Using textbooks as a foundation for instruction may be detrimental to the effective practice of curriculum integration. An integrated curriculum is beneficial in the way it supports students as they construct their own knowledge. Textbooks, however, prevent students from processing information creatively. Instead, textbooks reinforce a view of information as being something to be memorized instead of something to be applied. Through the implementation of curriculum integration strategies, students begin to learn by solving problems, instead of by memorizing facts. The problem-solving approach encourages deep learning through an emphasis on the application of relevant information across disciplines.
The Problem with Textbooks
In a piece for The Atlantic, teacher David Cutler outlined his personal experience with teaching from a textbook in his high school history class. Cutler emphasized the discrepancies between the way in which textbooks present history and how historians think about history (Cutler, 2014). Textbooks have the disadvantage of presenting a top-down view of history as a linear narrative with an appropriate resolution. This results in student perceptions of history as stale, boring, and resolved, thus running against the strategies of historians who use historical information as a way to present new perspectives on historical periods and events. The conversation in history is always evolving, though this is not how history textbooks present it. It is much more beneficial to engage students by presenting historical information as an opportunity for interpretation as opposed to memorization. The former approach, a result of curriculum integration, encourages deep learning, as the process results in the students’ brains forming more dendritic connections. The latter, the inevitable emphasis in textbook teaching, promotes a surface learning that results in little to no long-term retention of information.
Eschewing Textbooks in Favor of Curriculum Integration
There are many methods of arriving at an integrated curriculum. The term “curriculum integration” refers to the process of incorporating subjects together so as to encourage students to make connections between disciplines. Making connections between different sets of disciplinary knowledge better prepares students for their lives after high school by showing them the ways in which knowledge is applied to solve problems and answer questions. This method also promotes deep learning in students as they are motivated to use information in a productive way rather than just retain it for a test.
Curriculum integration is traditionally divided into three categories,: the interdisciplinary model, the problem-based model, and the theme-based model. The interdisciplinary model assigns each teacher their own discipline and then encourages them to work together to design their own curricula with reference to one another. The separation of instructors makes cohesion a bit difficult and requires high levels of organization at the administrative level to ensure each teacher’s curriculum is integrated. However, the interdisciplinary model has the advantage of allowing instructors to become highly knowledgeable in their discipline.
A problem-based model orients curricula around a central problem and then 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.
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.
Curriculum integration is one way of designing classroom instruction without over-reliance on textbooks. By encouraging students to make meaningful connections between information, integrated curricula are better suited than textbook instruction to instill deep learning in students.