Multi-tasking is the new education fad

It’s possible to teach history, science and literature at the same time, reports the Washington Post in a look at the new elementary curriculum in Montgomery County, Maryland, developed as part of a $2.25 million agreement with Pearson, the world’s largest education publisher.

In a first-grade class at the school, veteran teacher Gale Mundy read “Little Red Riding Hood” to her students. Then Mundy, who has taught for 26 years, asked her students whether they went on walks by themselves.

“Noooooooo!” they said.

“Only when you’re 8,” one girl said.

“When you’re 10,” a boy said.

“18,” came the final bid.

“They’re more engaged, and it means more to them,” (Mundy) said. “The important message was always hard to pull out for them” through the old methods, which isolated one skill at a time: first reading comprehension, plowing through a new folk tale every day, then writing later in the year in a letter-writing unit, she said.

This is new? Elementary teachers throughout human civilization have read stories, talked about the stories with the class and usually asked students to draw a picture or write about the story.

But proponents say Pearson’s integrated curriculum “involves more analytical skills.”

First-graders might read a story about patterns, listen to rhythmic patterns in music class and play a skipping game in gym class that requires them to move their bodies in a physical pattern.

Building multiple lessons around a theme: Wow!

The Post is puffing the latest education fad without asking questions about “the $2.25 million outlay, the cost of training and implementation, the evidence this is working, whether previous efforts of this bent have actually paid off, or about possible unanticipated consequences,” writes Rick Hess.

About Joanne


  1. Maybe some “educators” want to teach a whole bunch of subjects at the same time because they themselves are so intellectually incurious that they don’t see how studying history, for example, could be interesting to anyone–thus, the need to add a lot of bells and whistles.

  2. Let’s integrate Real Life Studies into the curriculum, and abolish school as an institution apart. Let children learn Algebra and French History while setting tile, working for a construction contractor? Why not? That will work just as well, right? Not to mention saving $500 billion+ per year.

  3. Michael E. Lopez says:

    I confess…. I don’t understand.

    Isn’t this how things get taught anyway? Has it been THAT long since I worked in an elementary school?

  4. David, why the need to put educators in quotation marks? And why the need to insinuate that educators – read teachers – are intellectual deadbeats?

    There *are* ways to question the idea without insulting an entire profession. Sheesh.

  5. This is not a “fad” in education. It has been done successful in the International Baccalaureate Middle years and Primary years programs for decades. We don’t integrate every subject into every lesson, but we do focus on the connections between different subject areas.

    How often in life are you presented with a problem to solve which falls neatly into an educational category?

  6. I was wondering exactly what Michael said. How is this different from any kind of teaching? I remember my teachers pulling in information from a variety of disciplines.

    Of course, if you assume that “this is how it’s been done forever” you don’t get a publication or a grant application out of it…

  7. Nana…”educators” does not necessarily mean teachers; it also encompasses ed-school professors and school administrators. Plenty of members of the latter classes have shown through their actions that education is not among their main priorities, hence the quotation marks.

  8. I’d say that this is one part of Pearson’s attempt to develop a curriculum conforming to the Common Core which can be marketed in all 50 states.

    I think it’s a stretch to try to pull science lessons on animal behavior out of Little Red Riding Hood. Unless, perhaps, there’s a wolf dissection & reanimation unit at the end.

  9. “I think it’s a stretch to try to pull science lessons on animal behavior out of Little Red Riding Hood. Unless, perhaps, there’s a wolf dissection & reanimation unit at the end.”


  10. I’ve been teaching this way for more than 20 years without my school spending 2.5 million for a special curriculum.

  11. Nice catch, Joanne.

  12. “I think it’s a stretch to try to pull science lessons on animal behavior out of Little Red Riding Hood. Unless, perhaps, there’s a wolf dissection & reanimation unit at the end.”

    Ok, I’m excited.

    Regarding “educators,” I’m of the personal belief that anyone who chooses to call themselves an “educator” rather than a “teacher” does not belong anywhere near a school and usually is nothing more than an overpaid parrot that regurgitates what others tell them.

    Malcolm – I’m hoping your post is sarcasm. The problem with “Real Life Studies” as you present it is that students would only learn algebra in the scope of the trade that they learned it… learning algebra alongside tiling would not help them use algebra with an electrician. Moreover, I doubt many construction workers apply French History in their daily work… the humanities would definitely be left out of such an education. Then there’s the whole time aspect… students might reach calculus (if they got that far) by age 40 or so.

  13. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Super Sub Saith:
    …learning algebra alongside tiling would not help them use algebra with an electrician.

    I think this is probably false; otherwise no one could use algebra for anything except solving problems in books.

    It could depend on what you mean by “scope of the trade”, of course — perhaps there are parts of algebra that one doesn’t actually use in tiling that are called for in electric work.

    Still, many educational theorists (Rousseau, Dewey, Goodman, Holt, etc.) would be in favor of learning one’s mathematics through concrete experience, and have little to say about learning abstract facts divorced from their practical application.

  14. Michael –

    Let me clarify (I was perhaps a bit hasty in my post and did not fully communicate my reasoning). According to my interpretation of Malcolm’s post and his previous posts in other threads, I am assuming that he is suggesting that algebra should be taught on the job by a tiler as opposed to a teacher in a classroom. As such, the student’s experience with algebra would be limited to tiling and the student would likely not even realize that it could be used in other situations without being taught about how algebra is used in other situations.

    A topic learned does not automatically become a universal tool – only with repeated use of the topic (in this case, algebra) in various situations does the student gain the flexibility to become creative with the topic’s use. Effective classroom lessons often include multiple practical situations described in books, but that are also applicable in real life.

    Learning the topics through trades (where more time would be spent on actually tiling instead of algebra) would be time prohibitive. The purpose of mandatory institutionalized schooling is to provide the CliffsNotes version of our race’s knowledge so that we can condense 10,000 years of hands-on learning into 12 productive years. Is it always effective? No, but just as Churchill described democracy, institutionalized schooling is the worst form of education except all the others that have been tried.

    Hands-on learning is valuable, but as a reinforcement of a lesson once a solid foundation has been built.