Last night's #inquirychat focused on the concept of thematic teaching. One of the points that is on my mind has to do with the extent to which a thematic approach is at odds with a chronological approach. I am not sure this is the case, though in the chat it appeared to be expressed as such.
I should probably start with some definitions.
During last night's chat, I defined a theme as a recurring, organizing idea. I then proceeded to define themes as big questions, particularly questions focused on disciplinary concepts. In the course of the chat, words such as justice, equality, and nationalism were all mentioned as possible themes.
For me, it is always helpful to think about the non example. What does a teacher who is NOT teaching thematically doing, or not doing?
Let's picture them opening up the textbook and talking about the French Revolution, section by section. And then students are tested. Traditional history teaching personified. I do not consider this thematic teaching because there is no attempt to tie the material to larger ideas or themes. If we think about how a textbook is organized, it is often around events. For example, the Western Civ textbook my school uses has the following sections for the French Revolution:
The first section is organized in the following way:
Section 1- Revolution threatens the French King
The Forces of Change
A Great Fear Sweeps France
The textbook is presenting the French Revolution the way most textbooks do, as a series of events. The book is telling a story. It is not simply a list of facts. So, to that extent, there are unstated themes ( I will talk about this more).
What about the theme of revolution? Would that work here?
It seemed from the chat that some conceptions of thematic teaching would look like this:
Unit Theme= Revolution
Examine the use of the word revolution, as it has appeared recently in the news.
Study French Revolution
Study Russia Revolution
Notice that in this formulation the teacher appears to jump from the French Rev to the Russian Rev. I do not think this approach works, at least for me. And I do not think that thematic teaching has to look this way.