Written by Coby Enteen
The value of creating in-depth, meaningful learning experiences for students through a cross-curricular or multidisciplinary teaching approaches have long been justified; however the feasibility of teaching this way, is somewhat questionable. This is due to a large degree to the existing structure of the school, primarily at the secondary level where faculty is divided into isolated subject areas or departments, each working as an independent “island” in a sea of small land masses. The goal of the approach presented is to unify these islands into a single land-mass or nation state, which shares common knowledge and teaching practices.
Creating multi-disciplinary instructional teams can provide a basic solution to developing collaborative learning projects which incorporate cross-curricular teaching. This teacher task-force will typically collaborate on developing and implementing a specific project or small number of teaching units which is effective in showcasing the multi-disciplinary teaching approach, but falls short of a long-term solution. This team provides only a superficial “band-aid” solution to the problem. The existing structure of the secondary school does not support this kind of structure, no does it allot time for this type of collaboration. So, you ask: how do we create a secondary school environment which works successfully implements a cross-curricular learning approach? There is no definitive answer other than either rebuilding a school from the ground-up or the need for re-examining the existing school structure and carving out new practices, which support deeper multidisciplinary connections in the classroom. The key lies in collaborating with school stakeholders and revisiting existing instructional practices.
1. School Leadership – The school principal and lead support staff provide the overall “tone” and pave the way for the pedagogic discourse in the teachers lounge. To this end, the leadership must embrace the cross-curricular approach and echo its principles throughout all of the traditional channels: during teacher meetings, as a topic for professional-development, in the organization of teacher task-teams, and during every available opportunity.
2. Creating a Cross-Curricular Organizational Structure – The key elements of any effective organization can be found in its leadership, structure and mode of operation. Schools need to select an individual with a strong background and understanding of multiple disciplines and subject-areas to head the program. Although typically labeled as a curriculum-Specialist, Media Specialist, or Librarian in many schools, this individual must be able to maintain a “birds-eye” view of the school and its instructional needs, while working collaboratively with subject-area leaders (department heads) to develop a collective curriculum map.
3. Instructional Weaving – The transition from a single-subject teaching practice to a multidisciplinary one will require the finding of “common-threads” which enable the teaching and reinforcing the curriculum standards of one subject-area through another. This is the process of Instructional Weaving and it is accomplished through defining thematic topics that are both relevant to the students lives and incorporate instructional principles to be taught. The school curriculum map will provide a basis for determining the intersections between the subjects taught throughout the year and provide a framework for teacher-teams to weave the curriculum together.
4. Cross-Curricular Bonding – The final step involves putting the plans into motion by teaching the thematic lesson units involving the different subjects with other other subjects in mind. Teachers will need to gradually shift from a single area focus to one that involves being part of a whole. Time must be allotted for teachers of other disciplines to talk with one-another on a regular basis. This can be accomplished through scheduling short 10-15 minute meetings to discuss the progress and help one another tweak the teaching practices. The program leader (described in step 2) must receive regular progress reports as to guide the process at a school level.
Cross-curricular teaching is often viewed as an ideal mode of instruction offering for in-depth and meaningful learning. The existing secondary school structure was built according to a uni-disciplinary model emphasizing the isolated teaching of subjects leaving little room for cross-curricular collaboration. Therefore, schools must adopt a new set of organizational and curricular principles in order to effectively introduce a multidisciplinary teaching and learning process.
Here are some additional articles on Cross-Curricular Learning: