Cross-Content Standards of Learning: Value-Added Collaboration, Practice, and Instruction

By Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed.

February/March 2012

Identifying cross-content skills throughout the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) provides opportunities for collaboration, more powerful intensive intervention for students with disabilities, and “… deliberative practice to enhance mastery and fluency …” (Hattie, 2009, p. 185) of skill.  A focus on the development and mastery of academic skills with Standards-Based Individual Education Programs (S-B IEP) has highlighted the need for special educators to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the Virginia SOLs for all content areas.  As we become more familiar with the standards across content areas, we become aware of skills that cross content areas and grade levels.  For example, within the English, Mathematics, History/Social Sciences, and Science SOL, cross-content skills include higher order thinking skills (HOTS), analogous relationships, visual devices and representations, and literacy skills. 

The initial steps to acquiring a skill may lie within the standards of one content area but grow and expand within the standards of another content area and across grade levels.  Similarly, a skill identified within one content area standard may be enhanced with the standards of another content area, perhaps within the same grade level. For example, connections are actively encouraged between the History/Social Sciences Standards and the English Standards through alignment of grade-level standards across these subjects, as well as alignment of resources provided by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) (Barton, 2011). 

The implementation example provided at the conclusion of this article highlights the skill of comparing and contrasting, evident throughout the Virginia Standards of Learning for all subject areas.  (Resources are provided for activities to be used in each subject area.)  While a student might be comparing and contrasting settings, characters, and events (English 3.5) within his English class, the student might also be comparing two whole numbers between 0 and 9,999 using symbols and words (Math 3.1), or comparing fractions with like and unlike denominators (Math 3.3).  Students in science are asked to compare and contrast physical and behavioral characteristics of different animals (Understanding the Standard, Science 3.4).  Further, students in history at the third-grade level must be able to compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions (Essential Skills, History and Social Sciences 3.10).  Collaboration among teachers at this grade level with connections made across these content areas supported by activities will reinforce intensive instruction and deliberative practice, as well as ensure student success.

Specialized instruction must be designed to address the skill-focused IEP goals developed from a careful examination of student data and the vertical articulations within the content areas.  Specialized instruction to address goals developed to target the cross- content area skills maximizes the effectiveness of instruction for struggling students and focuses the instruction so as to move students toward on-time graduation with a standard diploma through generalization of practice.  Generalization of an identified cross-content skill ensures mastery and automaticity or fluency with that skill.  As an example, the Strategic Instruction Model® (SIM®) Learning Strategies (KU-CRL) require generalization activities across content areas to ensure mastery of the Learning Strategy. 

An examination of student SOL data reports (Student Performance by Question) typically reveals strengths and weaknesses among skill sets.  If a skill that crosses content areas and grade levels can be identified early, an IEP goal may be written to address this need, and specialized instruction may be implemented to enhance deliberative practice.  Addressing this skill or skill set early ensures greater academic success and a stronger foundation upon which to build in future grades.  A solid foundation allows students to grow the use of a skill to its fullest capacity.  For example, students need a solid foundation in the ability to decode words to comprehend what they read.  Thus, when required to interpret data from a chart or graphic, students will experience much difficulty if they have not mastered the skill of placing data within the chart.  Instruction that crosses content areas intensifies deliberative practice, promotes generalization of a skill, and requires collaboration between and among teachers to be successful.

Finally, focusing on skills that cross content areas more closely aligns with real-world experiences. Project-based learning, or learning experiences that require integration of ideas across content areas, replicates the application of knowledge and skills that is required in the workplace and life in general. Recognizing significant connections between and among content areas is a first step in providing instructional experiences that prepare students for both in-school and post-school success (Maine Department of Education, 2007).

Implementation Example

The resources provided below highlight the skill of comparing and contrasting and the opportunities that exist to focus on that skill across core-content areas within the same grade level or progressing through grade levels.  Through an examination of the grade-level standards, opportunities to collaborate and design activities that reinforce a skill area will be discovered, as demonstrated with the example provided within the body of this article.

Skill:  Compare and Contrast

Virginia Standards of Learning:   

Throughout the grade levels 3rd to 12th in English, Math, History and Social Science, and Science

Resources for Instruction: 


Compare and Contrast at the Kindergarten level –

Compare and Contrast at the 3rd grade – ; Activity C.021

Compare and Contrast at the middle school level –

Compare and Contrast at high school – School Algebra 1.pdf

Compare and Contrast Search of the Doing What Works website –


Compare and Contrast Graphic Organizer Use in Mathematics –

Comparing and Contrasting at the Elementary Level in a Math Classroom –

Compare and Contrast Challenges from National Council of Teachers of Mathematics –

Integrating Math Across the Curriculum at the Elementary Level –

History and Social Science

Compare and Contrast in Grades K to 2 – 

Compare and Contrast in Grades 3 to 5 –

Compare and Contrast in Grades 7 to 12 –


The Compare and Contrast Method –


Barton, B. (2011, December).  History and social science standards of learning: Connections and  resources.   Presentation at DLST Meeting, Williamsburg, Virginia.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning; A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  New York, NY:  Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Maine Department of Education. (2007). Cross-content connections. Retrieved from

University of Kansas, Center for Research on Learning.  Strategic Instruction Model® Learning Strategies.  Retrieved from


Virginia Standards of Learning and Resources

Virginia English Standards of Learning –

Virginia Math Standards of Learning –

Virginia History and Social Science Standards of Learning –

Virginia Science Standards of Learning –

Searchable Free Lesson Plan Databases

Doing What Works –

Illuminations –

National Geographic –

Read, Write, Think –

Example:   Compare and Contrast Resources with Read, Write, Think – –

TTAC Online –

Electronic Venn Diagram for Comparing and Contrasting within Microsoft Office –