Themes…are they good? Are they thorough? Do they make connections for students in a real way? Are students compelled by the curriculum of a large theme within smaller contextual units? Does it get tedious? These are some of the questions discussed during our lecture, and some that still linger about the use of instructional themes in a classroom. Instructional themes seem to naturally supply very real interdisciplinary connections.
Good themes can help generate deeper connections to real life examples. But what is a “good” theme? Two characteristics for a good theme as explained with reference to A. Ellis, et. al. are ideas that, “transcend time and space” and ideas that “deepen the level of learning by promoting moral well-being, literacy, and problem solving.” Development of higher order thinking and deeper thought processing are outcomes that teachers should be observing and supporting for students throughout a thematic study. In order to select a theme that is “good” it should meet a criterion that has relevance and connections to the academic and social growth of the students and have the added component of real world application. Instructional themes seem to offer a way to weave a compelling curriculum throughout the day, over a longer period of time. For example a thematic unit on “Human Rights” as seen through the eyes of a slave could afford opportunities to make multiple interdisciplinary connections as well as real life connections. Students could study poetry, read novels, study the history of slavery, sing songs about freedom, search for the mathematical connections of slave trade, write poetry, journal or make a film about slavery, examine the implications of slavery on the world we live in today, etc. Although this is a very powerful and sometimes uncomfortable subject to teach, it is imperative that students learn the way to ponder the relevance to life in the world today and make personal connection so as to develop social responsibility.
Until I am applying the strategies of theme in a real classroom my understanding of the smaller details will have to wait. However, I do see the value in the organic connections that can be made by using broader themes to relate different disciplines to one another. Curriculum becomes naturally more compelling when teachers and students develop, reach, and peruse higher order thinking and questioning.