Friday, 25 March 2016

Switching Gears into Transdisciplinary Learning

Retrieved from here.
Something I found interesting throughout my EDUC 4P27 course is the concept of transdisciplinary learning. This is an approach to teaching that moves beyond the disciplines and traditional planning. It begins with student interests and real-world problems, as opposed to pre-determined curriculum objectives (Drake, Reid, & Kolohon, 2014). Students and teachers decide on appropriate and relevant objectives. This approach also relates to inquiry based learning where students create their own questions to investigate.

In the below video, Alan Shusterm, the founder of “School for Tomorrow”, discusses the challenges of subject based learning. For example, students can get confused or frustrated when trying to understand what skills should be used when (STF, 2013). An example of this is when students complete an assignment in science class but are also marked for spelling and grammar. Shusterm is concerned that children are not prepared for real world problems and expectations. He suggests that real world problems and real world questions are inherently transdisciplinary (SFT, 2013). I believe that transdisciplinary learning can help prepare students for real world expectations, because curriculum subjects are not separate, discrete concepts. There is a great deal of overlap and interconnectedness between subjects and we can highlight that in our teaching.

Retrieved from here.

Shusterm also discusses that research demonstrates that the learning process will be enhanced when the content is meaningful to students (SFT, 2013). Therefore I think transdisciplinary learning can be motivating by helping make learning more meaningful for students and putting their interests first. Transdisciplinary learning also relates to real world problems, which makes learning very applicable for students. Learning should be relevant and authentic so it can be more meaningful for students.

In lecture we learned about a unique way to teach called topic based learning or phenomena based learning. This similar to transdisciplinary learning as students choose topics that are important to them, and subjects are not taught separately but are interwoven within activities. This approach is popular in Finland school boards where students are encouraged to use and apply information, instead of simply memorizing it. In the video bellow they discuss a great example of how to incorporate phenomena based learning into the classroom (Wise Channel, 2015).

Retrieved from here.

In this example, children were able to demonstrate technological skills and the ability to work in a multicultural environment. The video emphasized the importance of students learning skills they will use in the future. I think education should be authentic and practical. When reflecting on my elementary experiences, practical real world lessons stuck with me and were the most engaging. For example, when I was in grade 5 we held a mock election to learn about how elections and campaigning work. This was a fun and innovative way for us to learn. 

Retrieved from here.
Although I think that transdisciplinary learning is a great approach, I do see how it can be difficult to implement. Curriculum expectations are very extensive and planning can be very challenging. This form of teaching can appear overwhelming and time consuming. With so many expectations to meet for each subject area, planning beyond the subjects and interweaving them may be difficult. However, you could also look at this from another perspective, where transdisciplinary teaching allows teachers to teach multiple subjects at once and frees up more time for discovery and inquiry. I think more teachers could implement transdisciplinary skills if they were better informed on the practice. I also think that teachers would need to make this transition gradually in order to ensure a successful bridge between more traditional ways of teaching and transdisciplinary learning.


Drake, S. M., Reid, J. L., & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and classroom assessment: Engaging the 21st century learner. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press.

Wise Channel (Producer) (2015, Oct 5). Finland: Replacing Subject with Phenomenon Based Learning. Retrieved from

SFT Youtube (Producer) (2013, Dec 2) Answers- The Future of Education: Transdisciplinary Learning. Retreived from

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Say NO to Teaching to the Test

            I have heard the phrase ‘teaching to the test’ many times before but as I did not know the real meaning of it, it sounded like a good thing. I have a feeling that I am not the only one who thought so, so I think it is important to clear up some of the confusion.

Assessment expert W. James Popham defined two kinds of assessment-aware instruction: ‘curriculum teaching’ and ‘item-teaching’ (Popham, 2001). Curriculum teaching focuses on full body knowledge and skills, and the test that follows only has a sample of questions that assess students’ knowledge about the topic. According to Drake, Reid and Kolohon (2014) this form of teaching prepares students for the test, rather than teaching to the test.
Retrieved from here.

Conversely, item teaching consists of very narrow instruction based on specific questions that are likely to be found on the test. In other words, only teaching the bits of knowledge that students would be tested on. This is what the phrase ‘teaching to the test’ refers to. Some teachers choose to take part in this unethical form of teaching because they are afraid that their students’ low grades may reflect poorly on themselves. Thinking back to my elementary and high school years, I distinctly remember being taught how to solve very specific types of problems prior to my EQUA testing, and very specific types of writing styles prior to my OSSLT, and I believe there are many issues with that.

Firstly, teaching to the test misrepresents how many students have actually grasped the topic, and this diminishes the validity of the test (Popham, 2001). However, it goes way beyond that, another significant concern is how it affects curriculum and classroom instruction itself. Teachers who practice this method spend weeks or months preparing for the test, which takes away from curriculum teaching.
Retrieved from here.

Resnick and Zurawsky (2005) suggest that drill-focused forms of teaching to the test can get rid of opportunities to teach students more advanced cognitive skills, such as how to solve problems and communicate effectively. They point to the work of Levy and Murnane (2004), who claim that all kinds of jobs, but particularly higher paying jobs, require fewer rote and routine skills and more complex skills. They argue that young people who are denied the opportunity to develop such advanced skills will be at an increasing disadvantage in the changing economy of the 21st century (Levy & Murnane, 2004). That means educators who settle for "drill and kill" instruction, or who do not at least balance such instruction with more complex assignments, are trading long-term benefits for students for short-term gains on standardized tests.

Drake, Reid and Kolohon (2014) give the following suggestions for preparing students for a test rather than teaching to the test:
  • Do not teach students the exact items that will be on the test.
  •  Give students practice with question formats prior to testing.
  • Bear in mind that there are times when students are able to perform better on tests than others.
  • Give students information about the nature of test.
  •                                                                                     (Drake, Reid & Kolohon, 2014, pg. 162) 
Clearly, teaching to the test is a big no no, but there is definitely a lesson to be learned from it. I believe this whole problem stems from standardized testing, which has recently also been well known as a big no no among educators. Standardized tests do not take into account student individualities, and lead to a one-size-fits-all curriculum. These tests encourage a cookie-cutter approach and as long as they exist, and there are high-stake tests such as them, teachers are going to prepare students in whatever way they can, which leads to teaching to the test. 

Retrieved from here.
Overall, this entire problem stems from one thing: our education system is not changing as our students and society change. For that reason, I thought it was very interesting what Levy and Murnane (2004) postulated. Teaching to the test does not allow students to learn the 21st century skills that they will need in their futures, and in order to put a stop to this unethical form of teaching, we need to stop putting educators under the spot light and placing so much pressure on them. We need to focus on what is important; and that is the success of our students in our rapidly changing society.


Drake, S. M., Reid, J. L. & Kolohon, W. (2014). Interweaving curriculum and assessment: Engaging 21st Century Learners. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press.

Levy, F., & Murnane, R. J. (2004). The new division of labor: How computers are creating the next job market. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Popham, W. J. (2001). Teaching to the test? Educational Leadership, 58(6), 16'20

Resnick, L., & Zurawsky, C. (2005). Getting back on course: Standards-based reform and accountability. American Educator. Retrieved February 20, 2016, from

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

21st Century Literacies

            It’s funny, I’ve had this blog for about 3 months now, and I completely forgot to introduce myself! So here it goes… Hello! My name is Nicole and I am an aspiring teacher in her fourth year of a Concurrent Education program in the Primary/Junior level at Brock University. Yes, that means only 1 year of teacher’s college between adult responsibilities and me. These four years have passed so quickly, I am not sure if I am ready to give up being a student. However, I am excited to have students of my own!

            Throughout these four years I have definitely gained a lot of knowledge that will help me as a future educator. In first year I learned a lot of educational theories that I did not know how to apply just yet. However as the years progressed we learned more practical strategies and methods that we can use in our classrooms. An important and evolving theme that began circulating in my fourth year is the idea of 21st century skills. One of the most discussed skills has been technology skill, but we have not touched much upon 21st century literacies.

Retrieved from here.

            In the past, the concept of literacy meant having the skill to interpret squiggles on a piece of paper as letters which, when put together, formed words that conveyed meaning. However, in today’s world, being literate requires much, much more than the traditional literacy of the past. In this day and age there are many new literacies such as critical literacy, media literacy, financial literacy, mental health literacy, and much more.

            The shift into our screen-based society is causing a drastic change in our students, and as our students have changed, teachers need to alter teaching methods and topics accordingly. That said, I am really glad we are learning about these literacies, as I have not learned much about them in the past. In order to help our students thrive in the world of 21st century literacy, we, as future educators, need to become fluent in the language of newer technologies and incorporate more modern thinking about literacy.