Interdisciplinary and Cross-Curricular Instruction
At the secondary level, you may have heard stories of teachers feeling that they were isolated from their colleagues or that the various disciplines in their buildings are like silos. This happens less frequently at the middle levels where it is more common to adopt a team approach versus the departmental approach high schools typically operate within. According to the Association of Middle Level Educators, there are three primary approaches to teaming—core interdisciplinary teams, single subject teams, and exploratory teams. Teaming can help teachers from across a range of content areas work together to respond to shared student needs, integrate curriculum and skills, share effective teaching and learning strategies, and maximize instructional time. But what does it mean to “integrate curriculum and skills” and does it have to be limited only to the middle grades?In a practice that goes back to the 1930s, the interdisciplinary approach to instruction “synthesizes more than one discipline and creates teams of teachers and students that enrich the overall educational experience” (Jones, 2010, p. 1). And while it is of note that teachers have found that planning interdisciplinary units can be challenging, the benefits of an integrated approach as well documented (Duerr, 2008, p. 176). "The Logic of Interdisciplinary Studies," an exhaustive 1997 research report, found broad consensus among researchers as to what the report called the "positive educational outcomes" for students in an integrated-studies program (Edutopia, 2008):
- Increased understanding, retention, and application of general concepts.
- Increased ability to make decisions, think critically and creatively, and synthesize knowledge.
- Promotion of cooperative learning and a better attitude toward oneself as a learner.
- Increased motivation.
Interdisciplinary studies brings together diverse disciplines in a comprehensive manner, enabling students to develop a meaningful understanding of the complex associations and influences within a topic. Effective interdisciplinary instruction requires using both cooperative learning and teaching—two subjects addressed previously in this text.
Cross-curricular instruction is often use synonomously with interdisciplinary instruction. As the Curriculum Leadership Institute in McPherson, KS, explains, "Cross-curricular instruction is an instructional strategy that offers a way for teachers to plan lessons that incorporate more than one disciplinary area. This allows students to broaden their lens of understanding and apply skills and strategies they learn in lessons to deepen their overall understanding and make authentic, real-world connections (Strecker, 2021).
Interdisciplinary and cross-curricular instruction help create authentic learning experiences for all ages by breaking down disciplinary walls that commonly separate content areas. They lend themselves easily to project-based learning due to their real-world possibilities. When implemended with fidelity, these approaches can positively impact student learning and perception.
Duerr, L. L. (2008). Constructivist suggestions interdisciplinary instruction . Educational Horizons. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ798522.pdf
Edutopia. (2008, October 6). Why should schools embrace integrated studies?: It fosters a way of learning that mimics real life. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/integrated-studies-introduction
Jones, C. (n.d.). Interdisciplinary approach - Advantages, disadvantages, and the future benefits of interdisciplinary studies. ESSAI. https://dc.cod.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1121&context=essai
Reza, R. (2021, April 10). Teaming in middle school. AMLE. https://www.amle.org/teaming-in-middle-school/
Strecker, K. (2021, September 30). Cross-curricular instruction . Curriculum Leadership Institute - Pathways to School Improvement. https://cliweb.org/cross-curricular-instruction/