I tell anyone who will listen that connections, cultural literacy, and The Classics lead to mastery of the Common Core without teaching to the test, especially in English and history. I don't claim to know how it would look every single day in the classroom, and I know that ALL history classes I have ever taken or seen (taught below the college level) involve memorization of trivia instead of application and analysis. Ironic, since all of the college history classes I ever took were the opposite. It's like textbook companies and the coaches who get stuck teaching something decide that the regurgitation of names and dates will help students to "avoid the mistakes of those who came before us." Of course, that's as cliché as English majors calling something "problematic," though that word does describe how we normally teach social studies.
Neither social studies nor English should be taught in isolation from other classes, but creating connections BETWEEN several classes is difficult and time-consuming. Plan to do it in the future, as it is a great way to teach. Start with making connections IN one subject to start, and these connections are what will make the content more interesting. After some time, STUDENTS can be the ones making the connections. I want to show one example here of connections that can be made, and this was done in about ten minutes, so there's no excuse that it's just too difficult.
1. It began with a quote of the day by John Quincy Adams. The quote was to the effect that all religious wars had ended, and all future wars would be about politics. We had a discussion about the merit of this argument, and students recognized that religion still does play a major role in war. It was a good quote for English as well as history, since JQA was using language that was difficult to understand for 8th graders, so we had to define some words in order to find the meaning. I could have had the students write about this, too, but I was a sub, so I had to keep things moving. The point is that a quote from the past could be applied to what they were currently learning (American Revolution), as well as to our world today.
2. I had used another article for a geography class, and that article had a link that was interesting, so I clicked on it. The article was about a dig that found an old shrine that had been destroyed by Hezekiah. I pointed out that Hezekiah was leading a revolution of sorts, or it could be looked at as a suppression of revolt. Since this was a Lutheran school, many students already knew the name, but now they could see this Biblical story in a new context, and it could also be related to what they were learning and what we are dealing with in America when it comes to religious differences.
3. Remembering that Hezekiah was one of the Kings of Judah, I was reminded of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I'd read another article of the day several years ago that talked about how the Kings of Judah statues were destroyed during the French Revoltion. Then rediscovered in 1977 and on display in a museum. The current statues that I showed the students are replicas. Now you see even more connections, since it was another revolt that led to (ironically) Hezekiah's statue being destroyed by people who associated it with the tyranny of their own king. And the Adams quote works, as well, since revoltions against those with a divine right to rule must be religious as well as political. In the case of Notre Dame, the shrine was rebuilt, but the destroyed pieces were also found 200 years after the revolution.
4. I could have showed images of a Stalin or Saddam statue tumbling to the ground. I could have looked for more examples of conflicts based on religious differences, or maybe talked about a city like Jerusalem that contains several shrines. Or the reuse of Ismalic architecture in Spain. Or destruction of Christian churches in Syria.
5. Rinse and repeat. Every day is a new opportunity to make these connections that are not based on eras. Instead, it's based on human behavior. Students who don't understand why we can't all just get along start to see it. Students who don't think history matters today can start to see why it might. This kind of learning can help students try to understand what's gone on and what's going on rather than just know a list of basic facts of what happend when.
6. Eventually, these connections can be reinforced in science and English through communication of teachers. Wouldn't that be a more interesting in-service day than analysis of data and implementation of continuous improvement?
Were students engaged in the connections? Absolutely! Some started taking notes, but that may not be the point of doing this. And it may be too much to do this more than five minutes per day, but it would be five minutes well-spent.