How might interdisciplinary learning affect you, your colleagues, and your students?
Interdisciplinary learning has proven to have a positive impact on teaching styles and on relationships with both colleagues and students. Let's discuss a few of these potential benefits.
Introducing an interdisciplinary element into a curriculum encourages all involved to develop meaningful links among the fields in ways that intrigue and motivate both teacher and students. Interdisciplinary, often dubbed "the teaching of thinking," gives a purpose to study that goes far beyond the evaluation and memorization of information related to a topic. As a design element, it can push you and your students toward more powerful thinking and the ability to make comparisons that bridge disciplines, span eras, and encourage the application of knowledge.
Engaging in this kind of thinking can also have a positive effect on you, the teacher and designer. Many educators feel energized when using a fresh approach to old content.
After attending a class on interdisciplinary design, Doris Madden, a teacher from Redmond, WA, said, "I realized . . . I was teaching facts for the sake of knowing facts. I now know I must go back and redevelop my own way of thinking and revise my lessons. This class was a real eye-opener; I think it . . . will make me more excited about teaching." (H. Lynn Erickson, CONCEPT-BASED CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Corwin Press, Inc., 1998, p 134).
In this video clip, teacher Vicky Cook reflects on how working with interdisciplinary curriculum helped her to develop a better understanding of both the school as a whole and her place within it.
Using an interdisciplinary unit in your teaching can affect your interaction with colleagues as well. When teams of educators must work together to develop effective units, they often feel a sense of collegiality and enthusiasm that would not be achieved if they were working in isolation. At the Running Creek Elementary School in Elizabeth, Colorado, a team of teachers developed interdisciplinary units. Five years after their first collaboration, a report noted, "[the teachers] are more creative, enthusiastic and collegial [as a result of working on interdisciplinary units]; they use time more effectively and have developed personal and professional pride in their teaching." (Heidi Hayes Jacobs, Joyce Hannah, William Manfredonia, John Percivalle, and Judith C. Gilbert. "Descriptions of Two Existing Interdisciplinary Programs," INTERDISCIPLINARY CURRICULUM: DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION. Heidi Hayes Jacobs, ed. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1989, p 51). Integrating interdisciplinary units throughout a school can not only help teams of educators view the disciplines as an interdependent whole but also foster collegiality, leading to a deeper appreciation of the school community in general.
In this video clip, teacher Nancy Innes talks about the collegiality that can result from working with other teachers in interdisciplinary teams.
Using an interdisciplinary unit in your teaching can also positively influence your students. Many educators agree that interdisciplinary units further the development of higher-order thinking skills.
Presenting curricula in an interdisciplinary format is one means of helping your students realize the behavioral and performance objectives that you set. At this expert level of integration, you will bridge the disciplines while simultaneously creating a thoroughfare between your students' needs and the content, allowing each to inform the other as the unit moves toward completion. Students engaged in interdisciplinary learning often find the content more exciting and relevant, especially if teachers can connect the disciplines not only to each other but also to the past and present in a way that relates to students' lives. In its recommendations for American Schools, the NAASP advises, "If teachers can establish links to the lives of young people naturally and contextually, why not heighten the interest of students and motivate them by explaining the importance that the material holds for them?" (National Association of Secondary School Principals, BREAKING RANKS, 15).
In this video, teacher Joel Chandler describes how the convergence of history and literature in his class helps the content come alive for his students.
In schools around the nation, educators are developing ever more sophisticated interdisciplinary learning units to augment their curricula. Now that we're familiar with the history of interdisciplinary learning and many of its advantages, let's move on to "Demonstration," where you will see some examples of teachers using interdisciplinary curriculum design.
Workshop: Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Classroom
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