Content-Area Whatever

Content in a Box #rhizo15

Dave Cormier asks us to consider what we mean by “content” when it comes to teaching and learning in this latest round of Rhizomatic Learning. As usual, Dave poses what seems to be a straightforward idea (oh, you mean: math, science, social studies and literacy, right?) that suddenly zigs and zags as you dive deeper into it.

Dave writes in his post:

I imagine a lone student, huddled away in a dorm room, reading sanitized facts in the hopes of passing a multiple choice quiz. The content somehow merging with the learning objective and the assessment to create a world where learning is about acquiring truth from the truth box. – Dave Cormier

And so:

Content confusion

For me, the word “content” has long become a rhetorically loaded word, attached to all sorts of professional journals and textbooks and advertising from every publishing company hoping to get either my money for their books or my words in a book review.

Content-area this

Content-area that

Content-area thisandthat


One of the more interesting elements of the Common Core push in the United States has been the shift in how we view the teaching of literacy. It is no longer the domain of just English Language Arts teachers. The Common Core demands that all content-area teachers (there we go again) be teaching reading and writing in the “content area” on a regular basis.

That, I can agree with. You?

What I have interpreted the Common Core shift to mean, and what my colleagues and I have been working on for a few years now, is how to transform literacy instruction beyond my own sixth grade ELA classroom, so that writing and reading practices are embedded in their day in all of their classrooms (math remains tricky when it comes to literacy practice, to be frank, given that the scope-sequence of our district’s math program leaves little room for deep inquiry and exploration … I know … that sucks).

An interesting ancillary is that I, as the ELA teacher, am finding more and more ways to bring social studies and science, and even some math, into our ELA curriculum as well, so that, for example, our video game design unit is science-content-based and an interactive fiction writing unit is steeped in history and archeology, and a poetry lesson (poems for two voices) is centered on math concepts and so on.

Our hope is to avoid those boxes I have above in my comic and spill the learning out. I think that elementary school teachers have more flexibility here in this weaving of subject areas, and even though my sixth grade team follows a “middle school model” of four teachers, four discipline areas, our home in an elementary school affects how we view teaching as a whole, not in parts.

But, I am still thinking about this concept of content, or maybe I am rethinking it. This is why I love Rhizo15. I can’t take anything I know for granted.

Peace (and be content with it),

  1. Mixing up the literacies and content the way they are in real life – you have a great job, Kevin. Not so easy in secondary school, particularly in the last few years. Elementary/primary teachers are awesome!

  2. Great post! As always, you are doing some amazing, inspiring things in your classroom. For me, PBL is the answer for keeping us from being inside a content box. I have had some amazing experiences working with high school students this year combining chemistry, technology, and language arts skills. Next year, we are working really hard on our math incorporation plans next year, too.

    Now I’m off to do some research on the Rhizomatic Learning you mentioned. Thanks for getting me thinking!

  3. Sounds like your district is approaching math in a similar way to ours – impossibly dense timelines. Your students are lucky that you are integrating disciplines. So much more meaningful!

  4. This discussion reminds me of the “X” classes I took in high school, which were classes that combined English and Social Studies (I guess they call it Humanities now?) It only seemed natural, and now I wonder if there was ever any discussion of having a math/science version of that course. The concept is still the boxing of content, really but at least, the box has more potential for overflow. I think elementary classroom have done a better job of unboxing content, carrying themes through the discipline areas–reading about ducks in ELA, counting ducks in math, studying ducks in science, writing observations and stories about ducks, etc. Immersion, really…and I guess immersion would be the antidote to “content in a box.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *