Integrating Course Content & Skills Across Curriculum

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

In this lesson, we'll review the steps needed to start an integrated curriculum for both content and skills. We'll learn how to start the process, how to create a plan and implement it, and how to review data and improve the plan.

What Is Integrated Curriculum?

Recall when you were a student in high school. You probably shuffled from subject to subject, with each class having its own unique goals, requirements and assessments. Ms. Gorman's English class looked and felt very different from Ms. Crask's math class.

However, today, teachers and administration are seeing that there are cross-cutting themes, both in content and skills, that span all classes at school. Many schools are seeking to implement integrated curriculum, where different academic teachers collaborate to create integrated lessons to strengthen students' skills and achievement. These can be seen as whole-school projects, writing initiatives, whole-school debates and more. Today, we're going to look at the steps needed to implement this type of curriculum in your own school.

Working on a collaborative project is one way to apply an integrated curriculum
students working

Determine the Current State of Student Achievement

Before you can start any new plan, you first need to figure out what your strengths and challenges are in terms of student learning. The entire staff should be involved in choosing a problem of practice, or an area of growth, that the staff wants to focus on. The staff might choose to improve literacy, writing or math skills. Staff should brainstorm together to decide on the most pressing problems by using both qualitative observations and data, such as those from standardized tests. Staff members also need to consider what the best outcome could be. What is the vision for the plan, and what are some action steps you can take to achieve your goals?

Identifying 'Big Understandings' Across Content

Before teachers can start planning together, a team from the whole school should evaluate big understandings, or themes, that they want to develop across content areas. For example, they might want to develop skills that middle school students will need in high school, such as note taking, study habits, homework completion, or peer collaboration and editing. These skills can be practiced in all content areas. The school staff should decide on one or two big understandings that they want to focus on. Implementing a plan, especially a new plan within a school, works best when everyone can focus their efforts.

Curriculum Mapping

Once a problem of practice and big understandings have been identified, you'll need to start thinking about an approach, or strategies to address the problem. Content teachers should meet and propose a plan for integrating skills. Do the teachers want to work together on one large project? Will their assignments and vocabulary be similar? Will students work on the same project throughout the day or week? This process of designing lessons is called curriculum mapping. Teachers can start by establishing a mission, or goal, for their integrated curriculum and then accomplish it by working backwards to design lessons that will span multiple classes.

Developing Integrated Learning

So what do these lessons look like? Each lesson should work towards the goal of increasing a big understanding. Let's look at an example. Imagine that a middle school team wants to improve reasoning skills in their students. The end goal might be for students to independently select evidence from multiple texts to support an argument. Teachers should think about what assessment would test whether students have met the goal. In this example, a whole-school debate tournament might work well.

Teachers also need time and support to work in their interdisciplinary teams. The school needs to create common planning time for teachers as well as provide professional development, either directly to the teams or in a whole-school environment, to support the development of the new curriculum.

Teachers in different content teams need time to meet to implement an integrated curriculum

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