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Approaches to Successful Cross-Curriculum Integration

Jordan Catapano

“But that’s English work, not science!” students might be overheard saying when their upstart science teacher incomprehensibly decides to teach her students about how to read their textbook better. It’s funny when we notice that students often think about subjects in rather rigid terms. History is history, science is science, and math is math. No crossover between them.

Can we blame students for this perception? We teachers may be the most culpable for fostering an environment that encourages this disconnect between subjects. Often teachers have little understanding of what students are working on in other courses. Often teachers take little time to speak with colleagues from other disciplines. Often teachers host hints of cynicism about what other teachers tell students, feeling like they need to “fix” the misinformation their fellow educators have disseminated.

Unfortunately, the world is not nearly as segmented as our division of subjects suggests. One powerful, tried-and-true way to alter students’ perceptions about the relationship between various disciplines is to focus on creating integrated, cross-curricular instruction between multiple subjects. The advantage is that students will begin to see knowledge as interdependent and connected rather than as individual, isolated subjects. Ultimately this better enables students to achieve higher level critical thinking and collaborative skills.

A variety of methods exist for teachers to apply to successfully integrate their curriculum with other subjects.  Here are a few common approaches:

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  1. Do-it-yourself Integration: This method involves just one teacher, but that teacher intentionally brings in other subject area components into their instruction. For example, a class studying calculus might use physics-based examples as their application for the principles. Or a class examining the history of the pilgrims might read poetry related to their journey.
  2. Team-Teach-It Integration: Instead of just incorporating various subjects yourself, you can partner with another teacher to cover the same theme or skills. Of course, to do this you would need to share the same students with the partnering teacher. For example, while a history class studies the Puritan Era in America, an English teacher might have students read primary sources related to that era. This method, in fact, is most commonly incorporated between English and history.
  3. Multidiscipline Integration: Why stop at just two teachers working together? A whole team of experts from English, history, math, science, world language, even physical education can work together to create a fully integrated curriculum plan. That plan might span a single project for a pre-determined portion of the curriculum, or it can span the entire duration of the year. Here, a closely knit team of educators agrees upon the appropriate themes/content (like historical eras, scientific principles, or mathematical formulas) and the appropriate skills (like reading strategies, critical thinking, or small group discussion). That team orchestrates their individual lessons to fit in close step with the lessons of their colleagues.

As the skills and information students acquire becomes more heavily interrelated, the more structured students’ learning is. This more easily allows for the metacognitive transfer of knowledge from one situation to the next and supports students’ progressive, scaffolded growth. So instead of thinking about how different your area of expertise is from other disciplines, begin to consider how you can start a conversation with colleagues about what all your subjects actually have in common.