Topics not Subjects

So Finland has figured out how to increase student achievement, again (read full article). Being at the top of PISA in math and reading wasn’t good enough so they decided that kids learn best by topics versus by subject area.

Hopefully you noticed where I messed up in the last sentence. Go ahead, read it again and analyze it. Finland didn’t decide how kids learn best, good teachers everywhere have known that students at all levels learn best by topics. The Finns have just had the fortitude to go ahead and implement what they know is best for their kids. We have called it “authentic learning.”

Anytime a teacher can make connections relevant and related across subject areas work for students. When I first started teaching in 95 it was called integrated thematic instruction or interdisciplinary thematic instruction. I remember that my best semester as an undergraduate was when the topics in biology course matched up with the topics in geography, cooperatives, and English. It was as if someone climbed inside my little closet of a brain and turned the light on. “I can see!” It made sense.


 Others have written about silo learning (subjects) before and I understand authentic learning, but for whatever reason it wasn’t until I read the article on the Finns new implementation that it has finally solidified in my brain. I have struggled for many years because I don’t see myself as an expert in a subject area. I have always been interested in many different things all at the same time (some might actually identity me as a generalist). I found myself envious of elementary teachers being able to make the connections rather easily due to their self contained classrooms but I don’t enjoy working with a younger age group.

I am not calling for an end to subject matter experts, but I do think that if we focus on the acts of teaching and learning we can gather the infromation we need when it’s needed. Good teachers can teach well, great teachers teach others how to learn what the want to learn and model learning in action, word, and deed making connections across many disciplines in the process.