Teaching discipline

What’s in a subject? Much of the general content in the English Primary Curriculum is fairly straightforward to categorise, but when concentrating on content I wonder if we are missing out the most important aspects of our subjects.

Recently we have been designing our new Digital Literacy specialist pathway for trainee primary teachers. This began with Steve Wheeler, Peter Yeomans and myself sitting down and brainstorming what we thought it was important to cover in such a course. In the resulting ideas there were three strong themes and I found it fascinating to look at where these came from, for these themes in many ways reflected the thinking styles of the three people involved. Steve is a psychologist, and was pushing for the inclusion of theories and how they map to behaviour. I, a historian was exploring the narrative and development of digital cultures and Pete, with an engineering background, keen to impose a structure onto the course.

With many people in primary education (myself included) spending much time talking about cross curricular learning and skills based teaching, it is easy to characterise traditional disciplines as bodies of knowledge. However, to do so does them a disservice; disciplines are not just repositories for content to be memorised, they are ways of thinking in themselves.

I wonder how much credence we give to this as generalist teachers in primary schools. In a session the other day I was discussing a cross curricular plan with a student who suggested that making a working model of a volcano could be a cross curricular link to design technology. I agreed with her, but then we were both challenged by another student who asserted quite rightly that whilst that might involve ‘making’, the discipline of design involves exploring the solution to a specific problem for a target audience.

How often as generalist teachers do we forget this? I know I have been guilty of shoehorning in some content as part of a ‘cross curricular’ topic. I’m not sure that is always a problem, but I do think it is important to recognise subjects as disciplines and not just silos of content. At primary level it is very easy to do this, to dismiss the idea of a discipline as something that comes later, but I am not sure that it does. The discipline is fundamental to the subject, and in my mind what should be retained even when the content is spread across the curriculum.


Image: (cc) mic wernej






2 responses to “Teaching discipline”

  1. […]  These revealed interesting tensions; between applicability and doing things for their own sake, between the idea of disciplines and school subjects, and between the ideas of learning about technology and learning with […]

  2. […] saw me begin to explore the ideas of discipline and generalism relating to the primary teachers I work with, something which I have continued to unpick since and has been a big influence on the book I am […]

Leave a Reply

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