Reflections: Planning for Curriculum Integration

Claudine Neal : Earth and Community Curriculum Project

Waterfall, NSW - Princes Highway 2000
Students acquire deep subject knowledge, transferable skills and value their learning when they find connection to both the teacher and links between subjects. These connections are better found by students when an explicit link is made between common course content, concepts and skills. The Australian Curriculum labels these as Content Domains and General Capabilities. Deep learning has occurred when students can apply knowledge, concepts and demonstrate skills used in a different context across different academic disciplines. Student then work toward mastering concepts and skills in a range of contexts in a more detailed manner when working on individual or team projects.
Authentic cross-curricular collaboration and skilful curriculum design allows teaching teams to “break down the silo” of their academic discipline and engage students to explore similar skillset and understanding in multiple contexts.
For example; Higher School Certificate Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, Senior Science and General Mathematics all can use mapping skills and field tools, use the same formulas and practical applications when researching Environmental Management topics.
The Australian Curriculum has 3 Cross-Curricular Priorities that are addressed across all subjects. These are:
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures
• Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia
• Sustainability
Designing an integrated unit of work that encompasses practical applications will give students the opportunity for mastery and deep subject knowledge that is transferable between the four subjects and can be used in other contexts as well. Using the Cross-Curricular Priorities is an effective tool to designing an integrated curriculum. The General Capabilities can act as a guide to create learning activities and assessments that mirror “real world” tasks in projects and workplaces.Having an Integrated Curriculum enhances and diversifies the interests and skillset of the staff who deliver it and gives students a platform to gain mastery of concepts and skills being modelled by the teaching team delivering it.
The success of an Integrated Curriculum is dependent on:
• The willingness of teaching teams to take the risk of implementing new initiatives and wanting to take up the challenge to diversify their repertoire
• Success of the collaboration between Learning Areas and individual teachers
• Clarity of curriculum mapping of common learning outcomes and content across learning areas
• The design of how the unit being delivered and assessed
The Challenge
There are three main issues around Curriculum Integration. Firstly, there is no clear definition offered across the education sector of what Curriculum Integration is. The research tries to determine the difference between a “thematic” approach to curriculum design and authentic models of Curriculum Integration.
Secondly, there are many models that have been offered in academic research and that have been exercised in classrooms and by teaching teams across different organisations. After discussion with my own Professional Learning Network, with teachers from both the Primary and Secondary level, and from my own experience; multidisciplinary Curriculum Integration is successful when the unit of work design has a clear aim, objectives and outcomes that are well versed by all those delivering the unit of work and students have a learning goal and structure to work to.
Anecdotally, when multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary method of Curriculum Integration occurs it is done relatively successfully as teachers are motivated to deliver forms of project-based learning, inquiry based learning and mastering skills and concepts when they are taught in their specific subject areas. When collaborating with fellow colleagues on Integrated Curriculum teachers generally are keen to be exposed to the context the common concepts and skills are taught in the other academic disciplines of their team.
Transdisciplinary Curriculum Integration is much more difficult as students find it more difficult to capture their “big idea” and what the final product will look like. Though teaching teams may have structured learning for what the design of learning could look like, students find it difficult to see the “blurred line” crossover of concepts and academic disciplines.
Thirdly, apart from the pressures on teachers day-to-day to perform their defined duties to a high level; identifying the model of Curriculum Integration that is appropriate for the context of their school can be difficult. Any curriculum initiative that is being established is evolving and requires time invested into the project to ensure success. Committed teaching teams will make initiatives successful regardless of the challenges faced during its initial implementation.
The Research
Curriculum Integration is not pedagogy. It is a strategy to provide opportunities for students to engage more holistically in their learning by explicitly linking concepts, skills, content and learning outcomes that are common across academic disciplines to provide deep understanding. Students use their prior knowledge and interest to initially find a connection to the content, skills, concepts and learning outcomes being presented.
(Drake & Burns, 2004) highlight in their book “Meeting Standards through Integrated Curriculum”, the issue of finding a universal definition for the concept “Integrated Curriculum”. Fifteen years later, we are still struggling to define the term. However, there is consensus from most researchers about the modelling of an Integrated Curriculum. Fogarty (1991) puts forward several different models which are cited in most of the other research. However, (Drake & Burns, 2004) suggests that further research needs to occur to see the success of Curriculum Integration on a wider scale. The example used by (Drake & Burns, 2004) has more relevance today for the Australian context. The intradisciplinary integration of The Arts and multidisciplinary integration of The Arts, Mathematics and Reading is offered. In most schools, including those in remote areas; can follow suit relatively easily.
Another example given was a transdisciplinary micro society project. Each participant played a role in the society, issues were solved using transferable “real world” skills and concepts that have been previously explicitly taught during instructional teaching and learning. (Drake & Burns, 2004) found that “when students are engaged in learning, whether they are taking part in the arts or roleplaying in a micro society, they do well in seemingly unconnected academic arenas”.
Most research indicated that there was a distinction between “thematic” teaching and learning and authentic multidisciplinary integration of curriculum. Thematic curriculum suggests that there is no or limited connection between learning areas. This is occurring in the Primary schools as common practice. However, cross-curricular initiatives such as “genius hour” has a transdisciplinary approach. In the Secondary context, if Curriculum Integration is planned and executed, it is done genuinely.
The discussion offered by (Wall & Leckie, 2017) is centred around the implementation of Curriculum Integration. (Drake & Burns, 2004) do comment that assessment of Curriculum Integration moves to being standardised as each learning area is guided by syllabus requirements. (Wall & Leckie, 2017) acknowledge that situation also.
(Wall & Leckie, 2017) suggest the models of Curriculum Integration are on a spectrum of being subject centred to student centred following the models of multidisciplinary to transdisciplinary with little connection. However, other research such as (Drake & Burns, 2004) suggest there is a spectrum; however, each model is not an evolutionary step; rather there is strong connections between each model. Research also implies that once students and teachers make one connection; this leads to other new connections being made. I suggest that the role of the teacher as a mentor and semi co-designer of student’s work is to empower them to follow relevant connections to their individual Community of Learners to keep engaged in holistic learning.
Summary of Research
1.Though there is not a firm definition of “Curriculum Integration”, there are several models.
2. The designer of an integrated curriculum needs to be innovative, creative and plan in a clever manner, as the format will need to be appropriate for the school/class context.
3. The validity and coherence of Curriculum Integration is also dependent on appropriate design and planning according to the context of the school/classroom.
4. Constructivist pedagogy is reflected strongly by Curriculum Integration. This is a parallel to development in changes to classroom practice following a change of method from transmission of content and skills to finding links and connections in the wider curriculum in order to understand concepts that are transferable. (Bacon, 2018) takes this further by commenting that this is due to the culture of valuing economic progress higher than changes to cultural perspectives.
5. “...students become teachers and teachers become learners” (Pate, 2013 in (Wall & Leckie, 2017). Teachers and students co-design their learning together which is consistent with current schools of thought.
Bacon, K. (2018). Curriculum Integration. Dublin, Ireland: Marino Institute of Education.
Drake, S. M., & Burns, R. C. (2004). Meeting Standards through Curriculum Integration. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, USA.
Fogarty, R. (1991). Ten Ways to Integrate Curriculum. Educational Leadership, 61-65. Wall,
A., & Leckie, A. (2017). Curriculum Integration: An Overview. Current Issues in Middle Level Education, pp. 36-40.