Silos in education are necessary for many skills. Being a former Kindergarten teacher, I can promise you that teaching all subjects, all day without silos would be an almost impossible task. With that being said, teaching within silos all day, every day, is an innovation killer. Opportunities are missed for students to build authentic learning connections between subjects. Interest and inquiry is stifled when lessons are taught in rows and chairs. Traditional lessons have a  predetermined stopping point, hoisting away the opportunity for students to continue their learning! Breaking down the silo's and providing students' freedom to learn their own way echo's the vision of a sound 21st century classroom. It also frees up valuable classroom time as lessons can reach multiple standards instead of just one.

Below you will see two visuals. Both models are standards driven, but the design process is different. On the left, is the traditional educational model. Subjects are designed, taught, and assessed within silo's. There is clear changes from subject to subject removing the possibility of cross pollination of ideas or concepts. Standards are chosen within the subject area only. On the right, is a visual of a Non-Silo educational model. Lessons are designed, taught, and assessed as themes.  There is no clear recognition of which subject is being taught as groups may be working on several different tasks at once. Standards are chosen in groups based on similarity, from there, the theme and lessons are designed.


So you have been shown the basics of how Non-Silo education takes place and is perceived, but how do you get there? What strategies will help you, regardless of your years of experience, get to the point of removing your silo's to create a 21st century learning environment?

Standard Cut Up
Start over, not completely, but prepare to do it again. I found it extremely helpful when I started to re-design my teaching to take all of the standards for all subjects and cut them up. Once each standard was cut out, I would organize them into groups based on similarity. In Elementary, you can find a lot of connections. Once I had groups, I would dive into the lessons I taught and make connections to the groups always keeping in mind the standards. This redesign is not dumping everything you have done in the past, it is re-arranging the way you design it. More often than not, I was using a lesson I had already taught and adding one or two more elements to be able to reach 3-4 standards instead of 1. 

Lead with a Question 
Re-think the way you go about questioning your students. The goal of education is not to create "vending machine" students who sit in their chairs and spit out correct answers. The goal is to create students who can think, and problem solve through the 4C's! Start your lessons with a hard question, maybe even a real life question. Ensure that this question leads into a standards based lesson. Your students will have more freedom to choose their own path of learning and build upon their inquiry. This is essentially teaching through the backward design. Begin with a question and an experience and use proper questioning tactics to lead students to standard mastery.

Vertically Aligned PBL
 PBL is a great method to remove silo's in your classroom, but if you vertically align it, this method becomes so much more powerful! Determine grade level PBL representatives and have them meet within your building. They can then share out what is being done at each grade. This not only removes the possibility of repeating a unit or lesson, but it provides the opportunity for true innovation. Grades can build upon the PBL units taught in the grade before scaffolding students learning like never before. This will create a community of unified educators focused around PBL.

Create Insurgents
Many districts have content representatives who meet and have a good grasp on the standards within that content area. Use them! Every other meeting, have them meet with a different content area and share connections that can be made. Being the expert in that field, they can help design and build lessons that are thematic and possibly applicable to multiple grade levels. Build time into your PLC's or team times to work on building connections. Be purposeful and unified as a building to attack the silo's!