Over decades, student learning has become segmented into separate subjects, each the domain of separate groups of specialized teachers. The result is what is referred to as the “silos of schooling” that often appear to students as boring and irrelevant, “hermetically sealed containers” of academic content — with no connection to the real world outside of school. However, the real world does not look like that. Interdisciplinary instruction is breaking down the barriers of separate subjects through various approaches to integration of curriculum and/or pedagogy. The resulting blended learning experiences that are more engaging and relevant. Interdisciplinary instruction can:
- be used to apply current research on learning.
- help prepare students for a changing world.
- increase the number of students meeting achievement goals.
- increase the number of standards taught in a limited school year.
- contribute to career readiness.
Research shows that students learn more when they realize that what they are learning has a practical application to the world around them — now and/or in the future. Knowledge is best acquired when taught in context, when student are better able to make cognitive connections.
Interdisciplinary instruction is not an experiment in alternative learning, but rather a viable, deliberate strategy to better prepare students for success in an increasingly complex world. Interdisciplinary instruction can also be part of the solution for many students in achieving better performance in state tests. Interdisciplinary instruction is the right strategy for students by giving them rigorous and relevant learning experiences that engage them and that they will see will make a difference in their lives.
There are many options for interdisciplinary instruction to enhance teaching and learning. SPN has created an Interdisciplinary Instruction – Options reference that describes different options and forms of interdisciplinary instruction. Some of the questions to be answered in selecting an interdisciplinary option are:
- Will integration include Life/Career Abilities (personal, work habits, etc.)?
- Is learning to be a single course, multiple courses or something else?
- Is the course academic, e.g., ELA or math, CTE or arts, or both?
- Is this a new or existing course?
- Are students earning academic credit?
- Is the course taught by multiple teachers?
- Are courses linked to a Career Pathway?
- Is there learning outside of school in work-based learning?
Connection to School Improvement
Interdisciplinary instruction is a primary instructional process leading to relevant learning. There is a direct connection between efforts to expand interdisciplinary instruction and working toward college and career readiness. One of the most frequent forms of interdisciplinary learning is the integration integration of academic and technical content. This takes many forms of “partially” or “fully” integrated CTE/academic courses — some that offer credit towards CTE, elective, and/or academic requirements. Traditional Career & Technical Education and academic education are not separate disciplines that should remain entirely apart in a school setting. The quality of student learning increases with a blending of instruction. There are many ways in which schools can begin to integrate academic and career-technical coursework – without sacrificing the rigor or the relevance of either.
- Define Your Goals — Because there are many different options and opportunities for interdisciplinary instruction, be sure to define your intent and goals for combining traditional subjects. There are challenges along the process of connecting instruction. Having clear goals is essential to overcoming obstacles as you build interdisciplinary lessons.
- Add Relevance — There is a strong connection between interdisciplinary instruction and adding relevance to teaching. Relevant instruction is naturally interdisciplinary and intentionally creating interdisciplinary lessons are a step on the path to increasing relevancy. Consequently, look for opportunities to make instruction more relevant as disciplines are combined into rich lessons.
- Provide Collaboration Time — Several of the options for interdisciplinary instruction involve two or more teachers. Not all of the options require joint instruction, but they do require joint planning. Good interdisciplinary instruction comes from teachers working together. It is essential to have convenient, joint planning time to take advantage of shared teacher expertise in crafting lessons.
- Cluster the Standards — Interdisciplinary instruction is not just fun activities to break the monotony of teaching to standards. Interdisciplinary work needs to be linked to standards. Connecting to learning standards is one of the important task in collaborative planning. In this process mapping to standards, be sure to cluster groups of standards that can be assessed through a single unit of instruction, which will lead to more challenging learning experiences and more efficient use of instructional time.
- Beware Regulation Barriers — Regulation is one of the challenges that confronts engaging interdisciplinary learning and instruction. Over the years, curriculum, teacher certification and tenure regulations have designated specific curriculums as the exclusive domains of specific teachers. These regulations were created in the name of maintaining quality, but are often barriers to innovation. Some states are beginning to offer regulatory relief in these areas. It is important to research specific regulatory barriers and options available for your interdisciplinary initiative. Sometimes the careful and creative naming of a course can help avoid regulatory conflicts.
Following are several resources that SPN is familiar with that will assist school staff in strengthening instruction in Interdisciplinary Instruction. If you have suggestion of additional resources to suggest, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the Community.
Linked Learning is an approach to education that transforms the traditional high school experience by bringing together strong academics, a demanding technical education, and real-world experience to help students gain an advantage in high school. Interdisciplinary Instruction is a key component. This California developed program from ConnectEd has developed a large national following.
This initiative grew out of a high school in Loveland, Colorado where a math teacher and technology teacher developed a Geometry in Construction course that engaged students and raised test scores in the hybrid curriculum. These teachers have developed a new hybrid course in Algebra and Manufacturing. They continue to share their practices with interested teachers.
The Association for Career & Technical Education maintains a resource list on their web site on integrating core academic subjects such as math, science and reading with hands-on CTE instruction. The list includes best practice articles, research reports, podcasts, Webinars, policy papers and presentations that address strategies CTE programs have used to successfully integrate core academic subjects with CTE course content.
Integrated Studies is one of the core strategies of resources from this excellent education online resource supported by the George Lucas Foundation.