Integrating Knowledge
Page 2 of 3

The Need
Traditionally, one factor especially has discouraged most teachers from taking an active interest in the integration of knowledge. Alas, much of the discussion of this topic has been beyond the convenient intellectual reach of most teachers, not only their students. Even for those of longer intellectual reach, more urgent pressures have usually diverted attention to concrete matters far more immediately understandable to school administrators, politicians, and fellow teachers.

That very urgency of other matters, though, now has most schools nearing the point of losing their support. To survive, they must begin to demonstrate improved educational outcomes. A summer school program is proposed here which can achieve most or all of the above desired objectives without teachers' having to learn anything new or even having, in most instances, to change what they're doing. We propose here a simple model program which could very greatly relieve the present vulnerability of schools to loss of support.

What we propose
We propose here a simple way to enable students to begin creating their own integrated structure of knowledge, even where none of their teachers have any such integrated structure of their own! After even one such summer school session, students will attain a high-quality intellectual and aesthetic grasp of nearly all that they have been taught to date. The session's students will build a strikingly high-quality command of the contents of current and subsequent courses of study. They will build and demonstrate a very high rate of long-term retention and render their schooling useful to their subsequent living.

Here is the core element enabling students to integrate their own knowledge:

Integration Days
Getting students to integrate all knowledge

The advantage of intersessions and summer schools, for this purpose, is that they offer only one or two courses intensively over a period of but several weeks, instead of 5-6 courses at a time strung out over a semester. This greatly simplifies the initial task for students.

Begin with a pair of such courses. One course runs in the mornings and the other in the afternoons, as is usual in summer schools. Or, even better, over shorter, more intense intervals, run courses the whole day, one at a time. Announce, and anticipate, that such integrations will be attempted. Whether or not the individual teacher or professor refers to this expectation (though it is highly desired that he or she should do so), or indicates along the way various points relating to previously taken courses (that would be a very desirable practice in any case) — at the conclusion of each such pair of courses, feature an Integration Day.

For all that we'd like to see certain specified techniques used to teach these courses, these courses can be taught in the usual fashion, with the usual methods, by the usual teachers. What will make the difference will be the anticipation and use of these special Integration Day sessions at the conclusion of the course.

Part of the evaluation of the students' degree of success in each course will be their observed performance during the processes of Integration Day, which will follow the final examination in each subject. Performance during Integration Day will be weighed as strongly in each student's grade for that course as is the exam. Other than that, each teacher's conduct of each course is not interfered with.

Discussion format
Integration Day itself will feature use of the focused-interactive, classroom management techniques set forth in How To Be A Better Teacher, Today[11]. In an intensely focused, guided, interactive discussion format, students will pursue the task of tracing out relationships and structural similarities between the contents of the course just completed and other course subjects taken previously. Students will work successively in pairs, in threes and fours, in small buzz-groups, and in plenary larger groups converging as a symposium, and in personal documentation.

Repeat this same Integration Day procedure, for these same students, through a sequence of two or three courses. The second Integration Day will be at least ten times richer in its intellectual product than the first, and the third several times richer than the second, as an integrative context builds from course to course.

It would be helpful to have each teacher of those courses involved in supporting these integrative processes, rather than having these conducted entirely by special personnel who were prepared for the purpose. Those teachers and laymen who are willing to participate can be well prepared for their role in leading Integration Day, in less than one day's briefing and training. With that preparation, even reasonably competent laymen can, if need be without help from teachers, escalate the students' comprehension and integration through these Integration Day sessions. Still better outcomes would pertain if teachers were involved, especially from the beginning, supporting from time to time throughout the course the anticipation of a pending integration in their classes.

It is highly desirable to include many tape recorders and clerical services for transcribing select portions of the resulting recordings from Integration Day. This not only builds higher attention-levels in participating students:  the budding intellectual integrations will emerge in forms useful for more than just those particular participating students. Some of these integrations will emerge in forms useful to other teachers and students beyond the boundaries of the model project.

To compare two just-completed courses at a time, if two at one time have been taken, will be more complex than simply relating the contents of one course to prior courses taken. It should, however, make the ongoing process more interesting as well as richer. And the two courses together will give students an initially broader frame of reference from which to draw their initial responses, making it easier for them to begin making such responses.

The task of each student, individually and in successively broader teams, is to recognize and highlight a structure of descriptive dynamic principles also found in previously studied courses from before this project. The format will go for fluency first and correctness later. First get students to begin generating a good many responses and to get into a productive flow of responses leading toward the desired integration. Even comparing the structured contents of two recent courses, or of the one recent course with one prior course at a time, will generate some useful initial responses on which to build. Do not leave matters there, however, since part of the objective is to integrate all previous and subsequent learning.

Summer model
Summer schools are better for this purpose than are intersessions. At least two successive courses, or even two successive pairs of courses, can be taught and then cumulatively integrated, to allow the greater part of this intellectual and aesthetic integration to happen. Intersessions usually are not long enough to allow students the greater part of the benefit from this procedure, and at best could afford only one Integration Day, with no further cumulative benefits from successive such integrations.

After monitoring the gains from the summer model, schools may well consider re-engineering their wintertime programming as well, into successions of pairs of intensive courses followed by Integration Days. This winter application might be a problem, though, for teachers whose specialty is engaged for only one two-week session. This winter application would, however, have major advantage in providing opportunity to engage especially high-quality instructors from the community and from elsewhere in the educational system, without the expenses of committing them to a year's full appointment. Many leading researchers and educators currently engaged or on sabbatical, and truly emeritus educators, could be available in such a project who would not be available to the school for a year's commitment.


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