks for giving such clear examples of how you would work this into a typical week.

  3. drpezz Post author

    Thanks, Melissa.

    Really, I don’t think it’s a difficult planning need. What I have done is assign more smaller assignments rather than fewer large assignments. Maybe this should be my next post.

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