How I’m Rethinking Aspects of My Professional Practice This School Year

Without fail, my most invigorating professional experiences have been those that offered opportunities to work closely with colleagues. These were colleagues who were willing to stand at the edge of what they thought they knew about teaching and learning, questioning their assumptions—colleagues who continuously envisioned greater possibilities for their students, theorized, and pushed themselves out of their own comfort zone. In keeping with the spirit of these colleagues, I begin each school year rethinking aspects of my own practice through the lens of my current context, looking for opportunity to deepen and revise my understanding.

As I begin this school year, I’m immersed in a collaborative project focused on the design and implementation of STEAM teaching and learning at the elementary level. My teammates, Rob Corona, Jeralyn Johnson, and Sarah Trueblood, bring a range of disciplinary knowledge and process expertise to conversations that have us questioning what it means to be a STEAM school. We wrestle daily with the design of inquiry-based interdisciplinary STEAM units, the development of a STEAM mindset, and the pedagogies that support student success.

We’ve challenged ourselves to abandon past formats for curriculum design, and are instead using design thinking to structure the flow of our instructional units. Aligning the unit launch with the “ask” phase of design thinking—together with text sets to propel the thinking and talking—is especially invigorating. In Expanding Comprehension with Multigenre Texts (Scholastic, 2009), we explored a thoughtful progression of compelling texts to open lines of inquiry, realized the critical value of alternative perspectives to broaden and deepen thinking, and discussed the importance of varied media forms to help students think critically about digital messaging. Now, we’re incorporating the arts into the process of becoming STEAM, and supporting the shift from traditional science teaching to true inquiry. I marvel as artistic expressions, artifacts, science inquiry, and text sets work together to inspire wonder. Our efforts have led to a series of critical questions aimed at expanding our thinking about text sets, including:

  • How do we design and situate science inquiry experiences in concert with a text set to spark questions and deepen engagement with big ideas?
  • How do we support students in thinking and talking deeply about big ideas represented by artistic expressions and artifacts, and then among these “texts” and other texts in a text set? 
  • Will this process help students to recognize art as a means of communicating big ideas?  Will this understanding change the way students engage in opportunities to create art? 

And most exciting, we experience the power of real talk – talk that allows students to construct understandings over time as they draw from a range of perspectives – and investigate real, relevant issues through STEAM unit design.