Designing and experiencing an interdisciplinary Unit (IDU) can only be matched by the satisfaction of seeing students taking ownership of their work, and demonstrating how much they’re able to do with what they know. What is more, an IDU allows us to present students with an unusual experience, which definitely rewards us teachers with unexpected engagement and responses.
Planning an IDU requires participant teachers to engage intellectually, and to have an open mind about the multiple ways in which students may demonstrate understanding. Therefore, starting the IDU dialogue and planing by choosing a natural (and not forced entry point) always helps teachers to begin to understand aspects that will be explored, and explored that can be designed.
Beginning with a scenario that justifies the reasons why the involved subjects are joining forces consolidates the pathway to follow, and helps teachers become aware of the depth and breath of the inquiry. There are times when this scenario may take the form of the outcome of a decision (so we have to understand how we got there), and others it may look like a dream (and we have to imagine a way to make it happen).
The guidance we may appreciate in MYP IDU Assessment criteria
While the MYP IDU assessment criteria indicate how we will evaluate the evidence of learning we observe and find in the learning experience, they also suggest layers of collaboration and teaching that we need to consider and embrace before we qualify the unit as “ready to go”. Teachers need to have full clarity on what they want their students to know, understand and be able to do not only in their individual subjects, but also though the “marriage of subjects”. In other words, while we could argue that criterion A (disciplinary grounding) is about the critical content for both subjects, we must not forget that concepts are what will transfer learning from one subject to another and this criterion, therefore, addresses how students will use concepts to generalize, and how they will use facts to justify the idea in the statement of inquiry and other generalizations teachers may consider.
Images of the learning experience in the English Class
Images of the learning experience in the Arts Class
While criterion B (synthesizing), leads us to think about the way in which students merge understandings and experience transfer of learning in both subjects, this criterion is also an invitation to think of formative assessment experiences because, quite simply, it’s impossible to assess how students are able to synthesize big ideas with one single task/assessment. This criterion, in my opinion, is what brings in the transformational elements of an IDU, and what should guide teachers to think about what will constitute evidence of learning as well as how they would like students to demonstrate that they have understood something.
The recording and videos below are examples of the engagements in which students demonstrated how they were synthesizing conceptual understandings.
An experience with the senses
Reflection on language clarity and space
Criterion C (communication) should help teachers think of the following:
- What kind of sources will I have my students read so that they become informed and inform others?
- What communicative engagements will I have to design so that I witness how students are able to communicate ideas effectively?
- What are the most adequate ways in which students may communicate their ideas?
- What formats may be considered for students to create meaning more effectively?
Developing a clear vision of how we want students to experience communication should help us curate the approaches to teaching that will help us enrich the learning experience most meaningfully. In other words, communication in an IDU should be formative and developmental in terms of sophistication so that students have the opportunity to interact with each other’s ideas, and so that they are given the chance to produce and respond to different messages.
Sharing conceptual understandings
Criterion D (reflection) is an item that must not be taken lightly. As started before, the transformative element of an IDU suggests the need for teachers to keep track of how ideas are evolving which, consequently, points out the need to have check points and engage with students in that transformation. Logically, this means that we need to devise ways of providing feedback opportunely and concretely so that students make the most of these opportunities to respond to questions that emerge, iteration, and challenges.
Designing an IDU requires many hours of thinking and reflecting, and to remain in a constant state of creation. This should not be regarded as a negative, for the intellectual work that takes place in the process is what guarantees the success.
Once the learning experience is fully design; when it’s possible to visualize the end goal; and when we know the steps that will need to be taken to help students co-construct knowledge, then the journey can begin. Once the journey starts, the form of success can be appreciated, and we only need to navigate the waves of learning, always fully aware of what is going around us, always making sure we have time for listening.
Teaching a well designed IDU, augments students’ agency and reduces teacher taking time. Teachers become learning coaches, devil’s advocates, provocateurs, curious inquirers, and students’ partners in crime. Learning becomes dialogue, a piece of sky where ideas float like clouds, and in which the best learning dispositions can be observed. Teaches suddenly become students and the realization that we are all in this together becomes unquestionable.
Thus, as students become engaged in the production of their final work, teachers have ample opportunities to engage in dialogue, to verify understandings, to ask about what new learnings and questions they have come across. Every conversation could potentially be classified as a review; every interaction can potentially qualify as a formative assessment; and every engagement can give way to extend thinking.
By the time students finish their products and share their learning with the community, the IDU syndrome (very similar to the post partum syndrome) may be felt: there is a sense of absence, a void that was occupied by growing ideas… and maybe it feels strange to see something great come to an end, but I also want to believe that this void is a “newly found space” that craves to be filled with more authentic learning and creative inquiries.