Innovative Approaches

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Unit 2: Innovative Approaches = Effective Management

Thematic Learning


Thematic instruction is the organization of a curriculum around themes. Thematic instruction integrates basic disciplines like reading, writing, math, and science with the exploration of a broad subject such as communities, rain forests, river basins, the use of energy, etc.


Thematic instruction is based on the idea that people acquire knowledge best when learning in the context of a coherent whole, and when they can connect what they're learning to the real world. Thematic instruction seeks to put the teaching of cognitive skills such as reading, mathematics, science, and writing, in the context of a real-world subject that is both specific enough to be practical and broad enough to allow creative exploration.


Thematic instruction usually occurs within an entire grade level of students. Teachers in the various disciplines in that particular grade work together as a team to design curriculum, instruction methods, and assessment around a pre-selected theme.

Typically, the steps required for successful implementation of Thematic Learning are as follows:


1. Choosing a theme

Themes often involve a large, integrated system (such as a city or an ecosystem) or a broad concept (such as democracy or weather). Instructors often strive to connect the theme to the students' everyday lives. In some cases, students participate in choosing the theme or themes.


2. Designing the integrated curriculum

The teachers involved must organize the learning objectives of their core curriculum (both process skills and content knowledge) around the theme. In the study of a river basin, for instance, math might involve calculating water flow and volume; in a social studies classroom, students could look at the nature of river communities; in science, they might study phenomena like weather and floods; and in a literature classroom they could study books and novels that focus on rivers, such as the works of Mark Twain. The initial design requires considerable work on the part of teachers. Again, sometimes students can help design the curriculum.


3. Designing the instruction

This usually involves making changes to the class schedule, combining hours normally devoted to specific topics, organizing field trips, teaching in teams, bringing in outside experts, and so on.


4. Encouraging presentation and celebration

Since thematic instruction is often project-oriented, it frequently involves students giving collective presentations to the rest of the school or the community. Students can also create extensive visual displays, such as posters.

Thematic instruction can be a powerful tool for reintegrating the curriculum and eliminating the isolated, reductionist nature of teaching that is centered around disciplines rather than experience. It requires a lot of hard initial design work plus a substantial restructuring of teacher relationships and class schedules.


Components of Cooperative Learning


Cooperative Learning is most successful when the following elements are in place:


  1. Distribution of leadership
  2. Creation of heterogeneous groups
  3. Promotion of positive interdependence and individual accountability
  4. Development of positive social skills
  5. Empowerment of the group to work together


Distribution of Leadership:

All students can be leaders. They can also surprise you with their ability to rise to the occasion.


Creation of Heterogeneous Groups:

You can either randomly place students in groups counting off by 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, and 5s and putting all of the 1s together, the 2s in another group, and so on. Another way to do it is to review the learning styles and create groups that reflect different kinds of learning.


Positive Interdependence and Individual Accountability:

Students need to depend upon each other and work cooperatively. They need to know their roles, what they are expected to achieve, how to value their piece of the puzzle, and how to demonstrate that it benefits the group. In this way, materials are shared, group members create one group product, are given common tasks, and switch roles to ensure that they experience different ways of participating in a given activity.

Social Skills:

Discussion, observation, and understanding are key. From time to time, the atmosphere in the class must be such that time is set aside to examine what is going on, how students feel, and what could be the best way of going about conducting the business of learning.

Empowering The Group:

The teacher is not there to rescue students from problems or settle arguments. The teacher suggests solutions and promotes social skills by having the group itself come to a fair conclusion.


Cooperative learning depends upon several variables:


  1. The teacher's sense that the class can take this on.
  2. Just enough structure and just enough freedom. Keep it simple in the beginning.
  3. Make certain that everyone knows what is going on.
  4. Make certain that methods are clear and the students know how the groups will work.
  5. Make certain that each individual is engaged.
  6. Make certain that groups do not exceed five students.
  7. Arrange the room so that the environment is conducive to group work.
  8. Students need to know there is a reward and celebration for working together, rather than sorting themselves as winners and losers.


How Cooperative Learning Works


  1. Groups of four to five students are created.
  2. The teacher describes each role (below), and either the teacher or the group assigns a responsibility/role to each member of the group:
  • Instruction Reader - Reads the written instructions out loud to his/her group.
  • Time-Keeper - Periodically tells the group how much time is left for the activity.
  • Scribe - Takes notes and writes down each person's response.
  • Includer - Actively encourages each person to share his/her ideas in the discussion.
  • Reporter - Organizes the presentation and in many cases shares the group consensus.
  1. Each group is given a task.
  2. The group decides how it will respond to/accomplish the task.
  3. Each student in the group is given the task of exploring all of the questions relevant to the assigned task. The responses are shared within their group. The Includer makes sure each person's voice is heard and encourages every member of the group to participate. The Recorder writes down all of their responses.
  4. Each group reaches a consensus on the response before presenting to the other groups.
  5. The group decides how the information will be presented.
  6. The group presents their work. The Reporter might present the consensus, or set it up so that several people in the group present.
  7. The group evaluates its presentation/performance.


Rules of Conduct

  1. Teacher must not judge the group or criticize individual members.
  2. All positions are respected, whether or not the rest of the class agrees.
  3. No one may force anyone else to agree with the answer.
  4. No negative comments about oneself or others are allowed.
  5. Teacher praises with description, rather than evaluation. In other words, spend your time focusing on what good things students did, such as giving specific examples of their courtesy and support. Avoid statements such as "You did a good job" or "Your group was better than the first group." Instead, focus on descriptive assessments of what worked well in each group.


Outcome-Based Learning

In Outcome-Based Learning, all school programs and instructional efforts are designed to produce specific, lasting results that are defined in advance.


The principles followed by Outcome-Based Learning practitioners include:


  1. Clarity of focus around significant outcomes, which are defined by each school.
  2. Expansion of available time and resources so that all students can succeed.
  3. Consistent, high expectations of 100% success.
  4. Explicit relationships between the learning experience and the outcomes.


Under Outcome-Based Learning, curriculum design includes these steps:

  • Discern future conditions
  • Derive exit outcomes
  • Develop performance indicators
  • Design learning experiences
  • Determine instructional strategies
  • Deliver instruction
  • Document results
  • Determine advancement


Character Education

This curriculum method revolves around developing good character in students by practicing and teaching moral values and decision making.


Character Education assumes that schools don't just have the responsibility to help students get smart, they also have the responsibility to help them cultivate basic moral values to guide their behavior throughout life.

Character Education teaches students to understand, commit to, and act on shared ethical values. In other words, students are given opportunities to "know the good, desire the good, and do the good." Typical core values include: respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and community participation.


Schools committed to Character Education tend to:

  • Emphasize how adults model values in the classroom as well as in their everyday interactions.
  • Help students clarify their values and build personal bonds and responsibilities to one another.
  • Use the traditional curriculum as a vehicle for teaching values and examining moral questions.
  • Encourage moral reflection through debate, personal journals, and discussion.
  • Encourage values in action through service and other community involvement strategies.
  • Support teacher development and dialogue among educators on moral dimensions of their job.


The influence of Character Education is evident in the outcomes of many school districts emphasizing qualities such as "contributor to the community," and "ethical global citizen."


Innovative Teaching: Go Slowly

The best teaching involves attitude, clarity, kindness, and high expectations.  Attitude is far more important than any new technique or innovative teaching method.  You must care about your subject and have compassion for your students. Although we have seen results from innovation, please go slowly, otherwise you will be confused and confusing. 

There is no magic approach to curriculum, pedagogy, and management. Those who want some greater degree of uniformity in what is taught can find that it can put the learners at a disadvantage by expecting them to merely absorb the content and remain passive. A different approach to the theory of curriculum - one that focuses on the process and places meaning-making and thinking at its core - can lead to very different means being employed in classrooms and a high degree of variety in content.

The major weakness and, indeed, strength of the process model is that it rests upon the quality of teachers. If they are not up to much, then there is no safety net in the form of prescribed curriculum materials. The approach is dependent upon the cultivation of wisdom and meaning-making in the classroom. If the teacher is not up to this, then there will be severe limitations on what can happen educationally.

There have been some attempts to overcome this problem by developing materials and curriculum packages that focus more closely on the process of discovery or problem-solving. But there is danger in this approach. Processes become reduced to sets of skills (for example, how to light a Bunsen burner). When students are able to demonstrate certain skills, they are deemed to have completed the process. The actions have become the ends; the processes have become the product. Whether or not students are able to apply the skills to make sense of the world around them is somehow overlooked.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.