Diving deep into ATL Skills implementation, Part 1

How do you ensure that ATL skills are explicitly taught in every subject group? This is the first of a four-part series on ATL skills implementation.

Part 1 What assumptions are at play?

The task of ensuring that ATL skills are explicitly taught in every subject is a complex implementation task.

For starters:

The teacher needs to get to know their learners and see what skills they need right now, to succeed in that discipline. (Previously, we took a look at Criterion B and how it is overflowing with disciplinary skills.)

The team needs to gather these skills into an overview that addresses the skills essential to that discipline over time.

The team needs to investigate what models for skills acquisition work for their particular learners, gather data on these as they are introduced, rehearsed and acquired as part of the learners’ individual learning repertoires.

The various grade level teams gather to decide how they can cross-pollinate each other’s disciplines so skills are reinforced and transferred.

This work is meticulous and iterative, an ongoing inquiry cycle for teacher teams. Creating the ATL skills framework for a particular context requires for teams to dive deep. The deep dive begins with an honest look at how we learned skills and deciding to transcend those to embrace new models for skills acquisition for a different generation of learners.

The complexity starts with assumptions we bring to the collaboration

There are assumptions that need to be addressed as the process of articulating ATL skills unfolds in the classroom, the subject group, and throughout the program.

One of the assumptions that defeat explicit ATL skills teaching is the habit of assigning tasks without teaching skills.

A gap that’s noticeable in the ways disciplines have functioned is the gap between assigning a task (e.g. Write an essay) and teaching skills that manifest in the successful undertaking of a task (e.g. How to write coherently and clearly).

Assigning tasks vs. inquiring into skills

In a discipline there might be the assumption at work that learners already know how to write coherently, that is to formulate a thesis, supporting ideas, and specific elaboration toward the clarity of those ideas. So a written task is assigned and no instruction is undertaken.

When a teacher wants to explicitly address the skills that manifest in a successful task, it’s often essential to break that task down into the skills that it takes to succeed in the task. Then, the next step is to lead inquiry into those skills during formative experiences.

Assumed transfer

Another assumption that teams need to question is assumed transfer of skills from one discipline to another.

In already-effective learners, specific skills transfer automatically from one discipline to another. However, this is not a safe assumption to make of all learners. Some learners will observe how skills are conceptualised in different disciplines, and other learners will not yet be able to do so. 

Have you ever read a formal lab report draft in science that sounded like a creative writing piece or a conversational note to a friend? 

There is place for different text types in the various disciplines, and the concepts of register, audience imperatives and form help students to acquire the distinction between various text types.

In each discipline the experience of writing is a part of formative learning. Learners might transfer the concepts of register, audience imperatives and form when a science teacher, for example, focuses some explicit instruction on how the concepts of register, audience imperatives and form manifest in scientific writing.

Find skill models and decide on the best fit for your learners.

One way to address explicit skills instruction is through exposure to models of skills and strategies.

In almost every school there is some agreement in the faculty on the system of how authorship is documented and cited. Some schools accept URLs in Grade 5, MLA citations and bibliography in Grade 7, full MLA application in high school, and subject group-specific citation in the Diploma years. This is a model of research skills that learners are introduced to, taught, given time to rehearse, and gradually reach proficiency and/or mastery at the end of the school experience.

Agreeing on a model for the teaching of various skills and sticking to that model ensures that each teacher is able to reinforce the acquisition and proficiency building of those skills. 

(It may be a concern that if we are teaching students how to use MLA that they will miss out on the other systems like APA, Chicago, etc. And perhaps, we might reflect whether we are teaching MLA or how to honour authorship and practise academic integrity skills?)

For more examples of models, see these resources in Lance King’s TaoLearn website.

In Part 2 we will look at how to get started with a subject group team in developing an ATL skills toolkit.

What are your burning questions about ATL skills implementation? Share them in the comments.

Featured Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash.


If you want to get started with some tools for explicit skills teaching in your own classroom, consider the templates in our resource.

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    Author: alavina

    Cognitive CoachSM and professional development leader at large. Writer and editor at http://learnertoolbox.com.

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