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.