Teachers are always looking for ways to engage students and deepen their understanding of content. Curriculum integration is one way to achieve that goal, as it actively engages students in learning and extends their thinking skills.
An integrative approach across multiple disciplines links teaching and learning between two or more subject areas or disciplines. Critical thinking is emphasized in an integrated approach because it motivates students to understand and to make meaningful connections with the content and with each other. Students can link classroom experiences to the real world and make sense of experiences—preparing them for lifelong learning. The intent of an integrated approach is to focus on a student-centered curriculum that engages students, improves learning, and increases interest.
What is Curriculum Integration?
There are many methods of arriving at an integrated curriculum. The term “curriculum integration” refers to the process of incorporating subjects together to encourage students to make connections between disciplines. Making connections between different sets of disciplinary knowledge prepares students beyond high school by teaching them to apply knowledge to solve problems and answer questions. It promotes deep learning by motivating students to use information in productive ways rather than simply retention for a test.
Integration of content areas provides meaningful contexts for students to learn, as opposed to learning in isolation. The integration of arts (music, creative movement, visual arts, drama) into the core curriculum (language arts, math, social studies, and science) is a means of meeting the needs of diverse learners. Opportunities that help students recognize the interrelatedness across disciplines will increase the authenticity of learning experiences and maximize engagement. For example, music helps the brain focus and facilitates learning and skill development in other content areas.
Recognizing Interrelatedness Across Disciplines
Some additional examples to guide students in identifying the interrelatedness of processes across disciplines might include the following:
- The task of comparing and ordering is not dissimilar to sequencing events or “What comes next in a series?”.
- The task of recognizing patterns relates to drawing conclusions.
- The concept of constructing inferences or predicting outcomes links to statistics. (What color M&M will we most likely draw from the pile based on how many of each color is in the set?)
- The process of organizing writing into paragraphs can connect to classifying objects into categories based on their attributes. (I used to do this activity with students during writing conferences. “It looks like you have three topic ideas here, but your supporting details are all over the map. Let’s get three different colored highlighters and mark your sentences according to what idea they support, so we can create some logical paragraphs.”)
Additionally, research indicates that students need opportunities to move about while learning. Movement boosts blood and oxygen flow, which has favorable effects on cognitive development. These findings indicate that music and movement improve cognitive connections and academic success.
Curriculum integration is traditionally divided into three categories: the interdisciplinary model, the problem-based model, and the theme-based model.
Interdisciplinary Model for Curriculum Integration
The interdisciplinary model assigns each teacher their own discipline and encourages them to work together to design curricula with reference to one another. The separation of instructors can make cohesion a bit difficult. It also requires high levels of organization at the administrative level to ensure integration. However, the interdisciplinary model has the advantage of allowing instructors to become highly knowledgeable in their discipline.
Problem-based Model for Curriculum Integration
A problem-based model orients curricula around a central problem and asks students to apply their disciplinary knowledge to solve it. This model motivates student learning for problem-solving rather than test-taking, which promotes higher levels of deep learning. However, a potential drawback of problem-based curricula is the difficulty of aligning with state and national standards.
Theme-based Model for Curriculum Integration
Finally, the theme-based model applies subject area knowledge in certain key disciplines such as mathematics, language arts, and science, to an established theme. Providing a theme creates a connection framework between disciplines that students can follow to create their own connections. This model benefits from being adaptable to state and national standards, though it suffers from a possible difficulty in selecting themes that can meaningfully integrate all subjects.
What Are the Benefits of Curriculum Integration?
Integrated opportunities can yield not only an increase in students’ academic performance but increases in their socialization skills and interest in being present in the classroom both physically and mentally. Instruction becomes more effective using a student-centered approach to instruction and results in students assuming active roles rather than passive. Evidence shows that “sit and get” does not strengthen learning or enhance learner motivation and morale. When students engage in their learning using an interdisciplinary approach, cognitive ability improves, which advances their understanding of the topics being explored.
Integrating multiple disciplines can create authentic experiences and deepen levels of meaning to the content and skills students are learning. Inviting students to make strong connections between different disciplines and their own lives supports the overall learning process in becoming increasingly positive and successful.