Crossing boundaries: ATL skills for interdisciplinary learning

This is Part 3 of a four-part series on ATL skills implementation.
Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.

Every start of a school year students move up one more notch of complexity. Their teachers ensure the complexity is designed into the experiences of school. Learners might be asked to combine more ATL skills in this year’s inquiries as they will hold investigations, perhaps with increasing independence. The tasks designed for learners to express understanding might require more critical thinking skills in combination and wide leaps in creative thought. 

Whatever the transition the learner experiences in a new school year, new skills and increased capacity are required. These transitions are potentially the crux of interdisciplinary ATL skills development.

From the primary years to the middle years, structural provisions and constraints both might present a simple problem of having to navigate eight classrooms during the day and be able to bring all materials necessary for each of those eight places.

Consider the ATL skills the new MYP Year 1 needs, to show up in the right place at the right time with the right preparation.

Bring necessary equipment and supplies to class is the obvious one. In a new context with new ways of navigating school life daily, sixth graders have to Practise strategies to reduce stress and anxiety and Practise positive thinking. And how about Practice dealing with change? (Those skills are difficult for those of us who aren’t any more 11 or 12 year olds.)

From the Year 3 or grade 8 to Year 4 or grade 9, there is also a significant transition. In grade 9, suddenly the learner enters the realm of being measured for some future gatekeeping. Grades count toward college admission. Future impact on present behaviour suddenly becomes pressurised. This is also the time when students are expected to choose and use skills independently. Whereas investigations might have been scaffolded with a guiding task sheet before, now the science, design, and math teachers are asking that students design their own investigation from scratch.

The transitions in learners’ school experience give teams and the coordinator opportunities to design the pathways for students to become prepared and confident in approaching learning for the times when complexity increases.

Teacher inquiry into cross-disciplinary ATL skills development

It might help to ask these questions for every single year:

  • What skills are essential for the first two weeks of the school year?
  • For skill x, what is the next grade level expectation of performance?
  • What might need to happen to gain that level of performance in this skill by the beginning of the next year?
  • What skills cross over different subject groups?
  • What skills are not in the subject specific skills, that our students need this year?
  • What will we provide to enhance the skills of students who are already proficient in skill x?
  • What will we do when a student is not ready for skill x?
  • In which subject group will students learn x skill? 
  • How will we give opportunities for skill transfer to other subject group?

Skills have conceptual foundations, so they transfer across situations (Lanning, 2013). This means they can transfer across subject group situations.

Let’s take a skill that is significantly useful for culminating independent inquiries such as the Personal Project and Extended Essay: “Practise dealing with disappointment and unmet expectations.”

Pick any task with a new skill and/or concept that must manifest in the performance and the process will give students opportunities to practice this skill.

As students perform any Criterion B related task in their subject groups, they will at some point meet disappointment and unmet expectations. Performances like investigations do not always go smoothly, and the student gains another opportunity to practice dealing with disappointment and unmet expectations. How might they learn to persevere, bounce back, to find alternative pathways and solutions? 

All teachers have an overview of the student learning experiences

The opportunity for the team is to collaborate on ways that teachers might gain an overview of the entire learning experience for a given group of students, so when students stumble and need to draw upon the skill of dealing with disappointment and unmet expectations, the teacher is able to support the transfer of this skill from that other situation to the current situation. Simply, sometimes we need to remind students they have been resilient before, and they can be resilient now.

Bringing the metacognitive awareness of skill from one context to another is a way to bridge disciplinary experiences and allow for transfer.

Let’s consider the skill of pattern finding.

In Mathematics, Criterion B addresses pattern finding through investigation. The investigation can present data sets and the learners detect patterns by examining the data. Then they are able to communicate the pattern mathematically as well as other ways.

(For an example of thinking through pattern-finding, this blog post by a math teacher talks about investigations and skills.)

In a Chinese Language acquisition class I once visited, the teacher had the students role play a statement. In pairs, students acted out a sentence while their classmates observed patterns. Pairs met with other pairs to figure out the pattern. They repeated this process with different statements until the group came to a generalisation that reality followed the pattern in the statement, or statements followed the logic of reality.

Might it not be possible for transfer of the skill of pattern recognition as an approach to learning, if students are given opportunities to find patterns in at least two disciplines? 

ATL skills that cross disciplinary boundaries can be systematically learned and rehearsed. 

Through collaborative examination of the overview and the overall continuum experience, we can find those milestone opportunities to address the interdisciplinary ATL skills.

Note: in some literature, interdisciplinary ATL skills are also called cross-generic skills.

For a collection of ATL resources, visit Lance King’s Tao of Learning ATL page.

In Part 4 we will look at how we can create partnerships within our programme to strengthen ATL skills development.

Featured Photo by Robert Horvick on Unsplash

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

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