Integration Is Key

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.


3 thoughts on “Integration Is Key

  1. Jim Van Pelt

    Nice post, Doc! I shared the link with my department.

    An area that we’ve been working a lot with this year is more clearly deciding what is formative and what is summative. Your post nicely showed a way to use the same activity either way, or how to build into a summative evaluation.

    Sorry to see you’re laboring over the winter break, though. Whoops, this means I’m doing a vacation-fail too.


      1. Jim Van Pelt

        The department moved as a group into a discussion of summative/formative work and grading at the end of last year. We’re doing a pilot grading program that makes all formative work worth 20% of the grade, and the summative work worth 80%. Even if there are 20 formative grades that went into an assignment, like a research paper, the paper itself is 80% of that unit’s grade.

        This turned out to be a real game changer for many of our teachers whose grading system had a tendency to reward consistent, on time work than actual achievement.

        What your post did was to show some of the teachers who were really struggling with how to get our goals accomplished how to integrate several kinds of measurement in the same assignment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s