Takes time to make 'rich tasks'

1st May 2009 at 01:00
Argyll and Bute hopes to deliver a quarter of its learning through interdisciplinary work by 2012

Teachers doing cross-curricular tasks need time to plan, talk and evaluate - and if they are not given the time, the tasks won't work, one of Scotland's leading advocates of interdisciplinary learning told teachers last week.

Carol Walker, head of pre-school and primary education at Argyll and Bute Council, acknowledged that councils faced funding constraints over the next few years but added that they would have to be "creative" about finding the necessary time.

She told teachers attending a conference in Glasgow on interdisciplinary learning, organised by the Tapestry Partnership, that it was essential that the person leading the task really wanted to lead it. "I firmly believe that you must train staff in interdisciplinary learning," she added.

Argyll and Bute had given two days' training to the first cohort of teachers leading interdisciplinary learning, although now that the council had a link quality improvement officer, that training had gone down to one day. Other pieces of advice were:

- Give teachers time for planning;

- Support your staff and teachers at the planning and implementation phases;

- Don't be over-ambitious when starting things.

Having visited schools in Queensland, Australia, engaged in "rich tasks" three years ago, she has led the authority's interdisciplinary strategy. It includes plans to offer pupils three interdisciplinary learning opportunities across each session and an aspiration to deliver 25 per cent of the curriculum through interdisciplinary learning by 2011-12.

Its planning is delivered at two levels: at a strategic level to ensure that each of its 10 clusters has a coherent approach to interdisciplinary learning from P5-S3; and at an operational school and classroom level.

Projects are theme-based to meet the needs of the clusterschool, pupils and community and to allow teachers to build on children's knowledge and understanding. They cover the six-year period P5-S3; provide a mix of local, national and international contexts; include Scottish perspectives; and cover global ethical issues. The tasks are also expected to develop the four capacities in A Curriculum for Excellence, and to focus on sustainability, ICT, creativity and enterprise as cross-cutting themes.

At the same conference, Frances Colgan, a former education adviser with South Lanarkshire Council who now works with the Tapestry Partnership, warned teachers not to think that interdisciplinary learning was about going back to "the good old days" of what they did before the introduction of the 5-14 guidelines.

Primary schools' projects in the past had insufficient focus on science and maths and too much on language work, said Mrs Colgan.

Recently, some secondary schools had misguidedly started to timetable interdisciplinary work as if it was a subject to be done on a Friday afternoon - "like activity afternoons" of the past - she said. Schools should take account of "the best of the past" but also of current research on formative assessment (Dylan Wiliam and Paul Black) and teaching for understanding (David Perkins).

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