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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Section One: Foundations


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What a great experience we had!� middle school students exclaimed at the end of the third performance of the Musical Grease in The American School of Guatemala. The same year, a class of seniors at the Union School in Haiti were experiencing similar enthusiasm. Why? Throughout each process, students connected various areas of community and real-life experiences in a dramatic and powerful way. Though they are separated by distance, age and topic, these learners had similar experiences because the schools they attend share an ongoing commitment to making learning dynamic. The secrets of their success include innovative approaches to learning built on a strong educational foundation.

Background

here is overwhelming evidence from research and experience that improving coherence and connectedness is the best way to maximize the student learning experience. The explicit purpose of this project sponsored by OSAC is to help international overseas schools to implement a process that will bring together the entire student experience, and infuse it with thematic and interdisciplinary connectionsIt would be difficult to overstate the importance of the foundation that has been established in schools served by the Tri-Association.

This manual is the product of a team of teachers and administrators from a variety of schools, subject areas, and countries. This group met three times over a period of 3 years and kept on working online to bring together their experiences and recommendations for best practice. The strategy has been to align with effective on-site experiences in the field including, but not limited to, Basic Schools, Dimensions of Learning, and a Coherent Curriculum delivered through interdisciplinary and thematic instruction. The schools that participated are all members of an organization of schools in Central America, Colombia, the Caribbean and Mexico. This organization, called the Tri-Association, has a long-standing commitment to educational excellence. At its annual educators� conference, the Tri-Association presents a coordinated program centered on a single theme. During the 1990�s, three major themes included the Dimensions of Learning, The Basic School and the Coherent Curriculum. In addition to the annual conference, the Tri-Association sponsors other regional conferences, seminars and projects that reinforce and extend the annual themes. This guidebook is the result of one such project. In addition to each new key theme introduced at the annual conference, the Tri-Association revisits and updates the themes of previous years through advanced training, intensive institutes and ongoing special projects. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the foundation that has been established in schools served by the Tri-Association. In schools around the region, the principles of Dimensions of Learning, The Basic School and the Coherent Curriculum are widely understood and frequently practiced.

It is outside the scope of this guidebook to establish an equivalent foundational understanding, but schools that have stayed current with educational research and renewal may well have a comparable level of readiness to implement interdisciplinary and thematic approaches. The summary presented in this section of the guide will put our work in its proper context. Use the summary as a tool to assess and compare your school�s status and readiness to implement these approaches in a coherent fashion. One strategy used to provide interdisciplinary coherence is thematic instruction. This approach involves the identification of broad topics that have relevance for a variety of traditional disciplines. Teachers work to link their existing units to these central themes, providing a more coherent and connected learning experience for students. The advantage of the thematic approach is that it does not require a wholesale curriculum overhaul. Instead, teachers can use existing materials and lessons, amplifying them with the power of thematic connections. Because this guidebook includes materials to support planning, assessment and student learning, it is a useful tool that will find wide application in excellent schools worldwide.

Scope and Limitations

This manual is intended to give schools a framework within which to design, implement and assess the various components of Interdisciplinary and Thematic Approaches. It has been primarily designed by international educators for international school settings. These approaches have been validated through research and educational experience throughout the process. The manual guides the educator through the foundations, organizational and curricular processes that are part of the implementation of that approach. This manual is not to be used as a �5-step guide to interdisciplinary learning,� but rather as a resource, that will help to shape the language and process necessary to adopt this learning innovation.

Notes and Reflections

� What organizations and resources are available to help you explore innovative approaches to learning?

� How can your local and regional organizations support new approaches over time?

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First Foundation: The Basic School

The Basic School is a call to enhance learning by integrating the life of the community into the experiences of each learner.

The Basic School is an idea about schooling that can be summed up as a community of connections. In the Basic School, learning is connected to life, school is connected to community, and all of us are connected to each other through relationships of respect and care. This concept, which culminated the life work of Dr. Ernest L. Boyer, has been developed through the Carnegie foundation and promulgated through the Basic School Network. Many of the schools in the Tri-Association have adopted The Basic School as their operational and conceptual approach. The idea is both simple and comprehensive. Of the three foundational constructs that support this project, The Basic School embraces the largest view. It addresses not only the learning process, but also the school and community structures that make learning possible. At its heart, The Basic School is a call to enhance learning by integrating the life of the community into the experiences of each learner. As such, it prepares the school beautifully for the interdisciplinary and thematic approaches that have been our focus.


THE FOUR Cs

The Basic School is expressed through The Four Cs of learning, these are:

� The School as Community

A Curriculum with Coherence

A Climate for Learning

A Commitment to Character


THE SCHOOL AS COMMUNITY

By exploring each element in turn, it is evident that The Basic School is conceived as a place where coherence, integration and learning themes surround learners. The first characteristic, one that has been adopted by many schools around the world, is comprised of three indicators.

A Shared Vision

Teachers as Leaders

Parents as Partners

All of these indicators are manifest in specific and measurable ways. By articulating the importance of vision-building, teacher empowerment and collaboration with parents, The Basic School provides a built-in rationale for the organizational changes needed to support interdisciplinary and thematic approaches.

The Basic School is very intentional and overt about building community. Typically there are five goals for the school and five goals for each learner. These form the core of the shared vision.

A Shared Vision

Purposeful Place
To communicate effectively
Communicative Place
To acquire a core of essential knowledge
Just Place
To be a disciplined, motivated learner
Disciplined Place
To have a sense of well-being
Caring Place
To live responsiblyCelebrative Place

Notes and Reflections

� In what ways is your school already operating as a community?

� How can the values and leadership of your community be harnessed to support inderdisciplinary and thematic approaches?

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A CURRICULUM WITH COHERENCE

The specific call for a coherent curriculum is one which Dr. Boyer began making in the 1960�s. Through years of research and practical application, it became clear that three special emphases would help build and preserve coherence in the classroom. Again, there are three qualities.

The Centrality of Language

The Core Commonalities

Measuring Results


While interdisciplinary approaches do not require a focus on language, it has been our experience that language is a natural ingredient in any interdisciplinary effort. It is also the case that thematic instruction can draw heavily from the Core Commonalities. These are themes, which transcend disciplines, providing natural places to launch into projects or explorations.

The Core Commonalities of The Basic School

The Life Cycle

The Use of Symbols

Membership in Groups

A Sense of Time and Space

Response to the Aesthetic

Connections to Nature

Producing and Consuming

Living with Purpose

Many of the teachers on our team were familiar with these central themes, and were adept at building interdisciplinary units around them. Additionally, in an environment with a Basic School tradition, these themes are familiar to children of all ages, and can decrease the uncertainties that sometimes accompany the introduction of a new approach to learning.


Notes and Reflections

� How are the Core Commonalities present in your teaching and learning?

� What other themes naturally exist in your curriculum and community?

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A CLIMATE FOR LEARNING

Learning never happens apart from its environmental context. There is always something around the learning experience that shapes and influences the students and teachers. In the Basic School, educators are given tools to take charge of that environment and shape it to meet their students� needs. They do this by revealing, collecting and applying three powerful elements. They are:

� Patterns to Fit Purpose

� Resources to Enrich

� Services for Children

At a Basic School, learning is the trump card over established patterns of time, space and resources. Within the realities of limited resources, educators are encouraged and empowered to adjust space and schedule to accommodate learning. This commitment to purposeful flexibility is a useful precursor to interdisciplinary and thematic approaches. It allows teachers freedom to construct non-standard lessons and collaborate outside a rigid schedule of bells and breaks.

The Basic School is also a place where the instructional resources are available to support many paths to learning. Sufficient books, work spaces and educational technology are available that teachers and learners have options. The school will also make a concerted effort to serve the needs of the whole child, accommodating their physical, developmental and emotional growth. In many cases this means providing programs that extend beyond the traditional school day or school year.

Notes and Reflections

� Are patterns, resources and services in your school adequate to meet the needs of your children?

� How can interdisciplinary approaches build the community connections needed to attract more resources?

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A Commitment to Character

The fourth commitment of The Basic School flows directly from the first three. In the first commitment, the school brings people together to form a community. In the second commitment it brings curriculum together to create coherence. The third commitment brings resources together to create a rich learning climate, and the fourth commitment brings values together to build character. In the language of the model, this encompasses a commitment to model character throughout community; reinforce character through the curriculum; embed character within the climate; and express character through service. These commitments are facilitated by the core virtues and by a commitment to living with a purpose.

The Core Virtues

u Honesty

u Respect

u Responsibility

u Compassion

u Self-discipline

u Perseverance

u Giving

Living with a purpose means choosing actions and activities that live out the virtues. Everything from kindness in class to service projects in the community can give students practical opportunities to live as virtuous people.

Notes and Reflections

� Are heroes, leaders and virtues familiar topics and themes for your students?

� How can character become a central part of learning and living in your school?

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Second Foundation: Dimensions of Learning

Over the past decade, there has been a tremendous explosion in our ability to look inside the human brain and see evidence of the mind in action. New scanning techniques such as Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI) and other sophisticated techniques have given us much more information than was available to educators in the past. Some of that information has sparked renewed interest in cognitive processes and patterns. Although many authors and researchers focus heavily on the brain and its patterns, the approach developed at the MidContinent Regional Educational Laboratory (McRel) targets the application of learning power to educational settings. This approach, called the Dimensions of Learning, has been studied and adopted around the Tri-Association. It is a second model, which both affirms interdisciplinary approaches, and prepares educators to think about thinking with more clarity and confidence. Since much of the interdisciplinary approach is aimed at helping students discover connections, it is helpful to have a background in how their thinking patterns develop.

The Five Dimensions are as follows:

Attitudes and Perceptions

Acquire and Integrate Knowledge

Extend and Refine Knowledge

Use Knowledge Meaningfully

Habits of Mind

Dimension One: Positive Attitudes and Perceptions

The first dimension points out that the condition of the learner is a primary consideration when planning instruction. If the classroom environment is threatening or boring, it is less likely to generate a positive response from the learners. Not only will they be less motivated to learn, but also their attitudes may establish negative attitudes and habits, which will limit learning in other situations. Effective educational planning, whether it takes the form of school facility design, lesson planning or assessment development, must help children build positive attitudes and perceptions about themselves and their learning. There is strong research and anecdotal evidence that interdisciplinary approaches do motivate students and give them a positive outlook on learning. This is a function of variety, relevance and connections made between new learning and the life of the community.

Teacher with Student

Notes and Reflections

� How intentional are you about enhancing the attitudes of learners?

� How might a confident student perceive your style and method? How about a hesitant learner?

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Dimension Two: Acquire and Integrate Knowledge

Many researchers in the cognitive sciences recognize that the brain accepts and retains information most effectively when that information forms a meaningful pattern. Under the second dimension, it is expected that the instructor will help the learner recognize patterns inherent in new information, or build patterns where none previously existed. This process of pattern making is what allows the learner to integrate new information into their way of thinking. By embedding the pattern in their experience, the learner will have better recall from memory. By practicing and applying the new learning in a variety of settings, they will become proficient at application, synthesis and evaluation of new and more challenging problems. Because interdisciplinary and thematic instruction is grounded in finding connective patterns, it is a natural manifestation of the principles espoused in the second Dimension of Learning. Although the Dimensions of Learning language uses integrate to describe the process by which learners take information into themselves, it is equally available as a description of the connections the learner makes between new and existing knowledge.

Teacher and Child Painting


Notes and Reflections

� How do you help students make sense of information?

� Are there natural patterns and links that students can use to enhance recall and integration?

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Dimension Three: Extend and refine knowledge

As students acquire and integrate knowledge, they increase their capacity to form connections of greater depth and specificity. The principle techniques that make this possible are cognitive processes. These thinking processes give learners a toolbox of questions, analytic frameworks and evaluative approaches that enable them to increase their understanding. The chief value of this dimension is that it serves an important transition between acquisition and application of new knowledge. Not only does the rigorous examination help lock in the new learning, it prepares the information to be used in a meaningful way.

� Comparing

� Classifying

� Abstracting

� Inductive reasoning

� Deductive reasoning

� Constructing support

� Analyzing errors

� Analyzing perspectives

Students climbing a Ladder


Notes and Reflections

� Are you consistently helping students choose and apply the most appropriate cognitive processes to their new learning?

� How are your students learned to monitor their own thinking?

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Dimension Four: Use Knowledge Meaningfully

The cycle of learning is incomplete until the new knowledge has been applied in a meaningful way. This application takes the learner from theory to practice. Because application is usually bound up in an identifiable experience this dimension further strengthens and marks the new learning for retention and future recall. If the learner is invested in the outcome of the application, the learning is even more powerful because there are both experiential and emotional links being formed. Imagine a child who studies the physics of weight, motion and lubrication in hopes of building a faster skateboard. That learner will learn principles of mechanics and physic with greater clarity than a peer who works only with paper and pen. Similarly, a consumer who buys a new vacuum may become remarkable expert on features and power of competing models. The test of this dimension is not only to use the knowledge, but also to use the right knowledge for the right task. This is the task of purposeful cognition, or �reasoning with a reason� which exemplifies deep and natural learning. Within the myriad practical applications, which can be made, there are six patterns of application that give purpose to learning.

� Decision Making

� Problem Solving

� Invention

� Investigation

� Experimental inquiry

� Systems analysis

Boy rollerblading


Notes and Reflections

� What authentic projects will allow students to apply their learning toward a concrete outcome?

� Are students learning to differentiate between the distinct forms of application?

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Dimension Five: Productive Habits of Mind

When learners have the proper attitude they are prepared to engage with new learning at every level. As they encounter and acquire knowledge, they collect the building blocks for later more complex processes. Refining and extending that knowledge gives them more power to know the character and depth of the new information. Applying that knowledge to problems, decisions and inquiry empowers the learner and exposes them to more new information, creating a self-sustaining cycle of learning, refinement and application. This cycle, practiced over time, becomes a pattern. The pattern of thinking, if repeated and reinforced becomes a habit of the mind, which leads to greater and more consistent success. All of us develop many habits, but the most productive habits of mind are characterized by high levels of purposeful thought, intent and action. These habits can be categorized as critical thinking, creative thinking and self-regulation of thinking.

Critical Thinking

Creative Thinking

� Be accurate and seek accuracy

� Be clear and seek clarity

� Maintain an open mind

� Restrain impulsivity

� Take a position when the situation warrants it

� Respond appropriately to others' feelings and level of knowledge

� Persevere

� Push the limits of your knowledge and abilities

� Generate, trust, and maintain your own standards of evaluation

� Generate new ways of viewing a situation that are outside the boundaries of standard conventions

Self-Regulated Thinking

� Monitor your own thinking

� Plan appropriately

� Identify and use necessary resources

� Respond appropriately to feedback

� Evaluate the effectiveness of your actions

Notes and Reflections

� Does my assessment method help track the development of productive habits of mind?

� Are students learning to regulate their own critical and creative thinking?

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Third Foundation: The Coherent Curriculum

As the third foundational element of our approach, the Coherent Curriculum provides the strongest rationale for an interdisciplinary and thematic approach. As editor James Beane put it, �A �coherent� curriculum is one that holds together, that makes sense as whole; and its parts, whatever they are, are unified and connected by that sense of the whole.� James Beane�

Traditional schooling approaches divide learning by subject area and segment time into manageable chunks. These approaches are vulnerable to fragmentation. Indeed, the structural fragmentation of time, subject, place and people is so common that most learners and educators take it for granted. The Coherent Curriculum presents a strong case against fragmentation or incoherence. It demonstrates that a more unified and integrated approach pays dividends for all learners. The characteristics that are present in a highly coherent curriculum include the following:

Unity and connectedness

� Relevance and pertinence

� Connections are visible and explicit

� All share a sense of a larger compelling purpose.

� Actions are tied to that Purpose

Notes and Reflections

� How can your current system be more coherent?

� What action steps will move your system toward coherency?

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Unity and Connectedness


When unity and connectedness are present in the curriculum, students will be aware that teachers are communicating with each other. No longer will writing standards in language arts conflict with expectations in social studies or written lab guidelines in the science department. Content learned in one classroom will be referenced in another, because the teachers are aware of what is happening across the curriculum.

Relevance and Pertinence


When learning is relevant, students have built-in interest and knowledge. They are able to infer the importance of a particular subject without a great deal of teacher direction. Lessons that are pertinent to their lives pop up all over the learning experience. Not only is the learning relevant to the lives of the students, but it is also internally consistent. Learning throughout the day and through the year relates to existing knowledge.

Connections are visible and explicit


One of the most visible hallmarks of a coherent curriculum, especially in the early years, is the constant reference to connections. Each time a teacher references a learning link; the relationship is explained and marked. Students begin to develop the disposition of seeking and finding connections for themselves. These explicit associations set a model that helps learners understand and appreciate coherent learning.

All share a sense of a larger compelling purpose

Actions are tied to that purpose


In a coherent school, there is a tangible sense of shared purpose. While that purpose may be part of the curricular vision, it can also be tied to the larger community. Because the purpose operates in the life of the school and each student, many actions taken by teachers and learners are tied directly to the shared purpose that unifies the school.

Notes and Reflections

� What skills and approaches need to be unified in your system?

� What covert and unexpressed connections could be emphasized?

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