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Integrated Thematic Instruction (ITI) Model

The Beginning
Susan Kovalik created the beginnings of what would come to be known as the Integrated Thematic Instruction (ITI) Model (currently known as the Highly Effective Teaching Model) in her early days as a sixth grade classroom teacher. After becoming a K-6th science teacher, she expanded her methods to include plenty of hands-on of real objects and animals. In time, Susan became teacher for the gifted and talented students, and it was during this period that she was first introduced to brain research. This information validated what she knew in her heart and from her experience in the classroom: provide three carefully crafted environments (emotional, physical, and academic) in a classroom/school and you will enhance learning and increase long-term memory capabilities of learners.

ITI Model: The Original Brain-Compatible Education Model6

Integrated Thematic Instruction (ITI) was originally conceptualized in the 1970's during the era of programs such as Gifted and Talented, Mentally Gifted Minors, Extended Learning Programs, Accelerated Learners, etc. in California. The basic premise of the Gifted and Talented (GT) program was that gifted students needed to have additional opportunities to use their talents, to spend time with others who were quick to conceptualize and synthesize. In short, because of their special gifts, such students were entitled to a "qualitative different" learning environment. Clearly, the gifted students were disinterested with the traditions of the regular classroom and were not profiting by this educational experience. Something had to be done about it.

In pursuit of "qualitatively different," the phrase for gifted programs became "higher levels of thinking" or multiple thinking skills, an innovation based on Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives. Although developed originally to guide the design of questions on exams at the college level, Bloom's Taxonomy took on a life of its own at the elementary school level; the "process verbs" at each of the six levels became guides for developing curriculum that promoted a different kind of learning experience, and, adding to that, challenge and excitement. Achieving the legislatively mandated rule that gifted programs must be qualitatively different from the regular classroom was not difficult on two counts:

  1. teachers who chose to be gifted/talented teachers were frequently those chaffing under the constraints of the textbook-driven regular classroom and looking for something different from typical requirements
  2. these teachers were, for the most part, classroom teachers who had already acquired sufficient curriculum development skills to do many exciting firsthand and hands-on activities

ITI: The Model book imageIt was agreed by many parents and educators in general that gifted students shouldn't be bored and that most classrooms were not sufficiently stimulating and challenging to keep their attention or direct their interests and energies. On such a premise, state legislatures across the country poured forth millions of dollars. After coming to the awareness that all students, not just the gifted, were waiting for something to challenge and interest them, Susan Kovalik set out to create an educational model where every learner would benefit from hands-on, firsthand information, sensory-rich field study experiences, engaging activities, and meaningful topics. In so doing, the ITI Model was defined, brain-research was implemented in the classroom, the best we know about learning was orchestrated in practical steps, and the innovative bodybrain-compatible education model was launched with the power to revolutionize education at all levels.

The three areas of the ITI Model focus were originally called Brain Research, Teaching Strategies, and Curriculum Development, and are now known as:

  • Biology of Learning
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Conceptual Curriculum

After carefully analyzing the wealth of information available from current brain research, the new task was to translate how it could be applied in the classroom – how it would look; how it could be replicated in any learning environment. Karen Olsen was a primary contributor for defining and shaping the practical steps needed to accomplish this. Originally eight, there are now Ten Elements identified within the model to create a bodybrain-compatible environment in which performance for both students and teachers can be improved:

  1. Absence of Threat / Nurturing Reflective Thinking
  2. Sensory-Rich "Being There" Experiences
  3. Meaningful Content
  4. Enriched Environment
  5. Movement to Enhance Learning
  6. Choices
  7. Adequate Time
  8. Collaboration
  9. Immediate Feedback
  10. Mastery / Application

The growth of the Integrated Thematic Instruction (ITI) model into a nationwide, even worldwide, movement is the result of dedicated classroom teachers who persevered in their search for better learning experiences for students – teachers whose convictions pushed them to advocate for all students, show courage lead them to challenge the system. It is their work of pioneering the application of brain research to the classroom which has carried ITI throughout the United Sates, Canada, and Europe. It is their work which gives hope that the system can be changed, that schools can be made to serve the needs of our democracy and the demands of life in the 21st century.

We acknowledge and applaud all who dare to make a difference and especially those whose challenges are extraordinary.

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