I’ve been on vacation and upon returning I had a full inbox of questions about how to integrate multiple language arts elements into a single assignment. I thought I would use an example from my own curriculum to illustrate the idea of integration.
One novel we teach during the Sophomore year is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, and we also teach SAT-frequent vocabulary words and grammatical skills. Thus, I now have three elements to combine. Many teachers prefer to teach each of these items separately–which may be fine for introductory lessons–but I prefer to combine them in the application stage.
A possible in-class assignment could be as follows:
Describe two types of courage in Part I of To Kill A Mockingbird using at least two cited quotations from the novel. In a response of at least two 3-5 sentence paragraphs, use at least four of our vocabulary words correctly and use each of the sentence types learned in this class (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex).
This seemingly simple assignment forces the students to do the following:
- identify and describe two types of courage in the novel (analysis),
- locate, incorporate, and cite two quotations into the response (evidence and citation use),
- organize the two types of courage into two short paragraphs (organization/structure of ideas),
- apply the use of at least four vocabulary words (vocabulary application), and
- incorporate the four types of sentence (sentence fluency and variation).
Of course, now comes the difficult part for the teacher. How do you score or assess the student products? Or, do you?
Possibly, one may decide not to score the products for the purpose of the grade book (an assessment of learning) but may decide to use this assignment as a means of improving the students’ skills (an assessment for learning). I would most likely not enter a score in the grade book with the students’ first attempt but might use this as a rough draft assignment to be edited and improved over time or as an introduction to another assignment using the same elements.
However, when I do decide to enter something like this into the grade book, I would recommend one of two methods. Either score each element separately for the grade book (the analysis, citation use, organization, vocabulary application, and sentence fluency) to reveal the students’ abilities in each of the five areas, or use a rubric separating each of these elements into a distinct column resulting in a final total score.
Regardless, the students need to know how well they performed in each of the five areas. I would hope that these five areas also relate to the course’s core requirements (learning outcomes, Power Standards, etc.). These five areas would either be end of course learning targets or skills leading to the end of course learning targets.
By integrating the elements in a course, the students can begin to add complexity to their products while also saving the teacher time. Plus, this mixing of skills allows students to see the interconnected nature of the course’s learnings.
P.S. I tend to have the students label each element for me before they turn in their final drafts. For example, I would have the students circle the four (or more) vocabulary words, label the four sentence types (and possibly the individual elements of each non-simple sentence), and number each description of courage (a 1 and a 2 would suffice). This simply forces the students to identify what they have and have not done as well as help me identify where problems may lie, much like showing one’s work in math.