Distinguishing & Selecting Integrated Learning Approaches

Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

Is blurring the boundaries between subject areas actually a good thing? Consider a variety of approaches for making integrated learning a reality for your students.

Finding Connections

Have you ever been searching for information online and found yourself discovering connections with other topics along the way?

For example, you're watching a TV show that mentions the Falklands War. You go online to learn some basic facts about the conflict.

As you read more, you discover that foreign music was banned from the radios for a time in Argentina. This influenced the development of the nation's music. Before you know it, your research on the Falklands War has led you to discover Argentine rock on YouTube.

Your simple online search is one example of finding connections among different subjects and disciplines. In education, the term integrated learning is used to describe such connections. When this type of learning is built into educational outcomes and lesson plans, the result is an integrated curriculum.

Integrated Learning Approaches

This lesson makes use of definitions provided by educational experts Gene Bottoms and Deede Sharpe in Teaching for Understanding through Integration of Academic and Technical Education (1996). The authors' original focus was on how to integrate academic and vocational learning, applying the concepts from school subjects to the experiences a student has in life and work outside of the classroom.

As we know it today, integrated learning includes connections to life beyond the classroom and is also concerned with how various subject areas interrelate.

In short, integrated learning involves:

  • Recognizing the connections between a wide range of subject areas
  • Determining how to use these connections to contribute to a student's whole education

Single-Course Integration

A single-course integration involves a teacher finding a way to incorporate the learning from another subject area into their own class.

Example:

  • You are a math teacher who decides to collaborate with a language arts teacher on how to support one another's learning outcomes.
  • You decide to add a journal component to your class, in which students write about any frustrations, questions, or successes they have related to the mathematical concepts you are teaching.

This approach is most likely when large-scale integrations have not yet been put in place, and teachers want to collaborate on an individual basis.

Joint Planning

When the planning goes beyond individual courses, this type of collaboration can be described as joint planning. Joint planning involves looking at the topics and goals of the curriculum and considering how lessons can emphasize certain themes and concepts at either a department level or across departments.

Example within departments:

  • The science department teachers come together and decide on certain common academic concepts or skills that will be reinforced across biology, chemistry, and physics courses.

Example across departments

  • Teachers from multiple departments (e.g. math, music, science, social studies, language arts, vocational studies) get together to decide on an academic topic or technical skill that will be the focus of all subjects.

This approach is appropriate when it's possible to organize teacher's efforts in a bigger way than the single-course approach.

Interdisciplinary Approaches

Teachers from a variety of disciplines may also work together to more thoroughly integrate learning activities, known as an interdisciplinary approach. Students are expected to learn interdisciplinary skills that don't fit just one subject area, such as how to manage a project or how to communicate their ideas to others. This blurs the boundaries - in a good way - between one subject area and others.

Team Teaching

Team teaching involves two or more teachers working together to integrate their curriculum more fully than in the single-course approach. Teachers choose a particular topic, issue, or problem in the real world and tackle it together as part of their teaching.

Example:

  • A language arts teacher, math teacher, and history teacher coordinate their curriculum to help students develop a better understanding of how the stock market affects everyday life.

Projects

Projects get students involved in addressing a particular problem or issue. Projects can vary from short-term or long-term, from classroom to school-wide. Some projects may coordinate students from different grade levels.

Projects can be designed to facilitate integrated learning.
Students working on a project together.

Example:

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