Part of Project Based Learning at Parramatta Marist High is the integration of different Key Learning Areas (KLAs). As classes consist of 60 students there are always 2 teachers in the classroom. This year the Social Studies subjects that have been integrated are HSIE (History and Geography), English and Catholic Studies (CST).
However, not every project is integrated. When projects are stand-alone two teachers from the same subject teach the class and when they are integrated one teacher from each of subject teach together. Some of the projects I have helped design and have taught this year include ‘Ancient Worlds’ a Year 8 HSIE/English integrated project about Ancient China and the novel Dragon Keeper by Carole Wilkinson, Macbeth a Year 10 English stand-alone project about Shakespeare’s play Macbeth and What Matters Nationally a Year 8 CST/English project about the sacrament of reconciliation and John Marsden and Shaun Tan’s picture book The Rabbits.
As an English teacher I find most of the integrations quite useful in giving students a deeper understanding of the context, historical circumstances or religious considerations in relation to the text we’re studying. Furthermore, as a Catholic school, the CST integrated subjects provide further scope to incorporate Catholic values and tradition into the curriculum.
The corresponding assessment tasks are designed to assess the students’ knowledge and skills from both subject areas. One of the most common questions I get asked about these subject integrations is ‘how does that work with all the different syllabus outcomes?’ The answer to this question is that often the nature of the assessment task lends itself to outcomes from both subjects that are then included in the marking rubric.
For example, the integrated CST/English project What Matters Nationally? focused on the following outcomes:
How can we as members of the Christian community express the modern concept of reconciliation through a combination of visual and written elements?
In this project students’ skills, knowledge and understanding will be developed through analysis of a variety of visual texts including The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan. Activities will focus upon responding to these texts and the decoding of the techniques used for visual literacy. The formative task will require students to create a summary for their summative task picturebook that includes a brief overview of the characters and plot, identifies the national issue they will explore and explains how the concept of reconciliation will be included.
Throughout the unit students will learn about a variety of issues that matter to Australians in the 21st century and how they can be expressed visually and with written language, particularly the concept of Aboriginal reconciliation. They will explore the human experience and Catholic understanding of sin, forgiveness and reconciliation. Students study the celebration of the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick, as a continuation of the saving and healing mission of Jesus. Students will use the learning on the sacrament of reconciliation and the importance of forgiveness in today’s world to create a series of 6-8 page picture book that tell a story through allegory of contemporary times.
We tried to make this particular project completely integrated in terms of assessment tasks and lesson content. The way we did this was to structure our Echo page (online learning platform specifically designed for PBL) into ‘benchmarks’.
Benchmark: Steps on the way toward completing products. They are substantial tasks that every group/individual completes in order to mark progress toward finishing products. Benchmarks are used to provide formative feedback.
Each of the benchmarks aimed to cover content from both English and CST as well as teach the skills needed for students to successfully complete their summative task.
The first category in the Project Briefcase is called Project Launch and contains all of the documents and links for students to access the requirements and expectations of the project. This includes the project’s entry event, project calendar (allows students to see where the project is heading), task notification and task rubric, group contract and Knows and Need to Knows lists. As an English teacher I also like to include a vocab bank that students can refer to if they don’t understand any of the new language/terms learnt.
Benchmark One, called Information Gathering is pretty self explanatory. The content taught in this part of the project is designed to give students a foundation of knowledge about the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation, the literary techniques of symbolism and allegory and how these are demonstrated in biblical texts as well as linking this content back to the real world issue of Aboriginal reconciliation (which directly connects to the study of The Rabbits).
Benchmark Two, called Visual Literacy introduces students to the picture book text type,The Rabbits and also aims to teach students about visual literacy techniques and how to identify and use them. After each Benchmark is completed students must demonstrate their individual knowledge through the completion of Benchmark Reflections. These are tasks made to challenge as well as summarise the content and skills students should have mastered at that point. The Benchmark Two Reflection task can be seen below.
Benchmark Three is called What Matters Nationally and asks students to consider the big issues faced in Australia today. They were required to research these various issues, conduct an opinion poll with family, friends and members of the public and then, as a group, write a proposal for their own picture books. This proposal was then submitted as their formative task.
In between Benchmark Three and the submission of their final summative task picture book, students were given several lessons to consolidate their knowledge and ideas, draft a story and storyboard it before beginning to illustrate the final product. Students have to include elements and demonstrate skills from both English and CST to achieve high marks for this task. For example, the picture book must include the exploration of a current national issue through allegory. The story must follow the steps of reconciliation (sin, confession, forgiveness, reconciliation) while using various visual literacy techniques in the illustrations (composition, colour, vectors, scale, salience, motif).
At the conclusion of the project students always complete a final reflection where they look back on their own learning and new skills as well as consider what they still need to improve on.
A screenshot of the Echo page for this project can be seen below.